Live Review: Little Dragon @ The O2 Brixton Academy, 27.11.14

By Tola Ositelu

It’s about time that I saw eclectic Swedish maestros Little Dragon live and in action. I’ve admired lead singer Yukimi Nagano’s astonishingly versatile output for years and the group’s latest offering ‘Nabuma Rubberband’ is one of my top albums of 2014. Plus their gigs receive mouth-watering fan reviews.  Catching the London date of their world tour is a must.

On a mild, late autumn evening I head for the Academy Brixton, South London. I reckon it’s well over 15 years since I was last at this particular venue, when a teenage incarnation of myself screamed herself hoarse at a Dru Hill Valentine’s day special.

I arrive early enough to find most of the auditorium empty. In a couple of hours it’ll be nearly full to capacity. Support act Nao (pronounced Nay-oh) floats onto stage and launches straight into her set, strobe lights et al, doing away with introductory formalities.  Her impressive repertoire complements the main act’s electro-soul niche, albeit with a slightly rockier edge. Nao wastes no time winning over the room with her feisty baby doll vocal delivery, immediately memorable tunes and slinky, confident moves. There’s no sleeping through this opening act and, thank goodness, you wouldn’t want to. By the end of her short and sweet performance the crowd are roaring their approval.

We still have a long wait for Little Dragon. The DJ keeping us company with his ferocious beats bears a striking resemblance to Gilles Peterson, one of LD’s earliest enthusiasts. I seem to be the only one to notice as I am met with blank expressions when I ask those nearby.

When the mystery selector starts speaking, his identity is no longer in doubt. Dragon enjoys the sort of credibility that has internationally-acclaimed DJs spinning discs at their gigs. Unassuming as ever, Monsieur Peterson doesn’t introduce himself properly until the end of his session.

The LD massive is sufficiently pumped up by the time the distinctive-looking group members mount the stage one by one. The loudest ovation is reserved for Yukimi herself who, dressed in a stiff fluorescent orange and yellow dress, resembles a walking traffic cone. The stage looks like a 1980s vision of the future.

T’is a pity the Academy’s distorted sound system makes it difficult to hear Nagano’s sublime voice over the music. The gamely crowd doesn’t appear to be as bothered by it as I am. There’s no need for the band to implore us to get on our feet. We came ready to dance and it’s made easy with irresistible selections such as ‘Please Turn’ and ‘Shuffle A Dream’. Nagano is one heck of a show-woman. There’s a happy symbiosis between artist and audience. We’re feeding off each other’s energy. At times it’s as if she is lost in a musical frenzy, liable to forget where she is and why she’s there. It’s a wonder she recovers at all.

The band cunningly builds up to the highlights of the current album, teasing us with comparative fillers like ‘Killing Me’ and ‘Underbart’.  It’s a sly strategy. By the time the intro for ‘Pretty Girls’ kicks in the room is quite wild with excitement. Even this interpretation is somewhat more restive than the album version. It gets us moving but something of the original’s doleful beauty disappears. In contrast, ‘Cat Rider’ retains its ruefulness.

On the whole this is a high octane evening. There isn’t much room for Dragon’s mellower compositions to balance things out. I try to fight the feeling something is missing and enjoy the moment. On hearing the opening bars of personal anthem ‘Paris’, I get caught up in Yukimi’s frenzy myself. I can’t recall the last time I danced at a concert until I was breathless. The band segues into a hi-life inspired interlude, followed by crowd favourite ‘Ritual Union’. By the time stunning single ‘Klapp, Klapp’ comes along it is as if the band made us wait too long. This is definitely one to throw yourself around the room in a dancing fit. The earlier on in the set-list, the better.

After an extended four-to-the-floor outro, for the encore Nagano and co oblige their eager public with another crowd pleaser ‘Little Man’.  Of course, they couldn’t leave the building without a rendition of the haunting ‘Twice’, arguably their signature track. It’s like a cooling tonic in comparison to the fervour that has gone before.

Although the show lasts close to two hours, it’s somehow not enough to do the Dragon back catalogue justice. (I know, I know; a typical fan’s lament.) Or perhaps it’s just that they overlooked some of their more understated masterpieces; ‘Crystalfilm, ‘Nabuma Rubberband’ (come on, people!) ‘Pink Cloud‘, and ‘After The Rain’ come to mind.

Still, with the sort of energy Little Dragon expend on pleasing their audience, even the smallest complaint seems plain ungrateful.

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