It feels like the start of a school performance. The layout of wooden chairs, the fog machine, even the smell of the Islington Assembly Hall are reminiscent of the years when the youthfully talented would perform in front of their overly proud parents – camcorders in hand.
But for an artist that has been on the scene for over two decades, it’s almost as if the hall is a fitting little throwback – a salute to the ‘90s when Hooverphonic was creeping into the music world. Despite its quirkiness, the hall is a perfect setting for the band’s hybrid style of genres. Their eclectic mix of pop, trip hop, jazz, electronica and rock is so juxtaposed and multifarious that it demands focus. It calls for undivided attention that is so easily achieved in the comfort of this intimate setting.
The show begins under navy blue light, which brilliantly accompanies the familiar opening notes to Inhaler. A low mist covers the stage and the band slowly begin to appear as silhouettes. Those famous lines – “a new stereophonic sound spectacular” – echo through the speakers, as singer Luka Cruysberghs walks up to the microphone. Her vibrant blonde hair, visually striking as it contrasts the darkness of the stage.
Luka is not only the newest member of the band, but the youngest. At just 18 years old, she was the winner of Belgium’s The Voice contest, which she won in 2017 alongside coach (and Hooverphonic bassist), Alex Callier.
Her vocals are true brilliance. They are as mesmerising as they are entrancing. And, what’s best is that they are always the focus of the show. There are no guitar solos, no band-only intervals – everything is structured towards championing Luka’s unique voice and giving it every importance.
And so, through hues of red, blue and yellow, the band seamlessly progress through a few more back catalogue numbers – Stranger, Vinegar & Salt, Jackie Cane – before debuting a new number, Deep Forest.
It’s at this moment bassist Callier, decides to interrupt the pace and welcome his audience to the show. “It’s so nice to be in London, where we can walk about the streets and not have to take refuge in the grocery store” (alluding to the band’s immense fame back in their home country of Belgium).
It’s the start of Callier’s famous ‘between-song banter’. While Hooverphonic’s other founding member, guitarist Raymond Geerts, is quietly cemented in his corner, Callier loves a chat. He spends plenty of time sneering about the genre of his band (“I hate the term ‘trip hop’!”), showing off their most famous song 2Wicky (“it was in a movie, you know?”) to encouraging audience participation during Hiding in a Song (“When you sing, you need to sound like you are both terribly hungover and also a 16 year old Mick Jagger”). No question that it was highly amusing!
As the show teeters towards conclusion, the band takes the opportunity to delve into a few more classic numbers. Mad About You showcased the trip hop style that made Hooverphonic famous some 18 years ago. This proved to be the biggest test of Luka’s vocal versatility and one that she nailed to a tee. Though a little shy and awkward on stage, Luka’s voice has every ear listening.
There is no distraction from anything else and she commands the stage, even in her somewhat introverted style. This was the song of the night and one that received the most applause. So much so that anyone would think it was the last song of the evening.
A short encore later and the show closes to rousing applause – a sense of contentment personified in the beaming smiles of band and audience members alike.
Overall this night was a true celebration of Hooverphonic’s cumulative body of work that now spans more that 23 years. Deliberately stripped down, the show was completely devoid of spectacle and only focused on the simple art of playing music. And while it may still be difficult to define what makes this band so musically unique, this show certainly championed every aspect that has characterised them over the decades. What a pleasure to witness.
Live Review & Photography by Lilen Pautasso of Hooverphonic at Islington Assembly Hall on 18th April 2018