Contrary to popular online opinion, if the Last Dinner Party didn’t exist, it seems highly unlikely that the music industry would have the nerve to dream it up.
The noise in the U.K. around the band has been getting louder in the run-up to its debut album, “Prelude to Ecstasy,” released just a few hours after this London show. But this gig – billed in advance as a “historical variety show” – began amidst reverential silence as, dramatically silhouetted by on-stage chandeliers, TLDP began with an a cappella, choral take on “Beautiful Boy,” later supplemented with a flute solo.
More from Variety
And, if that doesn’t exactly scream “typical start to a hotly anticipated concert by an ultra-buzzy alt-rock band,” well, the Last Dinner Party is anything but your typical ultra-buzzy alt-rock band.
That may be why the band endured an online backlash last year when it’d only released a single song – a frontlash, if you will – but no one at this show seemed concerned with the tired “industry plant” discourse (except perhaps the massed ranks of music journalists on the balcony). Instead, much of the crowd was already committed enough to embrace the TLDP aesthetic, with “Midsommar”-style flower crowns and fancy ball gowns studded throughout the audience.
And, while there was some industry insider speculation about just how much the upstairs photobooth might have cost their major label to set up, there was no shortage of lookalike fans keen to recreate the “Prelude to Ecstasy” album sleeve for posterity.
And, in truth, even if the Roundhouse had been crammed with more sceptical observers, they would surely have had to admit there’s plenty of undeniable evidence as to why TLDP is already inspiring such devotion.
After all, its sound is an intoxicating hodgepodge of theatrical 1970s glam pop and sullen 1990s indie rock, while frontwoman Abigail Morris comes on like a Jane Austen cosplay combination of Kate Bush and Freddie Mercury, packing more star quality into her flowing gown than the entire indie scene has produced in years.
Indeed, the entire group displayed a grasp of stagecraft way beyond many acts with vastly more experience, expertly using the striking light show and the lavish stage set to enhance similarly dramatic songs such as “Caesar on a TV Screen” and “My Lady of Mercy.” Meanwhile, Morris draped herself over bassist Georgia Davies and guitarists Emily Roberts and Lizzie Mayland and cavorted around the stage and into the crowd with what certainly looked like wild abandon, even if you suspect it may have actually been rigorously rehearsed.
These are surely the reasons behind the Last Dinner Party’s dizzying ascent, rather than any nefarious hype. And if, just occasionally, all that theatricality made proceedings resemble a school rock opera production – the messy conclusion to “Godzilla” had a distinctly “jazz hands” vibe – well, at least it was clearly a very good school.
The math department at said educational establishment might need to raise its game, however. When Morris asked the crowd to substitute for the “very expensive choir” TLDP used on the album version of “Portrait of a Dead Girl” but couldn’t afford to take on tour – hey, even major label largesse has limits – she asked them to sing, “Three words: ‘Give me the strength’.”
“They pay me to sing, not to fucking count,” she giggled, as she realized her basic arithmetic error. “I hope that came off as charming and quirky.”
And, for all the cynicism aimed in their direction, “charming and quirky” is just what TLDP brings to the alt-rock, um, party. The cut-glass accents and decadent fashion statements might have suggested some sort of rock ’n’ roll “Saltburn,” but there’s real substance here as well as upscale style.
So “Sinner” started off like ABBA but ended like Nirvana, while the sumptuous, blood-soaked ballad “On Your Side” added layers of deep emotion beyond the surface artifice. Indeed, the only real drag was that it was over too soon: A lack of material – somewhat inevitable for a band with only a dozen recorded songs to its name – meant that, even after an extended absence while the increasingly feral crowd bayed for an encore, the show barely ticked up to the hour mark.
But even that fits with the old “always leave them wanting more” stage maxim and it certainly won’t stop the Last Dinner Party juggernaut, with the Brits’ Rising Star Award already on their mantelpiece and even bigger venues booked for later in the year. Consequently, ambitions are already being scaled up: the judicious use of a mini-orchestra – expertly conducted by versatile keyboard player Aurora Nishevci, who had also paid vocal homage to her Albanian roots on “Gjuha” and wielded a mean keytar – suggested there is much more to come from this band.
“We’re proud that we filled this room with people like you,” declared Morris as the brilliant song that started all the fuss, “Nothing Matters,” ended the night’s proceedings and silenced any remaining doubts with a full-blooded, cathartic singalong.
As Morris pirouetted through the power chords, the band was showered with confetti from the ceiling and red roses from the enraptured crowd. Proof that – whatever they say online – in the real world, the Last Dinner Party is one so-called “industry plant” that (sorry) deserves to be given its flowers.
Best of Variety