Rocking up at the O2 last night, the crowd were not in a good mood. The strange, tense atmosphere certainly didn't reflect the excitement you'd expect for the return of a band that haven't played in Oxford since 2010. Maybe it was because there was no support act and people hadn't had time to unwind from work. Maybe it's because the album on tour hasn't been released yet and people weren't sure what to expect. Or maybe it's because we were uncomfortably packed into what felt like an overcrowded O2.
Whatever the reason, the audience were on edge when Alison Goldfrapp, singer and front woman of the enigmatic electronic duo that bears her name, strode on stage in her traditional art house style. It was a visually bold opening, with futuristic back lighting and striking silhouettes thanks to Alison's huge, inflated sleeves. The singer moved gracefully and forcefully as she launched into a combination of new and recent tracks backed by twisting synth noises, electronic drums and now and then a modernist Steinberger bass guitar.
It should have been good; but the first two thirds of the set was disappointingly repetitive. The same riffs and beats, overused effects and Alison's wistful, indecipherable style all began to feel very dull. The tracks themselves weren't bad. Played on a good sound system in the comfort of your own home they might be very interesting, but there was nothing in the live performance that made it worth standing in that sweaty crush.
Thankfully the last third took a turn for the better as we rewound 15 years to the height of Goldfrapp's popularity. Hits like 'Black Cherry', 'Strict Machine' and 'Number One' thoroughly stood the test of time and quickly released the tension in the air. The audience came to life and people finally clapped, cheered and danced. Following in Numan's footsteps but taking the genre in their own direction, it's clear to see that Goldfrapp was an innovative band that, in turn, led the way for acts like La Roux and Florence and the Machine.
We can perhaps, therefore, make allowances for the fact that this was an early warm up gig for a bigger tour yet to come. After all, it's not easy to know how old fans will react to new material. Then again, maybe the old stuff is simply better. I guess only time will tell.
(This review first appeared on Daily Info.)