I don’t know if I really need to extol the virtues of live music in a blog where I review live music, but I did see Ladytron perform with opener Blakkat at the Wonder Ballroom and I do think it’s important to consider that seeing an artist live is one of those experiential thrills that adds so much dimension and depth and character to the songs you might just hear floating around, disembodied. I was familiar with Ladytron’s music in the early to mid aughts with the flourishing electroclash scene and I’m sure I’ve danced to a number of their singles from that time period at parties but, in all honesty, seeing Ladytron in person putting four on the floor turned me from a casual listener to a lovestruck fan.
Formed in Liverpool in 1999 out of a friendship between DJs David Hunt and Rueben Wu and soon after with students Helen Marnie and Mira Aroyo, the touring band is now comprised of Hunt on synths and guitar, Marnie and Aroyo on vocals and synths and Peter Kelly on drums. Ladytron should already be a favorite band of mine, because they’re named after the song by Roxy Music, a band which is categorically my favorite (I would say in my top 10!) and they definitely feel like some kindred spirit in a sophisticated, futurist romantic kind of way.
I’ve heard of DJ opening sets, but the starter Blakkat, alias of Los Angeleno Mark Bell, truly made me question performance in a way that I haven’t before and which I’m still kind of surprised I haven’t in all the combined years of going to concerts. Music played through the speaker system with accompanying lighting cues for 45 minutes but with no one on stage, except for one individual occasionally wandering in the shadows to test equipment. I thought to myself, “Is this a stage tech?” (it was Mark Bell) and at the end of the show during the encore the same guy walked on stage to make sure the guitars were in tune and a part of me wanted to shout “ARE YOU BLAKKAT??” (it was). Even though the audience was standing looking at a mostly empty stage for the better part of an hour the accompanying soundtrack was an infectious blend of thumping house music with impeccable production work. The ones who wanted to dance were making good use of the open square-footage.
Ladytron opened their set with two back to back songs from their latest record, “City of Angels” and “Faces” respectively, all to the cheers of a rapturous crowd. With their most recent collection of songs, entitled Time’s Arrow, Ladytron moves in a new direction that is not too far removed from their past lexicon of writing and composition, but which elicits the neon colored haze of the Lipstick City ’80s.
The evocative poptimism and brightness of Time’s Arrow couples well with the dystopian imagery and dark themes of isolation, overpopulation and climate change from previous albums (look no further than the burning forest on the cover of the last self-titled release). The surreal video projections of abstract landscapes and cascading shapes acted as some dynamic shifting tapestry to accompany Ladytron’s arcane incantations. I was entranced by the giant rotating red sphere in a sunken expanse, drawing everyone’s attention in as Helen Marnie belted out the refrain of “Misery Remember Me.” There was an opulent variety of songs throughout Ladytron’s discography including deep cuts like “USA vs. White Noise” pulled from their remix album 604 and primed for an excellent live edition, as well as the jams “True Mathematics” and “Fighting In Built Up Areas,” highlighting Mira Aroyo’s voice and sung-spoken in her native Bulgarian.
The encore included some crowd favorites — a crowd so ready they could pick out and rally for a song just from the first three arpeggiated notes — like the L Word hit “Playgirl” and my personal playlist staple, “Seventeen” a cutting indictment of the youth fetishization that came to be known synonymously with “indie sleaze,” distilled to a masterful economy of words: “They only want you when you’re seventeen / When you’re twenty-one, you’re no fun / They take a Polaroid and let you go / Say they’ll let you know, so come on.”
Don’t miss the opportunity to see this band live if you have the good fortune to have them tour through your town and provided that the tickets haven’t sold out. Ladytron has left a consistent and gorgeous body of work and continue to make well crafted pop songs shining through an oddly-shaped, post-humanist prism and with a healthy dose of social awareness and acumen.
Also, shout out to the tall person dancing in front of me. In most situations I’d be annoyed, but your moves were just so, so good, I really couldn’t hold any ill will.
Ladytron are currently on tour! Find more info at ladytron.com.
Illustration by BB Andersson