A second visit to The Scala in as many weeks, this time to see Anna Meredith, an artist I was wowed by in Margate at the By the Sea festival earlier in the year, where she played a short set. Tonight Anna was headlining and we'd get a longer show.
Support came from Pixx, a young singer songwriter from South London who was accompanied by a very out-of-place guitarist and a keyboard player who looked like the guy from The Mighty Boosh. But stage presence aside, the music was actually decent and a good promotion for her new album "Grip".
In the run up to the show Anna had tweeted that she was going to start the show with something a little bit special, and she didn't spoil us opening with a surround-sound composition featuring two drummers: one on the stage and the second above us to the side on an overhead gallery. They were drumming to a heavy electronic composition that increased in pace, looking like it was making it harder and harder for them to keep up. Under strobe the drummers looked to sweeping their sticks over the drums but between the light pulses they were hitting the skins hard. It looked and sounded amazing and literally put us into the centre of the music... The only thing that would have made this intro cooler would have been if it ended with Anna introducing herself with a straightforward "hi, I'm Anna Meredith".
The normal set opened with the immense Nautilus, which was the first track I heard at her Margate set and the track that made me a fan, such was it's impact. An immense sound showing that you can get an amazing sound out of some cellos and a tuba and a composition that doesn't rely on retaining a 4/4 time throughout it's length. Instruments come in on the half-beat and stay there. A track, like a few others, that you find yourself nodding to but then not, then doing so in a slightly different way. Complex but embracing and certainly different to the majority of music "out there".
Tonight we had 2 cellists, at Margate we had one different one. The rest of the band I was getting to see and hear a second time. (Sam Wilson on drums, Thomas Kelly on tuba, and Jack Ross on Guitar). I can stupidly guess the cellist parts are so hard that Anna goes through them like Spinal Tap went through drummers. At time those poor cellists were running their hands up and down the neck of their instruments faster than a touch typist does in a Words-per-Minute challenge. The poor chap in Margate looked to be finding that set tough sweating hard as he did his best to keep up with the tempo of the music; tonight's cellists (Andrew Power and Maddie Cutter) were somehow coping fine, and at times actually enjoying their performance. I guess playing this sort of music makes a nice change from the classical sets they're probably usually playing. I only hope they're given enough respite at the end of each gig on the tour to grow new fingers!
The light show complimented the music really well with a little star field curtain behind the band being used to good effect a few times during the show. We did have a single laser, which didn't really leave the impression they usually do. Anna put that down to the impacts of brexit resulting in her only being able to afford one (ha!). Later in the set Anna also voiced a cute little tune asking that it would be very much appreciated if we bought some of her merchandise. By doing so, I guess we could get more laser in the future.
But it wasn't the cheeky plugs for souvenirs that won me over. It was the epic aural onslaughts from her Varmints album with tracks like R-Type and The Vapours sounding so intense and powerful that you wonder why heavy metal bands don't recruit tuba and cello players. On paper it sounds like a joke that a band could be good with those instruments on the stage; but when you experience the show (and if you've not you should) you realise just how clever Anna has been in choosing them.
An amazing talent, who has been on a roll this year, picking up awards all over the place, but still managing to remain out of the mainstream, and an artist who has probably given me my best gig of 2016. Thank you Anna!
and if the set wasn't perfect enough the encore was a cover of The Proclaimer's "500 miles" with the crowd encouraged to sing along. That's how you do an encore!
An amazing night, and a night that trumped the previous performance at Margate.