[16 January 2005]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
Goldfrapp is one of the finest musical talents to have emerged in the first half of this decade, as the duo of singer Alison Goldfrapp and producer Will Gregory have put out some exhilaratingly unique and creative pop music over the course of two albums. In 2000, there was the stunner of a debut Felt Mountain, a wild melange of trip-hop, electronica, cabaret, and folk music, while 2003’s Black Cherry took a more dance-oriented route, as the pair combined the vintage electro sounds of the early ‘80s with a trendy, German schaffel influence, highlighted by a vocal performance by Goldfrapp that sounded enigmatic and sexually charged at the same time. As great as both albums are, as a performer, Ms. Goldfrapp finds herself somewhere between the quirky, esoteric theatrics of Bjork, and the glossy charisma of Kylie Minogue, and although her live evolution has been slow, it’s been steadily improving, and as the new two-disc live DVD set Wonderful Electric: Live in London attests, Alison’s definitely coming into her own in a live setting.
Comprised of two separate concerts, performed eighteen months apart, Wonderful Electric offers a glimpse of the ever-evolving Goldfrapp, with nearly three hours’ worth of footage for fans to lose themselves in. Skeptics have always criticized Goldfrapp’s live show as coming off as wither awkward, coldly impersonal, or both, but while she’s not the most gregarious frontwoman in the world (her between-song chatter is usually limited to a quietly polite, “Cheers”), her distant stage presence is made up it by the sumptuous way she and her band recreate the music in a live setting.
The earlier concert on the set, recorded at London’s Shepherd’s Bush Empire in December, 2001, focuses heavily on the wonderful Felt Mountain material, as Goldfrapp, seductively clad in a modestly revealing outfit, and her band weave a hypnotic spell over the hushed audience, delivering faithful versions of the album’s tracks, as well as a handful of B-sides. Ms. Goldfrapp is decidedly stiff onstage, constantly clutching the various mike stands she uses, not interacting at all with the audience. Her nervous aloofness seems to suit the music’s sumptuous, yet quirky arrangements, and the sounds the band creates are gorgeous. Most impressive is the voice of Goldfrapp, who croons during the verses, quickly switches microphones, and launches into a surreal aria of high-pitched notes, her vocals processed by Gregory, who oversees the proceedings from stage left like a benign music professor. Songs like “Utopia” and “Lovely Head” are strikingly beautiful, Goldfrapp’s singing achieving a devastating power, but most fun are the B-sides “Sartorius” and “UK Girls”, the latter a facetious blend of dark, ambient verses, with the chorus from Olivia Newton John’s early ‘80s classic “Physical”.
The second concert, filmed at the beautiful, ornate London venue Somerset House during the summer of 2003, is completely different. Garishly clad in a pair of thigh-high patent leather boots and the tiniest of mini-skirts, it’s clear that Goldfrapp has gained much more confidence as a performer, and while she still keeps the audience at an arm’s length, she holds her own well, strutting and moving a lot more. The more upbeat songs from 2003’s Black Cherry album suit her new look perfectly, as the singles “Train” and “Strict Machine” go over very well, while the cheekily forward “Twist” and the instrumental jam “Slippage” are more blunt and immediate in their themes. Missing from this show is Gregory, who obviously would rather work behind the scenes, replaced capably by keyboardist/backing vocalist Angie Pollock. The contrast between the Black Cherry material and the Felt Mountain songs is a fascinating one, the dance-fused newer material lightening the mood after the more ethereal early tracks. The highlight of the show is the stupendous cover of Baccara’s ‘70s disco classic “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie”, which has Goldfrapp singing with steely Eastern European harshness, bringing the set to a climax with what has to be the most erotic use of a theremin ever filmed.
The DVD is supplemented by a couple of short documentaries, one, a brief clip that offers little real information, and the other, a much superior, 30-minute piece that shows Goldfrapp on tour and in the studio, offering a look at the normally reserved Goldfrapp and Gregory. It would have been nice to have Goldfrapp’s handful of promotional videos on the discs as well, but other than that minor complaint, this set is highly enjoyable, the concerts both well-shot (the 2003 disc is enhanced for widescreen televisions) and of excellent sound quality. It’s an absolute must for fans, and other casual viewers are bound to be impressed as well.