By Russell Warfield
September 6, 2012
People debate the merits of Grimes’ live show – as with so many artists plying a similar craft – completely independently of her actually playing a single note on stage. Creating music she once misguidedly (read: irritatingly) described as being ‘post-internet’, built from loops, drum machines, and vocal filters, plenty of people are swift to deride Grimes’ live performances as being ‘just pressing buttons’, or ‘karaoke’ simply in principle, let alone once faced with the reality of what some attendees took to be a string of amateurish and disappointingly short sets over the past year. Whether or not these accusations have actually touched a nerve, Grimes comes armed with more than her sequencers tonight – using a pulverising light show, confetti, balloons and even a set-long pole dance routine to enhance the sense of occasion of a set which could all too easily fall victim to criticisms of being little more than the-record-but-louder.
Tonight, the theatrical atmospherics of the Grimes set certainly achieve their desired effect of creating a sensual onslaught much larger than ‘should’ be created by a woman with a sequencer and a microphone, but they sadly also serve to draw attention to the fact that the music frequently needs these tricks and embellishments. During her more meandering and samey-sounding passages of underdeveloped material (and, for all its five star jams, even Grimes’ most recent LP, Visions, still sports plenty), there’s moments when the dancers flanking the stage with their Argos-bought lightsabres betray a slight hollowness at the foundation of the whole enterprise; a peek behind the curtain at the wizard of Oz, snapping you out of the moment and making you think of little else except how fucking stupid this must have looked in sound check.
But, when she’s truly on form tonight, she completely soars, and there are more than a handful of moments when the music and the visuals conspire to create an engrossing experience far greater than the sum of its parts. Obvious highlight ‘Genesis’ completely slays in the live setting, snapping into the first of its many sudden shifts of rhythmic texture with a strobe attack and fierce synchronised dancing, ambushing and uplifting the audience as it moves through a truly alive meditation on progressive electronics and razor sharp pop sensibility. ‘Phone Sex’ achieves similar heights in its sheer directness; rollicking build ups of rolling snare and euphoric pay-offs all serving to prove that Grimes makes as convincing a Rihanna as she does a Mariah.
At heart, Grimes’ greatest strength tonight is exactly the same as it is on record – her ability to mix a brilliantly rendered pop-diva vocal line with wilfully alternative, even antagonistic, electronic textures. But, also as on record, she indulges an unwelcome tendency to concentrate on the latter to the detriment of the former – her best moments instead being her most musically direct and rhythmically robust. Offering up a live show which accentuates her strengths brilliantly – her voice sounding all the more powerful tonight, and the beats, when they lock in, throbbing all the more viscerally – but also one which makes her flaws more keenly felt, Grimes successfully rises above lazy jibes like ‘just pressing buttons’, but also falls prey to exactly the same sense of inconsistency as her recorded output.