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Adventures in sound: Warpaint live in London

31 October 2016, 10:12 | Written by Ed Nash

Warpaint are the owners of a sound that’s simultaneously intimate and expansive, so playing at London’s beautiful Roundhouse feels like the ideal place to see them.

Tonight (27 October) Warpaint and the venue are a perfect fit; they're both elegant, the non-pretentious side of arty, with a classic as well as a modern aesthetic. Having taken a break to pursue other projects, last month saw them release their third album Heads Up. They only play five songs from it here, with a greater number coming from 2014s Warpaint. Perhaps they want the audience to get more familiar with the new material, but the new songs they play, while retaining their unmistakeable musical fingerprint, add a pop bow to their intoxicating mood music.

They ease the audience in with “Bees” from their debut The Fool and even though a line like “All that time it took you to get yourself straight” is delivered in an almost relaxed, conversational manner the music is anything but. Standing in their left to right formation, singing guitarists Emily Kokal and Theresa Wayman and bassist Jenny Lee Lindberg's fluid movements are a giddy blur. Drummer Stella Mozgawa remains in the same place onstage but such is the distance her arms and feet cover with her phenomenal drumming, she can hardly be described as static. Mozgawa and her partner in rhythm Lindberg are a formidable pair, providing a heady funk to underscore Kokal and Wayman’s ornate vocals and guitars.

Warpaint’s “Keep It Healthy” maintains the familiarity and again, Mozgawa’s drumming takes the breath away - applying a jackhammer of a foot to the bass drum, her only peer behind the sticks is Savage’s Fay Milton. It’s not until the fourth song that we get a track from Heads Up as Wayman says “Alright, let’s play some of the new shit” and they deliver a stunning version of its title track. It’s only at this point I realise how subtle the lightshow is, with four blue lamps at the bottom of the back of the stage and no huge backdrop like the last time I saw them, as if the brightness of the new songs needs to be offset by a more atmospheric setting.

“Undertow” is greeted like an old friend, prompting a mass clapalong and when they hit the key change the ferocity of the playing is a joy to watch as Lindberg, Kokal and Wayman form a circle at the front of the stage dancing together, almost forgetting the audience and looking like they’re having their own private party.

The closing four songs are a victory parade. “Elephants” from 2008s Exquisite Corpse EP is received rapturously, as the guitar line and the power of the rhythm section combine with singing that verges on howling; it explodes into a musical firework display. It’s followed with “Love is to Die”, where they again create a delirious funk. “New Song” from Heads Up is prefaced with “We’ve got two more songs for you; it’s a bit sad right?” Before teasing “We might come back…” The sheer pop of the chorus, their most direct vocal melody so far is quite something and if the audience were expecting to draw breath the closing “Disco//Very” doesn’t provide it, as its circuitous melody is underpinned by a joyous groove. It''s head music you can also dance to.

They leave quite a long gap before coming back to start the encore with “Biggy”, but they gave so much in the first part of the set, who would deny them a breather? Before their traditional closer "Krimson" from the Exquisite Corpse EP Kokal asks for the house lights to come up and for the crowd to have a circular hug, such is the celebration in the room.

Tonight Warpaint were everything you’d expect them to be, as immersive and playful as their songs, which mixed a heady wall of noise with melody and an utterly danceable rhythm. Each time they play in London the venues get bigger and while some of the intimacy may be lost if they played somewhere like the O2, the songs are big enough to fill it.

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