Daughter – Hackney Empire, London 24/01/13

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Photograph by Jason Williamson

Hackney Empire’s gallery is not for those who suffer from vertigo. We peer over the edge and take a nervous gulp. We know it most likely pales in comparison but we imagine what we feel is something akin to how Elena Tonra, Igor Haefeli and Remi Aguilella feel as they emerge onto the stage to be greeted by a 1200-strong sea of unfamiliar faces. The gilded facades, theatrical atmosphere, pitch black stage and three poised spotlights adding a certain gravitas to proceedings.

Daughter’s debut album still hasn’t seen the light of day but they’ve sold out their entire tour, with tonight being their largest headline show to date. Selling out an entire string of dates on the basis of two EPs and the odd scattered track is a testament to the poignancy of their emotionally charged offerings. The bleakness, the sweet naivety, the understated venom and bitterly honest approach found on His Young Heart and Wild Youth have proven themselves to be more than enough to fill the seats with expectant listeners.

Having spoken to them just before Christmas we’re aware that a lot of If You Leave featured tracks haven’t been entirely figured out for their live incarnation, so it is a pleasant surprise and a bold move when they open with album closer ‘Shallows’. They begin as tentatively as you would expect, their personal shaking channeled into quivering guitar lines and whispered vocals before the stage fills with smoke and the ambient electronic elements so subtly employed on record take a dramatic centre stage.

Speaking to them they had also joked that they might have to play like 3 instruments at a time in order to achieve the sound they wanted, and well it doesn’t take long to figure out they weren’t really joking. Instruments swap hands between every song, guitars are tuned and re-tuned. ‘Run’ finds Remi taking on bass, drums and key duties from the back of the stage while one of their first plays ‘Lifeforms’ shows evidence of a couple of teething problems. What else would you expect, they’re only human, and it is their humanity that makes their music so utterly arresting in the first place.

After ‘Candles’ you can actually hear Elena gulp down her fear just as we did at the sheer drop to the stage. Igor leans over to her before admitting to us he was telling her how scared he is. The constant instrumental re-arrangements present awkward silences in between tracks, but thankfully most of the time when the music starts back up again it takes but seconds to become re-immersed. At one point strange Q&A emerges with the audience before some “witty” punter decides it would be hilarious to shout “you suck” and the air takes a fleeting sour turn.

Thankfully the most rapturous applause that accompanies the opening strum of ‘Youth’ quietens any disparaging voices, its biting “And if you’re in love then you are the lucky one / ‘Cos most of us are bitter over someone” sentiment remaining the focal point through the heightened rock elements of tonight’s performance. ‘Love’s violin bow strummed guitars shriek like a sharp in take of breath making you realise that Elena and co are capable of soundtracking your heartbreak better than your own words ever could.

If you weren’t aware at the start of tonight’s show that they worked with Sigur Rós producer Ken Thomas on their forthcoming 4AD release, you certainly would have felt the Icelandic band’s presence by the end. ‘Smother’ takes on an expectedly expansive, cinematic sound as fragile beginnings are followed by dramatic crescendos – crashing cymbals, pounding bass drums, howling vocals and an all enveloping noise reverberates through the stalls to our dizzying heights.

As early EP number ‘Home’ brings our evening to an end I begin to wonder whether Elena’s gentle yet powerful vocals are carving out lyrics about my own life, the poignancy with which the song aims straight for the gut feels so personal. But then I realise she is probably also singing about the life of the girl next to me, the man behind me and the couple a few rows back. This is what enables Daughter to sell out such grand concert halls. It’s their universal intimacy, an emotional cold reading almost but one we are more than happy to fall for.