Thursday night a lucky group of fans and friends were treated to a very special performance by two of the finest practitioners of modern music, Gruff Rhys and Bryan Hollon (Boom Bip) of Neon Neon. Joined by Welsh comrades Cate Le Bon on guitar/vocals/agogo and Huw “H. Hawkline” Evans on bass/vocals, along with Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint on drums, Rhys and Hollon presented in its entirety their latest album, Praxis Makes Perfect.
The venue was intimate–colorful and subdued lighting, masonic images, and Brian Eno’s Music For Airports piping round the vaulted ceiling all helped to create a serene and slightly sinister atmosphere, not wholly inappropriate for the ritual we were about to experience. Compared to their recent full-on theatrical performances in Cardiff, this was a decidedly stripped down affair. The band played in darkness, almost completely obscured in the silhouettes of five giant wooden thrones, over which narrative images were projected. The lack of theatrics turned out to be a boon though as it allowed the audience to focus more on the captivating music.
On the far right, lit dimly by a candelabrum, Hollon manned the helm with his arsenal of synths, expertly recreating the myriad textures from the album; on the left, Rhys hugged his monitor and crooned his beautiful melodies and clever and subversive lyrics about revolution and consumerism, occasionally chiming in on his own synth. Huw Evans deftly handled a spectrum of styles on the bass, from the melancholy slides on “Doctor Zhivago” to the frenetic funk of “Michael Douglas”; Stella Mozgawa added power and subtlety, injecting soul into the sometimes robotic beats of the recordings; Cate Le Bon rounded out the sound with her supple guitar and her rich and versatile voice, which complemented Rhys’s perfectly.
In addition to playing Praxis, the group tore into a handful of the best songs from NN’s first album, Stainless Style. A guest vocalist was brought up for the plaintive and dreamy chorus of “The Leopard,” and a percussionist added some furious bongo to several songs: the latin-inflected “Raquel,” the jaunty consciousness-expanding “Listen to the Rainbow,” and the twerk-inducing encore “Sweatshop.” The highlight of the night though was the duet, “I Lust U,” with Rhys and Le Bon trading off verses, weaving and coming together on the choruses.
What seemed a somewhat impromptu gig was pulled off flawlessly, a testimony to professionalism and talents of the players. They’re all at the top of their games, and with a set of such diverse and expertly crafted songs as these, they delivered a truly transcendent experience.