Almost a year ago to the day, Paper Aeroplanes were one of the headline acts at the Chorlton Arts Festival and played in a dramatically lit St. Clements Church with its pews full to bursting. The Welsh duo were still riding on the crest of a critical wave following the release of Little Letters and the show proved to be a daring, stripped-back affair with only a harpist complimenting Sarah Howells’ and Richard Llewellyn’s fragile melancholia. It made for an intoxicating, evocative evening that has lingered long in the memory. Twelve months on and latest album Joy demonstrates a subtle shift in direction for the band, adding a more electronic element to their more familiar acoustic, dreamy folk-pop. Certainly benefiting from producer Mason Neeley’s influence in this regard, the duo announced that the Joy tour would include a full band to present this new sound, heightening my sense of anticipation as I finally found the Kraak Gallery, down an undistinguished alleyway in Manchester’s Northern Quarter.
Second track of the night Good Love Lives On immediately demonstrates the impact the new songs appear to be having on the band. Full of meaty, percussive elements, as well as the colourful synths, Sarah’s vocals appear to have been remodelled slightly to accommodate this fuller sound and her impassioned performance on this song continues as the band launch into the wonderful Emily. Full of drama, we are swept along by Richard’s guitar, which weaves it’s way through one of the highlights off the new album, allowing Sarah’s emotive vocals to grip hypnotically. It’s a fabulous rendition of a marvelous song, combining the band’s more familiar acoustic material with the latest album’s new musical direction; Race You Home and Goldrush follow and are equally stirring and fragile in their delivery and the small confines of the venue heighten the intimacy of their presentation.
Sarah is a particularly gracious and good-humoured host and the next song is introduced with an amusing tale about a fan’s issues with how much they play Red Rover. I personally hope it is never dropped from the setlist and experiencing it performed by the whole band enhances its enduring qualities. The pensive characteristics of this track continue on Multiple Love, which has the audience transfixed.
The evening is certainly not dedicated to the latest album and the middle of the show explores earlier records including the Time to Be EP, with a heartfelt arrangement of Only a Lifetime that is brought to life with the addition of the keys and subtle percussive elements. This is followed by a joyful performance of My First Love that seems to make the whole room smile. These perfect songs are punctuated by an amusing discussion about nuts, people’s obsession with sock marks and a wonderful story about a couple from Hawaii who travelled all the way to Boston in Lincolnshire to see the band during their honeymoon. All this contributes to a completely invigorating evening and it is only apt that the band perform the title track from the new album at this stage in proceedings. Built around uplifting backing vocals and clattering percussion, the song is, well, a joy and demonstrates the band’s wonderful ability to generate a range of emotions seemingly at the drop of a hat. Books follows and is likely to be the next single. It’s not difficult to see why and is my personal favourite off the new record. Possessing a gorgeous rhythm and full passion and intensity, Sarah has the room in the palm of her hand, ensuring that an encore is imminent when they depart the stage. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this consists of fan favourites Little Letters and Circus ensuring that by the end of the show, the room is left with a huge, collective big grin. At Kraak tonight, Paper Aeroplanes seem to be a band in control, daring at times, but always fun to spend time with.
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto