A church is the perfect setting to see London Grammar. The natural reverb and reverential silence of the space allows their devotional music room to breathe, as well as creating a suitably rapt atmosphere.
Tonight (6 April) at the beautiful Round Chapel in Hackney, Hannah Reid, Dom Major and Dan Rothman reintroduce themselves with a mixture of songs from 2013s If You Wait and their forthcoming second album Truth Is a Beautiful Thing. Despite the near four year gap since their debut, the new songs showcased tonight aren’t a study in reinvention; instead they reveal a natural progression. The songs are still simultaneously expansive and sparse, but retain their knack for creating empathy in the words and music.
Take the opening “Rooting For You” where Reid’s voice is the equivalent to a lead alto in a choir. The a capella vocal eases the intimacy of the song in before it’s joined by Rothman’s fragile guitar notes and Major’s soothing keys. Rather than relying on a big chorus, it’s more akin to a film soundtrack, creating a mood, rather than an obvious hook. Looking around the church, with those in the balconies sat in pews and the downstairs resembling a standing congregation, one’s struck by how quiet it is as they play the first of thirteen songs.
And what songs they are. London Grammar’s music is often described as musings on heartbreak or a feeling of loss, and whilst they’re both of those things at times, their real strength is communication, both in the innate universality of the songs themselves and also in the performance, which is incredibly relaxed.
The new songs nestle snugly with those of If You Wait. “Who Am I” follows “Nightcall” without the audience batting an eyelid. The earlier songs, “Hey Now” especially, still delight but are complimented wonderfully by the likes of “Big Picture”, where the timbre is a steady but undulating rhythm, that envelopes the Chapel.
What’s also noticeable about London Grammar this evening is how confident they are. Before “Strong” Reid gently teases Rothman, the “sultry, silent stud over there” for not talking to the audience, he bats back that they usually have to shut him up in interviews. The banter between the them is wonderfully relaxed, to the point that when the song starts Reid gets a fit of the giggles and has to stop, yet quickly gets her composure back together to deliver a beautiful take on their Ivor Novello winning composition.
When they return for an encore Reid tells the audience she hates the word, “it’s the most obvious lie that’s ever been told in musical history." It’s conversational rather than rancorous, and they ease into the new albums title track. With a simple piano accompaniment to the vocal melody, it’s another example of the confidence they have in sparseness rather than bombast, and Reid’s voice, moving from a deep bass to a falsetto is again a wonder. The closing “Metal and Dust” sees Major move behind a drum kit to add live beats to the electronic ones, and as good as they are at creating mood music, it’s a potent reminder that London Grammar can also write a killer chorus if the mood takes them.
The only downside tonight, if there is one, is that hearing them in such an intimate setting will be a rarity going forward. Once Truth is a Beautiful Thing is released they’ll return to larger venues. Whilst the intimacy of an evening like this might not be the same in a bigger space, the scope and communality of the songs will fill them easily.
Live, as on record, London Grammar’s music doesn’t have to shout to be heard, it whispers into your ear as much as it tugs on your heartstrings.