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Aldous Harding review: High art brought low by sound problems

Aldous Harding  ★★★

Metro Theatre, August 26

"Bewitching" and "bewildering" are two adjectives often applied to the music of Kiwi singer-songwriter Aldous Harding, and on this night you could add "bothered" as well.

Aldous Harding performing at British Summertime in the UK this year.

Aldous Harding performing at British Summertime in the UK this year.Credit:EMPICS Entertainment

As if opening a sold-out show with a six-minute, desolately sung lament on solo Spanish guitar wasn't nerve-racking enough, the end of This World is Looking for You brought another challenge for the 29-year-old, born Hannah Harding, who is touring the world for third album Designer.

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She was struggling to hear herself through the monitors. This was a big problem because for all the faster tempos and glossier production of the new record, her voice and the different personae it reflects in each song remain central to her music.

The audio problems seemed to throw Harding for a while. Despite her band channelling the ornate folk-rock of Nick Drake's Bryter Later on the sprightly Designer (with drummer doubling on flugelhorn) and Fixture Picture, Harding appeared unenthused, rendering impressionistic lyrics more like cryptic crossword clues than vehicles for communication.

It's safest to write "seemed" and "appeared" because it was hard to know what Hannah Harding was really feeling but even so Aldous made this night a performance in the true sense of the word.

Harding's face while singing was a thing to behold, deadpan staring one moment, mugging the next, in between twitching and rolling her eyes back in her head like Charlie Chaplin, her bowler-style hat adding to the impression.

It was only after a languorous Zoo Eyes that the energy of Harding's performance began to match that of her facial expressions.

Foldback problems presumably sorted, Treasure was this night's first triumph, Harding's picked guitar and crystalline vocal wrapping around keyboard with music-box perfection, the feeling of longing palpable even as the words she sang made no literal sense.

Then the irresistible The Barrel saw Harding really unfurl, breaking out the shaker and the shamanic dancing from its meme-worthy music video, and the crowd - hitherto reverentially quiet - moving the most it would all night bar for The Blend, where martial drumming and Harding's deep-voiced declamations injected welcome punk energy.

We also got yacht-rock, the clean electric guitar lines of Harding's partner Huw Evans heralding Gerry Rafferty's Right Down the Line, her breathy falsetto transporting its straightforward declaration of devotion.

Even as Harding closed the show by banging a teacup and getting back to the evocative nonsense with a Television-like new song - "Old peel/No deal/ I won't talk if you call me baby" - it was that moment of artlessness that lingered.

Michael Bailey writes on entrepreneurship and the arts. He is also responsible for the Financial Review's Rich Lists. He is based in Sydney."

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