Warpaint, Pull In Emergency

Mike Hughes 26/08/2010

This was a gig snuck in ahead of Reading and Leeds. I think half way across London there were bands warming up for the coming Reading / Leeds weekend, I'm just glad this was the one I was at. After this, Warpaint will be touring the US, before heading back to the UK in October. It's strange that I've already got tickets for that October date as well, despite only having heard five songs by Warpaint in advance of this gig. The same compulsion was obviously high in others as well as me, judging by the queue stretching round the corner on this rainy London night.

Once inside and huddled stage front, there was even a tiny frisson of doubt after the support went off and we had that mid point lull. All but one of Warpaint were assembled and ready to go but Theresa had to resort to using the PA - "...paging Jenny Lee...". Jenny appeared after a few long minutes, instrument still in case, broke it out before our very eyes. She got set up in a trice, none the worse, but I'm sure we all wanted to know what intrigue had caused the delay.

That certain dampness, nay, rancidity from the queue added to the perspiring concrete box 'atmosphere' of Camp Basement, which was perfectly appropriate for a band that were all about sweating out in threadbare torn tee shirts.

These are loud band, what might have been called 'heavy' in another era. I don't really like comparison cocktails, but if you think 'Sonic Youth' you won't be too wide of the mark. This presumptuous opinion is based on the impressive and affecting way that the band build and weave melody amongst, over, and sometimes half hidden under sonic squall. I realise that is quite a bold comparison to make, big shoes to fill, but it really didn't take long to realise that we were in the presence of something really special, one of the more impressive gigs of the rolling twelve months. It just felt 'important', that hard to explain touch of significance.

Warpaint opened with 'Set Your Arms Down', which, like half of tonight's set, will be on the anticipated debut album 'The Fool', due for release in October. The rest of the tracks are from their only prior release, the 'Exquisite Corpse' EP, produced by Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante. Did I mention that these are a well connected band, as well as one which has evolved through a few eye-brow raising line-ups to get here?

Let's concentrate on the present though, they now seem settled as an all female four piece, Jenny Lee Lindberg , Emily Kokal, Theresa Wayman and Stella Mozgawa. These are a democratic and balanced ensemble. Vocals are led from three directions, and songs are just as likely to start with a complex convoluted set of drumming from Stella, or a bass lead from Jenny Lee, as they are with standard guitar crash. I can see why they get described as psychedelic or experimental, never more so than on stand-out number in a stand-out gig, 'Billie Holiday' This song melds old lyrics for Motown standard 'My Guy' to a hypnotic spelling out Billie's name, staking an emotional space in some 40-odd year old interstice of soul music. At the same time, it veers between intimate and the languidly chopped up afterburn of some jet engine. This is what marked the live Warpaint experience, the mixture of intimacy and noise.

The four evidently enjoyed their craft, several times songs or sections ending with one or more of them grinning and laughing. It rubbed off, and was a pleasure to be in their company for the night. Roll on October.

Set Your Arms Down
Undertoe (sic)
Billie Holiday

Head over to their MySpace and you can get a free download of 'Elephants', from the EP