As the summer draws to a close, Vulture Hound looks back at some of best moments from an amazing season of festivals.
Thistle Prince recalls Warpaint‘s stand out set at this year’s Blue Dot Festival.
It was a sticky Sunday evening at Blue Dot Festival this year. The last of the day’s dust danced gently in the air as a heavy crowd of quarter cut fringes and black t shirts quietly sweated away in the basin of the Lovell stage. Anyone with a hunger for the dreamier, darker consciousness of Indie Rock had gathered together in anticipation of a little something to feed the soul.
A deluge of purple smoke filled the Lovell as the heavy dulcet tones of Jenny Lee Lindberg’s beloved Rickenbacker bounced along its tented walls. The low rumble of the bass neatly spliced with those soft ethereal voices paved Warpaint’s pathway through the gloom; they are as we’ve always known them; a delirium of faces shrouded in dark hair and a blanket of eyeliner. That ever present edge of Delphian drama trailing in their wake. The foursie don’t say much as they make their cloudy entrance but that’s nothing new, They are fairly well known for their lingering enigmatic silences.
‘Head’s Up’ from their new (and also rather aptly named) album – Head’s Up, steals the opening spot for their set. Though a tightly written song in its own right you couldn’t help but get the feeling it was more of a warm up before the real belly of the show has had its chance to level up. The crowd are clearly pleased to see their iconic maidens in the mist arrive but ‘Head’s Up’ only really receives a smattering of applause compared with the all-round roof raiser (if we’d had one) that follows the opening couple of strums of that timeless old classic, ‘Krimson’. In comparison ‘Head’s Up’ is a little less substantial and doesn’t really capture the essence of the band’s sound in the same way that ‘Krimson’ does. After all these years of performing that same song time and time again Warpaint render it once more just as crisp and as grungy as if it were brand new. Despite the fact that it was probably the 1000th time they’ve played ‘Krimson’ they still all glow with a kind of nostalgic electric energy. The kind that radiates around someone’s face when you’ve caught them flicking through their favourite child hood book.
This is is an energy that is never more present than during the peak of their set with the instrumental ‘Intro‘ to ‘Keep it Healthy’. The former belongs entirely and completely to Jenny Lee and her Rickenbacker as she seamlessly weaves her low stringy sounds into Stella’s drums. Every single member of the band close their eyes and sway along with their crowd whilst Theresa and Emily intertwine some spotless and enchanting guitar riffs. They give us a cheeky little extended ‘Intro’ seeming to forget that they are on stage at a festival and not just jamming away in their own houses. It is musical beauty at its purest, lighter than gold leaf and something that is entirely reminiscent of spending a couple of hours at an Explosions in the Sky gig. When their voices are removed from their songs Warpaint’s true mastery of their art is unveiled, the relationship they have with their instruments is like that of a mother and a child. What they play is simply an extension of themselves. Of course we all know they’ve been having a play with whatever they can get their mitts on for years but when a group of people with a real understanding of music and their instruments just give us what they know it creates something transformative and you find your place in universe shifting under your feet.
Distorted voices wrap around heady guitar riffs and blur together to grab you by the face and pull into that well known dreamscape of indulgence that tightens around the brain and washes you away. In true Warpaint style their harmonies fluctuate uncomfortably placing their strange vocals somewhere between an enraged yowling marmoset and a crisp cathedral choir. It is of course totally contrived and the resonance of their sound is certainly no accident. There is no doubt that every one of them can sing, and they can sing well, you just have to take a moment with one of their live Rough Trade session pieces on Youtube to work that out. The tuneless peaks and troughs are all cleverly manipulated to move you out of your comfort zone and are all part of that addictive velvety liquor that is Warpaint. The shifts and switches normally arrive like the surprise of a car alarm in the middle of the night, when you least expect it. A little pitch change here and there mashed into the crest of a song is something that you grow to love about them and it’s never more evident than in an old Warpaint staple like ‘Undertow’. Its Wordsworth like lyrics and mellow journey on up to the point of an explosive crescendo gives Undertow an ambient yet unsettling texture. When performed live it trickles its way across your nerve endings with the quiet ferocity of a cold stream, and epitomises that sticky ‘Warpainty’ edge that melts its way through the brain with the viscosity of warm caramel. You want to touch it, to grab on to it, bite it and not let anyone else have a piece. Or trap it in your ears so that you can hear it ring around your skull all day. It is though, something totally uncontainable and it would just melt through the pores and drift away on the breeze. Imagine the feeling you’d be left with if someone made you the best sandwich you’d ever tasted but only ever allowed you to have one bite. That is this feeling, we’ll call it the Warpaint sandwich ache.
Fortunately though we are tossed a couple of nice crusts before they leave the stage; as elusive old gems go, ‘Composure’ was an unexpected journey into Warpaint albums past.”We have a special friend here today,” Emily half whispers across the crowd. “Where are you? This is for you.” A thousand eyes locked onto her face all hoping that said special interlude might be for them. It isn’t. But of course ‘Composure’ is for many that little lick of Warpaint history that we were all secretly pining for. It is without doubt a sweet addition to an already gloriously weighty set list, and is, like so many of Warpaint’s songs born out of a love of punk and the creation of something bizarrely beautiful, it’s not a song that sits easily in the ears.
Warpaint have spent the better part of the last seven years nearly ceaselessly hopping on and off of buses, catapulting from tour to tour so the festival scene is nothing new to them. They seem to slide into the ambience of the stage with a slick smoothness that is rather enviable to those of us staring up at them. However, Blue Dot adheres to their cosmic vibration in a way that perhaps other venues might not, on the surface Warpaint only really seem fitting for the sweat soaked grimey walls of an underground vault. Anything else would be an insult to their moody edge. But, with the backdrop of the most important piece of space exploration technology in the UK quietly plugging away, clocking and surveying the four piece seem to shift into a hazy ambience that is a little different to their usual glossy pervasive gothicism. Inky atmospheric darkness is undoubtedly their usual haunt, and nothing less than a stage swathed with plants and lights that verge on the eerie gloom of something of a Tolkien novel is really their bread and butter. So to see them play A. In broad daylight and B. without the stage get up makes for a new kind of show. If you’ve seen them play before it’s worth adding to that experience by catching them in that elusive festival setting. Particularly somewhere small (just so that you don’t have to battle too many other fans away from that ever coveted front row) and particularly at sunset. The quiet of the outside air strips Warpaint of their edge and lends them (if only for a short while) to something else entirely that is their raw and uncomplicated essence. When there is nothing in front of you but a band and their instruments that is exactly what you’re going to get, nothing pretentious, just them. Plus at a festival there’s probably a greater chance that they might have knocked back a couple of glasses of something spikey and, given Teresa’s hilarious interjections in between songs, it seemed likely that that had probably been going on behind the scenes.
Read our full review of this year’s Blue Dot Festival, here.
Photos: Thistle Prince.