The Union Chapel is the perfect venue for tonight. Despite the fact it can hold 600 or so, the chapel, due to its layout, always feels intimate. Add to that the hot chocolate, tastefully placed candles, wooden roof and its acoustics and you have one of London’s finest venues. Certainly a huge improvement from Scala, where Hidden Orchestra played this time last year.
Poppy Ackroyd beging the evenings show geared with a Nord electric piano, sequencer and visuals from Lumen. Poppy’s emotive modern classical style is accessible and warm and the balance between her elegant performance and sepia tinged projections make the performance an engaging spectacle. The music, however, never strays too far from the recordings, due to the presence of backing tracks, the violin sounds nasal and cold, meaning the recording lacks the intimate characteristics of last year’s Escapement. We are told that her show on the 20th December at Cafe Oto will be live piano and violin and closer to the the original aesthetic of the recordings, rather than a reenactment of the album. In spite of this, Poppy’s music is always a delight to hear, and encouraging that the title track of new album, Feathers, hold up well against Glass Sea and Rain from Escapement.
Origami Biro stand out tonight for using their own visuals, made with a camera on stage focused on film prints. Their music straddles a point between experimental, drone and post rock, with the use of looped sounds of scrunching plastic and clattering beads hinting at beats, while the music folds together and unwraps to understated moments of bliss. The guitar jumps between chords that are ambiently bowed and slowly strung out, much like Farewell Poetry, whilst the double bass glissandos between notes creating an expressive and powerful sound.
Up until now the visuals have been a pleasant addition to the music, but not much beyond a visual support. As Hidden Orchestra take the stage this seems to continue, but with the screen supported by 12 drum skins that are also projected upon. Throughout the first song the back wall of the chapel quietly lights up with perfectly mapped visuals enhancing the venue’s design. As the set progressed these visuals only improve with Lumen effortlessly lighting up the chapel’s most subtle elements. During Strange the rose window is replicated and kaleidoscopically circles around itself. Hidden Orchestra have always put focus on the visual aspect of their live show, and given the music, this seems wise to add a transformative dimension to their euphoric music. In the past, however, this has never quite met the peaks of the music and not added to their immersive sound. Tonight is different, though, and the audio and visual experiences are perfectly married, each complementing the other.
As for the music, the band feel full of an energy that has been missing over the last year or so, whether this is from the setting, the visuals or the sound is unclear, but in comparison to their last gigs here in London, at Canary Wharf Jazz Festival and Scala, the music shines through in a way that was lost earlier in the year. Whilst on record Joe Acheson is the key mover, live it has always been about Tim Lane and Jamie Graham. Tim’s rigid technique plays perfectly off Jamie’s more loose style, with the duo combining brushes, sticks and beaters and controlling the dynamics of themselves, as well as the band, so well to create a thrilling backdrop of percussion. Long time collaborator Phil Cardwell joins the band for most of the set, while Floex makes an appearance for Hushed, Hidden Orchestra’s remix of Clarinet Factory’s Five Steps and on Dust, where Tomáš Dvořák (aka Floex) replicates Joe’s more laid back playing, taking tonight’s performances away from the sound of the recorded versions, and towards a live identity of its own. The band play a set full of gems, from Spoken to Flight, and end on Strange, only to return for an encore of Antiphon, the energy is consistent and there is never a low point. It’s refreshing to hear a band play this well and interact with their surrounding, both visually and architecturally, as effective as this.