Theatre Rialto has been on my bucket list of venues to visit for the entire 15 years I’ve lived here; I’ve seen photos of that majestic interior, heard rave reviews about its stellar acoustics, but for some reason, it has just never worked out actually seeing a show there! But, at long last, tonight is the night, and I am finally here!
Singer/songwriter Huw Evans, a.k.a. H. Hawkline, is first up, and after introducing an adjacent drum machine as his “band” in the thickest Welsh accent imaginable, he proceeds to immediately transform it into a jaunty Rufus Wainright-esque vocal in conjunction with his acoustic guitar and his “band”. Some of the more delicate moments without the backing track sound even more majestic within the confines of such a palatial space. The last song, sans guitar but with backing track, sees the Welsh accent return with a vengeance, very reminiscent of Super Furry Animals. An excellent 30-minute set to start proceedings.
As glorious as Rialto is aesthetically and acoustically, it certainly has its flaws in terms of practicality. The entire venue is serviced by a single bar, which in turn, is only staffed by 2 people, which leads to an enormous line-up; needless to say, I don’t even bother trying for a beer. In addition, when H. Hawkline, and then headliner Aldous Harding, take their seats at the front of the stage, it’s hard to really see them clearly from the balcony without sitting bolt upright and leaning forward, such is the configuration and angle. Still, minor gripes, and certainly nothing that detracts from the main event.
Aldous arrives on stage, and quickly becomes a mesmerizing presence, standing with arms by her side as if standing to attention, and staring deadpan at the photographers as the set rumbles to life in the form of Ennui. Lawn sees Aldous banging a tambourine on her hip with one hand while making jerky erratic gestures with the other, whilst Blend is a whole other level of interpretive movement, both arms twisting and writhing as if Vecna has finally got her (sorry, Stranger Things Season 4 reference there).
In addition to the tambourine, there’s an array of other instruments on display tonight too. There are the usual suspects like guitars and piano (both of which Aldous plays on regular occasions in rotation with her 4-piece band), as well as guest appearances by both banjo and trumpet on She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain, and even a drumstick banging on a coffee mug during Old Peel, courtesy of Aldous too. If the voice counts as an instrument, then the freaky animal screech we get during Staring at the Henry Moore should probably be counted as well!
Musically, the set is extremely diverse too. Passion Babe is an upbeat piano-driven bouncer that could easily be mistaken for Regina Spektor if you stumbled upon it in a playlist, whilst Imagining My Man is a skillfully crafted blend of Aldous and two different sets of contrasting harmonies from her keyboardist and guitarist.
It’s the quieter moments that seem to hit heavier though. Treasure and Warm Chris are so delicate that you can hear a pin drop; actually, you can hear the air conditioning, quite literally, so that’s probably the better metaphor. It seems unfathomable that Cradle Of Filth are playing just a few kilometres away from here right now!
Of course, the biggest cheers are reserved for the twinkly acoustic intro of The Barrel, and rightly so. Those amazing ghostly mismatched off-key harmonies from the keyboardist, perfectly complementing Aldous’ vocal, sound even more haunting live than on the record. Which is some feat! Overall, it’s a magnificent 80 minutes, and for all its flaws, Rialto was certainly the perfect home for it.
- Tick Tock
- Fixture Picture
- Warm Chris
- Staring at the Henry Moore
- Passion Babe
- The Barrel
- Imagining My Man
- Old Peel
- Leathery Whip
- She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain
Review – Simon Williams
Photos – Steve Gerrard