Warpaint almost split up before recording last year’s album, Heads Up. After 18 months on the road the LA group’s four members took some time to pursue solo endeavors, with bassist Jenny Lee Linberg releasing a solo album and Stella Mozgawa drumming for a number of artists, including Kurt Vile. They almost didn’t reunite.
Happily they did, and the resulting album transmits a rediscovered joy of playing music together. It feels freer and lighter than Warpaint’s previous releases, while still being meticulously crafted and beautifully produced. It stands up well to repeat listens.
Tonight’s gig at the O2 Institute is the first of a five-date UK tour, in the middle of a month-long European tour. Warpaint sidle onto the stage for an oddly low-key beginning to the show, with a ponderous instrumental introduction leading into the hypnotic ‘Keep it Healthy’, taken from their eponymous second album. It’s a gorgeous song showcasing the talents of Mozgawa, whose drumming is a focal point throughout the gig.
‘Heads Up’, the title track from their latest album, ups the pace; dancey guitar lines flutter in and out across a driving bass line. ‘Undertow’ (arguably still Warpaint’s best song, keeps up the momentum. The enchanting, eerie vocals are mantra-like, building to a satisfying guitar breakdown payoff.
Tonight’s set draws evenly from across the band’s three albums. By the middle of the gig this serves to highlight the fact that, throughout their career, Warpaint have written a lot of mid-tempo tracks. ‘No Way Out’, taken from a 2015 EP, meanders through seven quite dull minutes. ‘The Stall’, from the new album, is similarly uninspiring and ‘Stars’, a post-rock opus, may be carefully considered and executed, but ultimately fails to hold the attention.
Part of the problem is that the subtleties of Warpaint’s recorded work, particularly in the gorgeously produced new album, are lost in the muddy sound of the live arena. An issue too is the aloof, introspective nature of the band members; they have a lot of chemistry, but at times I feel like an outsider awkwardly gate crashing into their rehearsal room.
Things pick up again with ‘Whiteout’, the opener from Heads Up. ‘Whiteout’ sounds more modern than much of Warpaint’s Cure-rock, with a funky, almost r‘n’b vibe benefiting from an impassioned vocal performance from Emily Kokal and insistent, woozy guitar triplets.
‘So Good’ and ‘New Song’ are also highlights of tonight’s gig, showcasing the pop sensibility of Warpaint’s most recent material. It’s the sound of a band that’s confident, adept and at ease with itself. Perhaps some time apart has done them good.
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