Aldous Harding opened her homecoming show to silence. As she walked on-stage at the James Hay Theatre you could hear audience members’ every moves – the shuffling, the drop of a cup and the anticipation.
Then, slowly, as Harding took a seat centre stage, the silence erupted into applause. She opened the show acoustically before launching into her recently-released third album’s title track ‘Designer’. The quiet crowd loosened into the music and the night was under way.
“I’ve got a lot to say, but now is not the time. Thank you,” she told the crowd during her first interaction.
When the opening bars of Designer’s lead single ‘The Barrel’ started playing – after ‘Treasure’ – Harding reminded the crowd that this “isn’t the Party” tour”, and encouraged them to have a little fun. And that we did. Bar one man rockin’ out next to me, no one in the well-dress Wednesday night crowd ever got as creative as Harding does in the music video for the song, but there was a marked increase in low-key swaying and grooving. This is her version of a certified banger.
A lot of people assume Aldous Harding (real name Hannah Harding) is very serious. What I think they mean is that she’s exceptionally good at getting into character – and staying there. Everything that makes up her public persona – the way her body moves, her intense facial expressions and her, at times, disarmingly intense stare. The extremely witty jokes she cracks from time to time, in between songs, remind you that behind the character, she’s just like us. Heck, you’d have to know how to have fun to pull off any of her on-stage performance. A serious person simply wouldn’t know how to embrace a persona like that.
Her voice slices through the crowd and makes a beeline for the core of each of us. She taps into your soul, where you thought there was only space for your own thoughts and feelings. This hits particularly hard during ‘Fixture Picture’ – where her band perfectly harmonise with her high-pitched vocals – and on spooky heartbreaker, ‘Weight of the Planets’.
By the time her epic cover of Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Right Down the Line’ comes around, the crowd isn’t ready for it to end. It felt powerful and it felt special. Everyone in the room knew we were lucky to be seeing the Lyttelton expat perform, and there were moments during the deeply emotive song where you stood back and thought, “wow.”
When Harding returned for a two-song encore the crowd were at their peak – right where a performer would want them. She closed with a new song, a move that would tank for so many artists – but not for Harding. ‘Old Peel’ is a certified hit and I need to know when it’s going to be released! The fun and catchy bop saw Harding use a coffee cup as her percussion of choice, because why wouldn’t she? Everyone will be desperate to get their hands on the punchy, quirky, feel-good number that’s both wacky and thought-provoking – a side effect of Harding’s music we’ve all come to absolutely adore.
Regent Theatre in Dunedin, Thu 29 August 2019
Hunter Lounge in Wellington, Fri 30 August 2019
Powerstation in Auckland, Sat 31 August 2019
Powerstation in Auckland Sun 1 September 2019