New Zealand synth rock artist Pip Brown, better known to the world as Ladyhawke, a stage name taken from a 1985 Richard Donner fantasy film, has had a colourful time of things between her sophomore record, 2012’s Anxiety, and it’s newly-released follow-up Wild Things. Having achieved global success with her eponymous debut, which produced five singles, the shy and anxious Brown followed it up with the less-stellar, guitar-driven and somewhat moody Anxiety. Disclosing her late-diagnosed Asperger’s and eventually copping to alcoholism, the intervening period has seen the Kiwi beat her addiction, get married and produce a collection of songs that can only be described as a complete 180.
Kicking off tonight’s London Scala show with Wild Things’ title track, Brown appeared on a stage featuring neon tube lighting highlighting each musician and the name of the new record flanked by a guitarist to her left and guitarist/keyboard player to her right with drums behind and wearing a blue leather jacket over a white Cleveland Cavaliers t-shirt. The slow-drive track more middle-of-set fare than a show opener got the crowd nodding along.
“Thank you so much for coming to the show” Brown said shyly in her broad New Zealand accent, smiling out at the North London crowd before a driving beat kicked off new album track The River, the nodding a little faster for this cut, but the mood certainly set for the summer to come, The River making for happy festival dancing. It wasn’t until the fourth song of the night that material from the eponymous debut album Ladyhawke was aired, Another Runaway kicking of a string of tracks from the hit record, the 1980s revivalism of her music fuelling louder screams from the audience.
Manipulating Woman saw the Los Angeles resident strap on a yellow Fender Stratocaster guitar to add some rock crunch, transforming the track to a heavier and coarser version of the synth pop original.
“I’ve got some old songs tonight and some new songs” the Masterton, New Zealand-born Brown said “and a few tambourine solos, it’s a new thing I’ve incorporated” she jested, to chuckles from the crowd before kicking off another Ladyhawke track Professional Suicide, the 1,000-strong crowd chanting along “na na na” alongside Brown demonstrating her skills on the aforementioned tambourine whilst flailing around her blonde locks.
The familiar driving beat and synth opening of Magic enticed screams of recognition from the crowd, the fan favourite one of Ladyhawke’s standout signature tunes. Brown’s first single as Ladyhawke Back Of the Van was next up, the 2008-released cut’s repeating rousing chorus of “You set me on fire” had the crowd yelling along with the 36-year-old. Rockier Love Don’t Live Here upped the tempo, it’s killer guitar licks riling the audience to a noticeable bounce and the last of six tracks rounded out the set’s complete divergence into her 2008 debut.
An airing of 2012’s Blue Eyes marked the sole song from Anxiety played during tonight’s set. Another round of Na Na Nas sounding decidedly flat and, if anything, taking a little energy away from the crowd that was quickly re-injected with Ladyhawke cut Dusk Till Dawn. Slower Wild Things tune Sweet Fascination was resplendent with its multitude of synths, the very retro styling of Ladyhawke’s 2008 debt very much the embodiment of the track, while the thrown-in guitar licks served as a reminder that her music retains its rock undertone.
“I’ve got a couple more songs, and then I pretend that the set’s over and I walk off” Brown said with a laugh. “There’s two more songs after that” she laughed, giving the encore game away before breaking into new track Let It Roll. Wild Things opener A Love Song closed out the main set, the dance tune probably a good pick for set-opener. Brown and her band then departed the stage briefly before returning, as promised, for a short encore of the biggest Ladyhawke tunes Paris Is Burning and My Delirium, the crowd bouncing along and left happily satisfied as they departed the former Kings Cross Cinema venue.
At one point in the night, taking stock of where she was on her setlist, Brown exclaimed “This set has gone so fast!” And so it did. With barely a breather between tracks and little banter with the crowd, the sixteen songs that made the cut tonight were ripped through in just over any hour. And while in some respects it’s great for shows to not be dragged out, there was little extra special about tonight as fun an evening of live music as it was.
Wild Things comes from a seemingly happier place for Ladyhawke. It’s a fun, punchy and colourful collection of songs and just putting it on transports me to summer. Seeing the majority of it played live mixed up with a good selection of Brown’s debut demonstrates just how festival-friendly this material will be, and from tonight’s set selection, Brown clearly knows how she wants to represent herself, with only one song from her sophomore release making the cut.
Ladyhawke plays Brighton’s The Haunt venue next before spending the summer hitting up venues across the US and Australia before winding up the first leg of her Wild Things tour with shows across New Zealand.
Live review of Ladyhawke @ Scala by Kalpesh Patel on 16h June 2016.
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Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate