London – It’s unusual to begin a review with the punch line but after tonight’s London show by Newcastle’s Lanterns On The Lake I seriously doubt if there is another band playing quite such stately, elegiac and emotive music anywhere else right now. The austere grandeur of Islington Assembly Hall seemed wholly appropriate and it was a special evening in several ways. It was the band’s biggest London headline show to date on a tour that singer-instrumentalist Hazel Wilde said would be its last for some time, although she reassured fans that there were no plans to split up; a statement that drew relief as much as loud applause. Accompanied by regularly co-opted member, Angela Chan on violin and keyboard, plus three-piece string and two-piece brass sections, the Lanterns quartet became ten for the night and how did they gel as a single unit.
Since the departure of Adam Sykes in 2012, lead vocal duties have fallen solely to founder member Hazel Wilde. It’s a role that the singer, who doubles on keyboard and guitars, excels at and one that gives the band a singular dimension, a pure stem from which its elaborate soundscapes branch out and envelop. A real sense of atmosphere built from the opening notes signaling “Of Dust & Matter” off their current album, Beings. It was played out in ghostly blue light with Wilde, shielded on piano in semi-gloom, sounding bell-like chords while string, guitar and brass decorated the rises and falls of this song of self-destruction. A blast of rock guitar from Paul Gregory then provided a clever segue to “Elodie”, a song which illustrated the underlying mastery of the rhythm section of bassist Bob Allan and drummer, Ol Ketteringham; the latter’s rim beats supplying a military twist on Gregory’s guitar artillery.
Lanterns On The Lake enthrall as much as alarm you, portraying splendour alongside disquiet as its majestic music adds a perfect counterpoint to the discord and frustration that underlies many of Wilde’s lyrics. The stage lighting switched to red appropriately as the band moved on to “Another Tale From Another English Town”. Blessed with a stunning ascending melody, this tale of the consequences of economic austerity for individuals and communities blends a social conscience with feelings of pride and sadness in equal measure. With sumptuous guitar, the drums accenting unexpected beats and Hazel Wilde’s staccato soprano never sounding clearer, it was an absolute high spot.
With Wilde switching to electric guitar as violinist Angela Chan put her bow down to take the piano seat, “Faultlines” provided a more strident take on the resigned sentiments of “English Town”. Paul Gregory picked up a different bow to coax screams from his guitar and the piece ended cacophonously in a wall of shimmering guitar effects. Gregory realised a bewildering array of guitar tones, using the bow on several occasions, adding heavy effects to slide guitar on “A Kingdom” which saw tout ensemble engage in a serious rock-out close and bursting through in angry tremolo-aided squalls in “I’ll Stall Them”. It was at this point in the evening that a fan was moved to call out “you guys are incredible” and it was bang on point.
The delightful “Send Me Home” provided a short breathing space with Ketteringham swopping drums for piano and Wilde singing lullaby-like over quivering strings and trembling guitar before “The Buffalo Days” ushered in more astounding guitar effects. A further ace was played in the shape of “Beings”, the stately title track of the third album, in which the strings and horns really cut through flanking Gregory’s bowed guitar. Earlier this year the band played a special homecoming show with the 40-piece Royal Northern Sinfonia, featuring arrangements by Fiona Brice. Tonight’s far smaller ensemble still did a great job in echoing the exquisite and expansive sound of the core band. Here is a taster of the full works which is now available on a live recording of “Beings”.
A classic cut from the band’s debut album, “Not Going Back to the Harbour” provided a popular closer, preceded by a candid explanation of how encores work by Hazel Wilde. The stirring song was dedicated enigmatically to “Jane, whose birthday it would be” and ended with an acapella refrain with all joining in, those few with microphones stepping back from them. Three encores duly followed, beginning with Wilde going solo on “Green And Gold”, offering up a Celtic twinge in her warm toned vocal, and ending with another crowd favourite in “I Love You, Sleepyhead”, a huge tour-de-force that built steadily from a mellow, considered opening, through soaring guitar and martial snare drums to a stunning and truly stirring closure.
Photography for Best New Bands by Ruth Geraghty
Lanterns On The Lake’s UK tour continues until December 3rd. Check dates on the band’s Facebook page. The live recording of Beings with the Royal Northern Sinfonia is out now and available to buy on iTunes.
Tony’s great passion in life is music and nothing gives him more pleasure than unearthing good, original new music and championing independent musicians. His association with Best New Bands brings great opportunities for this. He also writes for Consequence of Sound and is a judge for Glastonbury Festival’s Emerging Talent Competition.
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