There is a moment this evening when Elena Tonra politely apologises for forgetting to turn on her distortion. “Sorry, that sounded a bit shit didn’t it” she remarks, but in truth I think it may actually be quite preposterous to imagine that Daughter could ever sound bad. The rest of tonight’s sold out show at Manchester Academy reaffirms this belief, with the band turning in an immaculate presentation of their material from debut record If You Leave along with this year’s incredible follow-up Not to Disappear. Importantly, this current tour has been sonically enhanced since January’s impeccable concert at Albert Hall, but more on that later.
New York residents Wilsen open for Daughter this evening, preparing the appreciative crowd for the emotional melancholia to come with a very assured support slot full of sweeping melodies and lush vocals that envelop and entwine seductively. Magnolia is a particularly beautiful highlight and Tamsin Wilson’s vocals possess a suitably haunting intensity on latest single Centipede that intricately combines with the restrained simplicity of the music.
Daughter emerge from the darkness and with very little fuss begin proceedings with the impeccable New Ways. This shadowy song swirls desperately amidst the discord of distortion and despair and the fragility of Elena’s vocals leave us all transfixed. The opening two tracks of their sophomore album have been a highlight of the entire year and Numbers follows, providing equally hypnotic tones that bring to mind Mezzanine-era Massive Attack along with more contemporary exponents of this most murky of indie genres. The dynamics of the songs performed tonight are more comparable to their album versions with the addition of a brass section along with Cathy Lucas on pretty much everything and Catherine Ring adding vital textures on keys and percussion. This adds a fuller dynamic to the arrangements and the bleakly honest Alone/With You benefits from the brass trio also contributing haunting harmonies to the song with chilling effect.
The disposition of the evening is predominantly gloomy, albeit one that is wrapped up in a gloriously innovative and multi-layered musical package, and it is absolutely heartwarming to observe Elena’s charming response at the conclusion of each heartrending song. There is no superficial chit-chat in-between songs; this would clearly be the wrong approach when her material is so poignant and emotive, but the rapturous applause that greets the conclusion of each song triggers the most delightful smile from this graceful performer. That’s clearly all we need before the next track commences.
Despite the sweeping brilliance of Not to Disappear, it is still Youth from their first album that elicits the biggest response of the evening. The song is perhaps their most conventional in design but it clearly speaks to the band’s fans on a level that perhaps the more personal, abstract compositions don’t always manage to achieve. Just like their Albert Hall show in January, the crowd join in with Elena’s vocals and their respectfully hushed tones actually compliment the experience in hugely satisfying ways. It is moments like this that elevate the evening to such delightful and lofty levels and Elena and guitarist Igor Haefeli are clearly gracious by such a positive response to their introspective musings.
No Care adds a welcome, fuzzy injection of pace to proceedings midway through the set, which could have the potential to meander without songs like this, but the sombre tone of the evening is retained and it becomes clear as we head towards the conclusion of the concert that some of these songs are actually quite difficult to perform for Elena. When Shallows closes the show she is clearly struggling emotionally with the deathly themes of the song and she disappears without speaking upon its conclusion. Moments later she re-emerges, recomposed; the anguish of the song has dissipated, replaced once again by that charming and gracious smile that symbolises the entire evening.
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Review by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto