After uploading an EP on BandCamp back in 2012 under the name twigs, Tahliah Barnett has enjoyed a rapid and dizzying rise to acclaim.
The artist now Formerly Known As twigs released her debut album last year to huge approval, and her unique blend of experimental electronic and R&B music has become adored around the world, allowing the Brit to travel to places as far away as Australia.
Sydney-based DJ Levins provides ample support for the Laneway sideshow, before departing with a double thumbs up. It’s already reached the scheduled start time, and a bustling and excited crowd is more than ready.
A sheet of blue smoke enshrouds the stage, and it seems inevitable that one of the biggest breakthrough artists of last year is about to appear in Melbourne. But it doesn’t happen yet. An ominous drone begins, but not to signal Tahliah Barnett’s entrance, and stretches out long and longer with a few minute changes, but it’s mostly a dull and repetitive sound.
It continues for so long that the smoke that had engulfed the stage eventually spreads across most of the packed audience.
After twenty minutes pass, it becomes clear that there are two sections of the sold-out crowd: those whose anticipation is merely increasing during this elongated introduction, and the mystified punters who start to question whether she’s actually there at all.
The drone finally stops as a song comes over the PA, but we’re still waiting. Half an hour later, with bar staff beginning to worry about their delayed shift, the lights finally go down, and FKA twigs’ three bandmates emerge on stage before camping themselves behind various electronic equipment and guitars.
It’s either a ridiculously ambitious extended introduction, or some sort of technical delay or lateness, but it seems ostensibly deliberate and curated: it begins right on the scheduled set time, and ends exactly half an hour later.
The stage goes dark, the opening note of ‘Preface’ is heard, and after half an hour of waiting, it finally begins.
From the outset, Barnett is utterly mesmerising on stage, moving effortlessly to each corner of the stage, and playing off the audience’s energy. She moves gracefully and expertly in time with the music while managing to never miss a beat.
The set begins relatively subtle and under-stated, until midway through second song ‘Ache’, when the quietness is broken by a brief but intense explosion of noise that also serves to introduce the wall of strobes behind the band. It’s exhilarating, and signals the true beginning of the show.
Lighting can so often be an afterthought at a gig, but here it becomes part of the performance, a fourth band member of sorts that is carefully arranged to suit the show, but never completely steals attention from the performance.
After a scream of “That’s fucking brilliant!” from a passionate member of the crowd is met with loud cheers, it’s obvious that the delayed start hasn’t off-sided anyone. Although she’s only been playing shows of this size since last year, FKA twigs seems completely at home on a big stage, and is a fearless performer.
FKA twigs’ voice is undeniably stunning and powerful, but much of her brilliance lies in the restraint that’s shown, especially in terms of volume levels. Much of her songs feature quiet, whispered vocals that only serve to highlight the incredible moments of loud singing that have come to define her music. This works even better live, and allows the night to have a natural flow that never overwhelms.
From descending to the floor on ‘Water Me’ to crouching low towards those lucky enough to be in the front row, Barnett seems lost in her own world while also managing to interact expertly with the enthusiastic Melburnians. FKA twigs’ dancing and movement with the music is completely entrancing and adds another element to the performance.
The three bandmates’ transition from electronic pads, guitars, and synths, and although inevitably provide only a backdrop to FKA twigs’ charismatic performance, it’s a welcome sight to see much of the backing played live, and adds a human element to the wall of sound.
The set encompasses much of FKA twigs’ debut album from last year, while also the majority of EP2. For the most part, each song blends into the next with no banter, something which works for this kind of show and only serves to add to the atmosphere.
The silence is broken however midway through the show, when a rare moment of silence allows twigs to profess her gratitude to the masses: “Hey Melbourne, I just wanted to say a quick thank you for coming tonight. It means so much to go to all these places, and that’s down to you guys for supporting me”. In contrast to her booming singing voice, she is softly-spoken and understated, but still altogether charming.
Breakthrough hit ‘Two Weeks’ proves to be as brilliant and impossibly catchy live as it is recorded, and after EP track ‘How’s That’ and some more honest thank-yous, the lights go down, and FKA twigs departs the stage.
Despite the delayed start, the set still goes for the allotted hour, and no-one seems to be leaving disappointed. So often, musicians who have emerged with as much hype and expectations as FKA twigs has can prove to be somewhat of a let down live, but this is certainly not the case.
FKA twigs demonstrated why she is one of the most interesting and unique artists going around at the moment, with a remarkable voice and stage presence creating a memorable first ever show in Melbourne.