London Grammar @ The Independent, 3/27/14 - Photo by Paige K. Parsons

Thursday night, London Grammar graced the stage of The Independent. This was their second visit to San Francisco, the first being a stop at the Rickshaw Stop last September.

I arrived three songs into their short 50 minute set. I was racing from shooting Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings across town. The two acts could’t be more different. The transition felt like jumping back and forth between an brisk ice cold pool and a relaxing hot tub. There’s a time for each, but I found the space and calm of London Grammar heightened and more powerful after experiencing the frenzy of the former.

London Grammar @ The Independent, 3/27/14 - Photo by Paige K. Parsons

Pitchfork got it right when they astutely noted that Hannah Reid’s vocal restraint can be far more effective than constant demonstrations of strength. When I arrived, the band was launching into “Sights.” The feeling that came to mind was of a lullaby. I wish my mom had a voice like Reid’s to sing my sorrows away when I was feeling blue! Her delivery was confident, empathetic, and wistful. The open and quiet spaces were even more powerful live than they are on their LP.

London Grammar is a trio: Reid on vocals; Dan Rothman on guitar; and Dot Major on keyboards and percussion. While Reid and Rothman were subdued and almost motionless in their performance, Major was a near constant whir of motion and activity. Like a mad scientist, with a coif to match, he moved from keyboards, to drum machine to physical drum kit. Concocting a keyboard loop here, and a drum beat there, it was with great dexterity that he built the layered textures at the core of London Grammar’s sparse yet intricate sound.

London Grammar @ The Independent, 3/27/14 - Photo by Paige K. Parsons

According to The Guardian, frontwoman Reid and guitarist Rothman first met in halls at Nottingham University. They discovered Dot Major in the student union, playing a djembe. Ministry of Sound signed them straight out of University in 2012. Their label and management wisely nurtured them for a year before embarking on their debut, If You Wait, last September.

This genre of Brit Pop is hardly virgin territory. Florence Welch, the XX, Burial, Zero Seven, and Massive Attack have been exploring aspects of this soundscape for the past decade. But London Grammar aren’t content to revisit sounds of the past. Their fresh and inventive take on moody and melancholy mid-tempo pieces are the emotional stuff that somber 3am introspective moments are made of.

P.S. A few other random notes about the show: Reid confessed that at each performance, she picks out her favorite fans, and tends to focus on their faces when she sings. Tonight there were three, a pot smoking dude in the front row that she remembered from the Rickshaw Stop last fall, a heavily tattooed bloke stage left, and a petite woman with a black fedora that was all smiles. Also, Reid, like many newcomers to San Francisco, was literally blown away by all the pot smoke. She cheekily offered to trade some go her Vicodin (which she’s been taking on tour for an impacted wisdom tooth) for some weed. Major chimed in that he had the raw end of the deal, as he had neither a prescription for pills nor pot. And as an interesting aside, the crowd was at least two-thirds male.

Tags: