Live @ O2 Academy Bristol (Dot To Dot Festival)
May 23, 2009
Review & Photography: Steve Bateman

“Bam! Kazam! Ladyhawke! A superhero for The Noughties. Beamed direct to you from The '80s.” MUSIC OMH

“One nostalgia trip worth taking.” Q

"Truest beauty is unaware of its own value and Pip has that quality in spades. A studio tinkerer and tune-obsessive, she’s the girl who fell to Earth; devotedly, myopically all about the music." NME

As one of my most cherished new musicians in recent memory, also releasing one of my albums of the year in 2008. When I read that the Kiwi songstress, Ladyhawke (the nom-de-plume of Pip Brown), was going to be a part of the Bristol Dot To Dot Festival – along with an array of other emerging / promising new talent on the bill – this was even more of a reason for me to take the trip! Like her previous shows that I’ve attended though, unfortunately, getting interview time with Ladyhawke has proved to be extremely difficult. So by way of compensation, I thought I would write a live gig review, listing some of the highlights, as well as peppering the article with some background information on the beautiful popstrel herself…

Although sceptical of the ‘build-them-up-to-knock-them-down’ hubristic attitude of the music press, Pip has summed up her astounding and soaring journey so far, with the enthusiastic line, “Everything that’s happened has felt like an out-of-body experience!” And with venerated artists such as Courtney Love, Kylie and Peaches, toasting her spangly, sumptuous and sugar-spun music – who like the rest of the world, have fallen madly in love with her unrivalled blend of melodic electro-synth pop, gilded disco rock and ‘80s revivalism, which is flecked and fortified with a sun-kissed cool. Ladyhawke is unequivocally a bona fide Pop Star, who has struck gold thanks in no small part, to her aptitude and flair for modernising an old formula – skills that have left her sitting at the top of the class!

Because when the loping Back Of The Van was originally posted on the Internet, it blew up, spreading to clubs / radio stations and falling into all the right hands. Currently based in London and signed to Island Records in the UK, and the hip label Modular in Australia. The self-taught multi-instrumentalist, spent “the first 18 years of her life in Masterton, New Zealand, as a music obsessed child under the music tutelage of her mum (a singer) and stepfather (a drummer).” Both of whom, now proudly keep track of their beloved daughter’s progress over the World Wide Web. Cutting her teeth in the punk band, Two Lane Blacktop (who even once played a gig at New York’s CBGB) and next – after relocating to Sydney, Australia – the experimental dance duo, Teenager. In 2005, Pip then decided to try life as a solo artist, which would enable her to “focus on a personal project she had been working on for some time and completely express herself in anyway she wanted.”

Taking her persona from the 1985 Michelle Pfeiffer fantasy flick, Ladyhawke, as she “sees herself as a sort of pop superwoman creating radio-friendly songs which are single bound.” Endearingly, as an alter-ego, it was also her way of trying to overcome shyness / feelings of awkwardness (Pip suffers with Asperger’s Syndrome), although once admitted, “It was the perfect plan, but as time passed and I performed more shows, I came to the realisation that I can’t really escape that I’m Pip.” And even now, gig after gig, she still can’t look an audience member directly in the eye for too long, due to stage-fright. Reasoning, “Even though I get nervous and everything, I just have to tell myself it’s over in about 40 minutes – my sets aren’t very long. I love playing, it’s kind of a love / hate thing and you get so much free alcohol!”

Ladyhawke also has a penchant for cats, toys, video games + zombies, and her musical identity is bolstered by a strong visual identity, which again, is very much indebted to The ‘80s. With a combination of retro T-shirts, skinny jeans, waistcoats, plaid shirts, leather jackets and Doc Martens, finished off with Pip’s soft feminine features, long platinum blonde hair and either a headband or her trademark flat-brimmed black hat. Her best friend and artist, Sarah Larnach, is also the person responsible for the eye-catching watercolour paintings that adorn all of her record sleeves, and can be seen in the stunning My Delirium promo video. At 9.15pm, Ladyhawke bashfully walks on stage following in the footsteps of her all-male live band, with expectations from the packed Bristol Academy particularly high, as just a little over an hour ago, Patrick Wolf gave a typically flamboyant, outlandish and engrossing performance!

As with her self-titled debut album, the mercurial Magic is the opening song in tonight’s set list and includes the rather apt lyric, "You came to my show and I saw you in the crowd, I didn't know your name, I didn't know your name." Before her honeyed / lambent vocals and the catchy, cloud-bursting chorus, "One journey for you, but it's worth it, one life and with me and it's magic," reels us in. Towards the end of the track, Pip swings her guitar to one side to play additional keyboards, helping dapple and lather the omnipotent vintage analogue synth sound, which is complimented by a visual feast of blue, yellow, purple and pink lighting, that frequently silhouettes the group.

“Thank You Bristol” she beams afterwards, acknowledging the audience’s applause, before Professional Suicide starts up – one of the darker moments in Ladyhawke’s canon. Rinsed with castigating lyrics that seem to be aimed at someone who has wronged her, “You do what you want and you play what you want, but it’s shit what you do and it sucks what you play – it’s professional suicide, professional suicide.” The hooky told-you-so, “Na na na, na na na na” and the scattershot / dextrous drum pattern, briefly lightens the mood, before the ultimate put-down for any fallen musician is unleashed with the stinging kiss-off line, “You’re always bagging me behind my back, you must be making up for what you lack. I see you had a hit in ’89, too bad we all don’t age as good as wine.” Ouch!

Dusk Till Dawn is the first Ladyhawke single out of the traps and in contrast to the previous track, it’s much more uplifting with a radio-friendly vibe – I defy anyone to not sing along to, or at least hum the infectious, joyous and bouncing, “Do do do do, do do do do,” which strikes you like a bolt out of the blue! If there were any chin-strokers, or non-believers with arms folded in the excitable crowd this evening, then this would surely have been the clincher, as the eruption of yells that greet the song’s finale are near-deafening. Definitely a set ’Hot Spot’! Interestingly, one thing that you do notice about a live Ladyhawke outing, is the faithful recreation of her textured and layered studio sound (Pip worked with a number of producers on her debut long player, including chief collaborator and the world-renowned producer, Pascal Gabriel).

Having had a gradual and old-fashioned ‘slowly-but-surely’ build, the album has since topped 100,000 sales in the UK alone! And if you don’t already own the record – which is bathed in a lush, warm haze and thanks to its high-production values, is buffed with a glossy topcoat – it truly is a box of delights and is a gift that keeps on giving! Of the ubiquitous adulatory press it’s subsequently accrued, The Guardian raved, “It’s full of percussive flourishes and synth curlicues, decorations on a musical cake that tastes of all those 1980s hits by Brown's heroines: Kim Wilde, Pat Benatar, Chrissie Hynde, Debbie Harry, Joan Jett and Stevie Nicks.” And for ‘Fact Fans’, Pip’s Top 5 Albums are: David Bowie - Hunky Dory, ELO - Time, Fleetwood Mac - Fleetwood Mac, Rumours and Tango In The Night.

Slightly slowing the set’s pace, is the ebbing and flowing mid-tempo rocker, Another Runaway, which is nestled next to the despondent and meditative, Love Don’t Live Here. Along with emotional outpourings and breathless, haunting harmonies, it details the breakdown of a relationship, as Pip laments, “Love, love, love is always so unsure, but bleeding hearts have always known no law – you say that you don’t need me anymore.” A subject that has long motivated many songwriters to put experiences into words, feelings into melodies. In-keeping with the Ladyhawke cinematic theme, Crazy World, could easily have been written for a John Hughes movie, especially when you realise that Pip likes to think of her LP as “A Soundtrack”. Employing waterfalls of major power chords and yet another glorious chorus (Ladyhawke’s ace up the sleeve), “We’re part of a, we’re part of a, we’re part of a crazy world.” This track is pure heaven, and builds towards a sizzling alpine guitar solo with a sonic boom that encircles and elevates the audience skywards!

Next up, we come to the first Ladyhawke song that I ever heard and which is still my personal favourite (although it is very hard to choose), Back Of The Van. It’s often reported that this confection is an homage to Stevie Nicks, and as Pip coos, “In the dark, in the back of the van…” it certainly evokes the sound and feel of classic Fleetwood Mac, who Ladyhawke aficionados will know are Pip’s all-time favourite band! The chorus of, “Cause you set me on, you set me on, you set me on fire…” sees the whole crowd singing and shaking along – obviously, this is one of the ones people came for! Saving some of her biggest tunes until the end, Paris Is Burning is then despatched as fast as a spinning-top, without the group even stopping to compose themselves. Featuring a thumping elasticised bass-line, it was inspired by an eventful and memorable weekend that Ladyhawke once spent in the French Capital, not to mention giving her a huge smash hit!Short and sweet, it seems no sooner has the set begun, it’s nearly over – but not before we go out with a bang, as Ladyhawke and her gang finish with an extended version of My Delirium. After the now customary midpoint song breakdown, where the other musicians fall away leaving Pip to play a lone vibrato guitar lick. The band then really begin to have some fun, as they jam and improvise, before Pip steps back up to the mic and hollers the final refrain of, “Hey, you’re playing with my delirium and the longer I wait, the harder I’m gonna fall. Stop, playing with my delirium, ‘cause I’m out of my head and out of my self control.” As the group put down / step away from their instruments to sizeable cheers, Pip says a heartfelt, “Thank You everyone – it was great to be a part of the Dot To Dot Festival in Bristol!” Job done, next stop the Nottingham Dot To Dot Festival tomorrow, where I’m sure Ladyhawke will have much the same effect!

To wrap things up, I thought it would be fitting to leave you with something that Pip wrote in her self-penned bio, which for me, perfectly encapsulates her genuine and ever-questing creative spirit: "I wanted to make music that could put a smile on people’s faces and give them a feeling of nostalgia, even though they may be hearing my songs for the first time. I love how music evokes memories of a certain time. I draw massively from many, many influences. You could definitely say I wear them on my sleeve. But what I have tried to do, is really recreate the same vibe that so many amazing records of The ‘70s and ‘80s produced. I wanted to capture the "happy-sad" vibe that so many Eighties classics had. Music that came out of the Eighties had such a unique and definitive sound. Big production, big synths and big guitar riffs. The songwriters were incredibly significant, and the whole musical era left an everlasting impression on me. Me and Ladyhawke are two sides of one coin. She is an incredibly important part of my personality. Primarily, above all else, as a songwriter I only ever wanted to create something that evoked feelings. I hope that Ladyhawke does. We were all once teenagers, listening to music at full volume, jumping on the bed with the door shut.”

Also a favourite of remixers du jour, Pip has made it known that she’s eager to collaborate with different musicians in the future as well (dropping names including Kylie and MGMT), because she feels “it’s important, as you can learn from other people.” Twinned with her own candy-coated cuts from the cosmos and succulent songs that you'll enjoy getting to know. There’s no question in my mind whatsoever then, that Ladyhawke will be flying high for a very long time and is destined for even greater things, because she is truly unforgettable and one-of-a-kind!

A very special thanks to Sophia Seymour @ Universal Music, for all of her time and help.

Bristol Set List

Professional Suicide
Dusk Till Dawn
Another Runaway
Love Don’t Live Here
Crazy World
Back Of The Van
Paris Is Burning
My Delirium

“You Set Me On Fire”