Conscious artistic direction is something that is often lacking in emerging bands today. A clear understanding of a projects look and feel helps create a stronger sense of identity, on top of the music itself; it bolsters the relationship one has with an artist. For Woman’s Hour, the stylistic identity is beautifully clear.
Ever since they emerged with “Our Love Has No Rhythm” early last year the London-based, Kendal four-piece – Fiona Jane (vocals), William Burgess (guitar), Nicolas Graves (bass) and Josh Hunnisett (keyboards) - have been something of a Best Fit obsession; with comparisons spanning from The xx to Rhye, their smattering of musical offerings, alongside a handful of impressive early live outings earned them ‘Ones To Watch‘ status at the end of 2013 and tonight’s performance justified such an epithet.
The South Bank’s Purcell Room becomes the latest in a string of carefully thought-out venues for Woman’s Hour: their debut London show was at the theatrical Hoxton Hall; Bethnal Green WMC played a big part in Jane’s early London days and they opened for Volcano Choir at the Barbican. With its concert hall-esque atmosphere, this setting allows the band the quiet attention their music demands. Immediately the contrast between this evening and shows of a similar build-up in the Capital is refreshingly clear: there is a palpable but excited hush, even phones – the bain of so many live experiences – are, for the most part, being ignored.
And this calm ambiance is where the band excel. Watch the thought-provoking visuals that accompany their singles; look at the monochrome artwork and the whole Woman’s Hour picture starts to come together. Cones – as seen on the cover of their recently announced debut album Conversations – are scattered neatly around the stage, while the band emerge to the smokey light in gently matching dark shades, instantly setting-out the aforementioned sense of identity with an effortless simplicity.
The music they produce carries a poise and floating delicacy that somehow manages to still pack an emotional punch, particularly in this live setting: album-opener “Unbroken Sequence” builds out of breezy, whirring staccato into a typically warm chorus; “If I stop, delay and I quit / would it be better for you?” Jane pines above typically tidy accompaniment. And it is this vocal that acts as the poignant and captivating centre-piece to Woman’s Hour, with tracks like “To The End” and “Two Sides Of You”, in particular standing out. The latter is a stunning, entirely touching highlight.
“Conversations” sheds a new, foot-tapping light on the set, as the most up-tempo and catchy moment. With its gently funky bass punctuation and delicately busy guitar work it’s a highlight and, along with “The Day That Needs Defending”, adds a careful pop dimension to the show.
Similarly, “Her Ghost” and their cover of “Dancing In The Dark” – an apt title watching Hunnisett’s energetic moves behind his synth setup – are as passionate as they are poised, with Jane’s gentle accent colouring the Springsteen cover beautifully.
Closing the evening with the beguiling “Our Love Has No Rhythm” neatly sums-up an immaculate performance of intense focus, stunning delicacy and subtle passion from a band who have outlined their own artistic direction down to the last detail.