Having winged their way to prominence with a Gorillaz collaboration by the name of Empire Ants, for Little Dragon to headline Shepherd’s Bush Empire feels like the completion of a full circle that’s seen them make tracks around the globe akin to the aforementioned insects imprinting faint trails on the slopes of vertiginous anthills. There are always touts out and about on the pavements that roll up to the Empire although tonight they’re crawling with pests ready and willing to buy, sell, and barter as they anxiously scuttle up to showtime.
For the Gothenburg quartet, a dribbed and drabbed Boiler Room session way back in July must be all but a warm and welcoming, if distant memory as they’ve subtly slithered up to a sold out show at this iconic, if insistently branded venue. Marking the end of a remarkable string of dates, it’s a conclusion that must once have felt like the loose and unfindable thread within a colossal ball of yarn. However finally, here we are, the grand finale (for the UK at least) and befitting this landmark show, Hâkan Wirenstrand has cultivated his hair into a quintessentially Swedish sweep of fringe and is joined by a fellow sorcerer of synth in Arild Werling, the righthand man directed by the bearded dub wizard’s every nonchalant flick of the figurative wand. Furthermore here to witness the show in its entirety, perched on the teetering precipice of Level 1 is Yukimi Nagano’s dad, later urged to move as rabidly and erratically as we during a gloriously obstreperous My Step. Glee visible from the gloop-sloshed floors below streams through his prescription goggles, and the sentiments are shared.
Little Dragon (and Nagano in particular), although now seemingly reaping the fruitful rewards of lending a vocal here or a mellifluous visualisation there, have managed to collaborate both deftly and successfully without ever cheapening their act. In an era almost dictated by special guest spots made anything but special due to their ubiquity and lack of idiosyncrasy it’s exhilarating, and Nagano’s clingy, muggy vocals have added great flavour and texture to the otherwise unremarkable in the past. That said she now seems more than ready to take centre-stage in order that she bask in the concentrated glow of every last spotlight, never again to be branded merely “that girl what sang on…”. Cheapening proceedings slightly is the somewhat unwelcome or at least unnecessary arrival of Gilles Peterson who swaggers out to sing a few praises as if a compère at a session in place of the fervidly anticipated show this indubitably is. He’s the turkey sat around the Christmas table, although he’s soon disposed of, stumbling from sight.
At one point a body clasped limpet-like to the barrier amongst the endless imitations of the “middle class boy” referenced in a rambunctious Little Man mouths desperately: “I’ve waited four years for this night!” Little Dragon are indisputably cultivating obsession, and tonight this becomes wondrously evident.
They slink out to minimal brouhaha with minimum bravado, minus Nagano, terrifyingly talented drummer Erik Bodin thudding a sampler and arousing opener Looking Glass before Ritual Union and Brush the Heat follow. It’s an accomplished, if perhaps all too calm and conservative an introduction, and feels a little like your fave film getting its long-awaited TV premiere, only for it to be shown on Channel 5 and barely seen through the barely open eyelids of a far-from-select few come the early hours. Hysterical wails greet Nagano when she eventually emerges and although her vox remain humid, inimitable, irreprochable, the atmosphere is at least a little indebted to the innately inane, inherently evil televised talent show broadcast some time around now. There’s a cleanliness to the band too tonight (a perk of not being holed up, literally or otherwise, in a boggy, windswept field geographically in the precise heart of hinterland of course) and also to their sound, and this comes across with crystalline purity during the tribalistic thrum of Summertearz, a mesmeric globule of throb and restrained crescendo.
One of Little Dragon’s infinite merits is that they’re composed of four wonderfully distinctive (almost to the point of Pokémon-like caricature) characters that comply with starkly differentiated roles and responsibilities, both sonically and visually. And while it would be all too easy for Nagano to entangle herself within the enticing web tonight spun musically, intermittently rendering herself ineffective and helpless, she frees herself to all sorts of liberality, remaining at the fore throughout as she swats illusory flies with shakers and jingling bells while simultaneously stomping spiritedly enough to shave the highest heels down to the sole. For it’s the intricate weave of rough ‘n’ ready R’n'B, dabs of dub, and warped electronica wonkily traced around vinyl melted over all manner of things shiny and simmering that makes the records quite so special. An intimate and proficiently efficient knit of sound, it’s one that’s snagged and unravelled a little in this elaborate expanse, sleazy serotonin booster Runabout elongated exasperatingly into a daydreamy, rather than dreamy lackadaisical lull. Similarly, an abrasive interlude reminiscent of the mind-numbing work of Fedde le Grande (synths blaring, strobes glaring) during Precious exacerbates rather than enhances the track. But these disheartening moments are few and far-between amidst an eve of highs. Indeed, even when they conscientiously “slow it down” (as on Crystalfilm) distant figures continue to jive in the upper echelons of the Empire.
If there’s only so many times witnessing Nagano thwacking nonexistent airborne snares and cymbals remains bearable, the number of times one can withstand the immaculate electro stylings of My Step and Feather is incalculable and if they’ve periodically leant a little towards the lacklustre up to this jolt in the setlist, by the time this particular brace is rapidly cannoned off we’re all acting like Mark Corrigan feigning the highest of wholly illegal ecstatic highs down in the dregs of the stalls. A monumental show for many reasons and although the Empire is a monument that’s tonight not quite smashed, in a fadedly decadent theatre of shrieks Little Dragon’s relevance tonight became as recognisable as it ever was. Source.