An arctic blast and bitter wind chill may have contributed to the quiet pre-show atmosphere when two British trios, headliner London Grammar and opening band Until The Ribbon Breaks, hit the iconic Philadelphia music venue, The Electric Factory on January 30. A small crowd had gathered to stake their claim to spots in front of the stage and only a few people were getting their pre-show drink on in the upstairs bar area.
Until The Ribbon Breaks began their set with the powerfully rhythmic, dark, and edgy song, “2025”, with soulful vocals by front man Pete Lawrie-Winfield (lead vocals, keys, programming, percussion, brass and guitar), about a grim near future, from their debut EP, A Taste of Silver. UTRB’s new album A Lesson Unlearnt was just released January 20, and “Perspective” a dance beat, hip-hop, infused song with splashes of Jamaican flavors, was the first song of the set from the new record that includes rapper Homeboy Sandman on the track. The crowd had mysteriously doubled in size sometime in the middle of UTRB’s set. The moody “Back to the Stars” preceded a barrage of more up-beat songs from the new record that included “Spark”, “A Taste of Silver”, and the explosive “Pressure”. A huge highlight of the set was “Revolution Indifference” that juxtaposed Pete Lawrie-Winfield’s soaring vocals between a synchronized video of rappers, El-P and Killer Mike of Run the Jewels, who also guest on the new record.
The venue had reached near full capacity when London Grammar emerged from the darkness of the backstage one by one. First was Dominic ‘Dot’ Major (keyboard, djembe, drums), who began a flowing piano melody with the tone of a vintage Fender Rhodes, followed by Dan Rothman (guitar) who added to the atmospheric keyboards with crisp guitar notes, and lastly Hannah Reid, (vocals, keyboards) pierced the already mesmerizing music with her incredible vocals on the stirring “Hey Now.”
Reid’s vocals, often compared to Florence Welch and Natasha Khan of Bat for Lashes, contain a dreamy quality and dynamic range. The hauntingly beautiful “Darling, Are You Gonna Leave Me”, the only song of the set not on the group’s 2014 debut album, If You Wait, was punctuated with Dot Major’s pulsating beats on the West African rope-tuned skin-covered djembe drum. Often, when a band has a song named “Interlude” it is a short instrumental segue or a transitional piece tying two songs together.
London Grammar’s “Interlude” is a full musical composition with stirring lyrics that build in intensity to a crescendo of Reid’s powerfully emotional voice. A silky smooth version of “Shyer” preceded a heart-wrenching and passionate performance of “Wasting My Young Years”. London Grammar’s cover of French house producer Kavinsky’s “Nightcall” shines on the If You Wait record and they performed it brilliantly for the thawed-out Philly audience. “Strong” is probably one of the most recognizable London Grammar songs, getting airplay on radio stations, satellite and cable radio, and has over 17,000,000 YouTube views of the band’s official video. It was an incredible experience to hear it live. The band’s encore began with Hannah Reid performing “If You Wait” solo on piano; just her voice and keys filled the large performance space before Major and Rothman joined in for “Metal and Dust”, the final song of the evening.
The two English trios, although quite different, paired nicely together. Until The Ribbon Breaks triggered more crowd movement and dancing, while the London Grammar set had much of the audience transfixed and in awe of one of the most beautiful voices in music today.