Aldous Harding’s El Club set left me wondering: who is she really?
The house lights went out and the crowd started cheering. Aldous Harding took the stage all dressed in white, wide-eyed and scared. Her chin and lips quivered, and she didn’t blink. Everyone was silent. Harding scanned the room, paused for a moment, and asked his band to play the first song.
Kits, bass and rhythm keys came first. Harding picked up the microphone from the stand and bent his knees, dancing to the beat. She continued to scan the crowd unblinkingly. I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was nervous. Was she looking for someone? Did we just make eye contact? Was she going to sing?
Warm relief swept the room as her soft, faint voice repeated the hook to “Boredom“, the first song of his new album Warm Chris (2022): “Come back, come back and leave it in the right place.”
So the frightened and awkward lead singer on stage was, in fact, Aldous Harding. We were indeed in the right place, attending the concert we paid for, listening to the music we love. Okay, phew.
But Harding had more strings to pull. During an instrumental interlude, she pulled out a Professor McGonagall hat and a tambourine and danced a quivering riot, staring unblinkingly at the crowd the entire time.
What was happening? What was with all that intensity? I felt nervous and unsettled, but captivated and fascinated at the same time. I looked at the crowd. Each pair of eyes followed his every move. An older man looked like he had drunk some of Slughorn’s love potion.
So who really was this Aldous Harding, spellbinding, bewitching El Club on a Saturday night?
A recent New Yorker article on Harding says she “has described herself as a ‘song actress,’ writing songs as roles to be performed or exorcised.” In an interview with The Guardian, Harding called herself “the Jim Carrey of the indie world.” So was this all a schtick? Was she just playing an anxious character to draw the audience in and engage them in her performance? Seems to be the implication of his own descriptions, but it still doesn’t sit well with me. On the one hand, it seems a bit callous at faking anxiety and not something indie artists or audiences would enjoy. Even more convincing to me, she seemed so incredibly genuine in her actions that I find it hard to believe the whole thing was a prank.
But perhaps Harding’s true character is irrelevant. She is a performer: does it matter how she creates this performance or if it is conceived at all? Maybe it’s just important that audiences get hooked and have a blast.
So if you’re a fan of Big Thief or The Shins, or love poetic lyrics underscored by showers of rhythmic elegance, I’d give Aldous Harding a listen. And whether you think she’s putting on a show or not, I certainly wouldn’t miss a chance to see her perform.
Daily Arts writer Joshua Medintz can be reached at [email protected].