I was introduced to U.K. three-piece London Grammar when they guested on Disclosure’s critically acclaimed Settle. Their album-closing collaboration, "Help Me Lose My Mind," is a pop-gem that stuck in my head for days after hearing it.
Although London Grammar’s debut, If You Wait, hadn’t been released in the U.S. yet (a stateside version including bonus tracks came out yesterday), I was able to preview most of the songs online. Even though it was disappointing that they chose to use an antiquated term like “trip-hop” to describe their music, it seemed that singer Hannah Reid, guitarist Dan Rothman and multi-instrumentalist Dominic Major were onto something big.
But it wasn’t until I saw the trio’s 16-minute performance
on Seattle radio station KEXP’s YouTube channel that I was completely sold. Before the first song is even halfway through, it’s hard to deny that Reid is a superstar in the making. The stunning 24-year-old’s voice is so strong and engaging it gives the show’s overly sycophantic host a hilarious case of the vapors. Perhaps even more impressive is that Rothman and Major, early twenty-somethings themselves, seem to understand what they have in Reid and are happy in supporting roles.
I had a combination of high expectations and general excitement going into the band’s first-ever San Diego performance Sunday night. And I wasn’t alone. The sold-out House of Blues audience seemed to be buzzing before the band took the stage shortly after 9 p.m.
Rothman and Major came out first, taking their places on the darkened, sparsely adorned stage. A sea of cell phones greeted Reid when she came out minutes later, but the house lights remained down. Instead, the singer riffed, chanted, and hummed variations on the word “Hey” for a while in the dark. We all knew it was headed toward opening number “Hey Now,” and the capacity crowd was silent as we all stood and listened.
Unfortunately, that was the last of the crowd’s silence. By the time the band started their second song, an incessant -- borderline disrespectful -- din of chatter began and never really waned. It hit an apex during the band’s quietest number, “Interlude,” when (at least from where I was standing) the music and talking were at the same level. But it didn’t seem to bother the band at all.
Rothman and Major were jovial throughout the set, Rothman even joking about the height discrepancy between him and Reid. And the singer’s only address of the crowd came in the form of, “Thank you so much for coming to watch us tonight. We like how loud you are.”
It’s all part of the allure. They’re incredibly low-key. Reid was dressed in black stretch pants and a cropped baseball jersey-style sweatshirt. Rothman and Major provided a perfect backdrop of atmospherics without ever needing the spotlight. They were only there to play.
And for some 50-odd minutes, that’s exactly what they did. Smoke machines rolled and a few lights came up, but it was obvious that music was the sole focus. Reid’s hypnotically powerful voice could easily carry the trappings of a cheesy, costume-change, bells and whistles performance. But so far, the band has made a conscious effort to keep it simple. For artists so young, their maturity and restraint is impressive.
At the end of the show, as Reid belted out the vocal fireworks of “Strong,” it was apparent that London Grammar has the potential to be huge. With nothing but sold-out shows ahead of them, they’ll likely transition into larger theatres and some of the best performances of their young careers. If they can keep the focus on the music, the sky really is the limit. Actually, they’ll probably be huge regardless. Reid’s just that good. See them in a small venue while you can.
- "Hey Now"
- "Darling Are You Gonna Leave Me"
- "Wasting My Young Years"
- "Stay Awake"