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A powerful, if quiet, night with London Grammar

London Grammar played live in Auckland for the first time on Saturday. Madeleine Chapman was at Spark Arena to see it unfold.

There were technical issues at the London Grammar concert. I know this because the wait between the opener James Vincent McMorrow and the main act was 45 minutes. I also know this because the members of London Grammar apologised no less than four times for being late. It was a surprisingly polite thing to do which captured the tone of the whole night.

Starting at 8pm, it was more of a double bill than an opener and headliner, with James Vincent McMorrow performing a 50 minute set. I was surprised at how full Spark Arena was by 8:05pm, with it being almost full capacity, but McMorrow has actually been around longer than London Grammar so it would be fair to assume some fans attended primarily to see him. McMorrow was incredible live, with a larger back up band than I would have predicted. If Damien Rice, Ray Lamontagne, and Sam Beam were to allow one more member into their sombre-bearded-singer-songwriter club, it would be James Vincent McMorrow.

A good beard, a good hat (Photo by Randy Holmes/ABC via Getty Images)

After a patient wait, London Grammar opened with the vocally isolated “Rooting For You”. With it, lead singer Hannah Reid let everyone know immediately that the impressive pipes heard on their records could deliver in real life too. What followed was just over an hour of what can only be described as the politest concert I’ve ever been to. The fans, who all seemed to have a lot of hair, actually listened when security told them to clear a path, and no one seemed to mind the extra wait. After the first apology and a valiant but unsuccessful attempt from Dot Major at saying “kia ora”, London Grammar settled in. The stage set up was minimal, with a widescreen behind them showing colours and images you might find as a default Windows screensaver. It worked though, because the whole show was decidedly relaxed, that to have them look as if they were trying too much would’ve seemed out of place. My friend insisted that I mention how great Reid’s ponytail was so here I am mentioning it. It was incredible and I want to know her trick.

I actually had reservations about how full the show would be. London Grammar have such a distinct sound that it’s hard to tell just how popular they are. Turns out, very much so. Reid showed hints of Florence Welch and occasionally a touch of Annie Lennox. Sometimes it seemed as if she was running out of steam and then suddenly the music would fade and she’d hit some ridiculous note, hold it, then return to the song like nothing happened. Meanwhile, Dan and Dot, her two bandmates, were somehow doing everything else. At one point I saw Dot play piano, switch to the sampler, move to the drums for the chorus, then loop back around all in one song. Reid might be the voice but watching Dot Major at work was equally thrilling.

London Grammar in action (Photo by Dave Simpson/WireImage)

One thing that threw me, and has got me thinking ever since, was how loud the crowd was. Not loud in their cheering, but loud when Reid was singing. London Grammar’s sound falls somewhere in between acoustic and full-on pop. Which means while Reid’s voice is powerful enough to draw attention, there are still plenty of quiet moments in each so where crowd chatter can cut through. Perhaps it was more technical difficulties making them sound quiet, but I spent a lot of the show trying to spot who all was talking through the performance. When their pre-encore set ended with “Strong”, Reid encouraged the crowd to “sing along if you know the words”. Thankfully, those same chatty fans did indeed know the words and New Zealanders didn’t embarrass themselves by being quiet when asked to sing on their own.

“If a lion roars, would you not listen?” we all screamed at the stage, struggling to reach the high notes. Reid proved she had the voice of a lion and I for one was glad to listen.


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