Little Dragon; Manchester Academy, 26 October 2017.
What do Bloc Party, Tv On the Radio, U2, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Queens of the Stone Age, share in common with Little Dragon? They all tried to make danceable records. Some decent. Some terrible. But none of them good. Little Dragon has been perfecting their indie/electronic/R&B fusion for over a decade now, and their new album Season High doesn’t mark a leap into danceable territory, but a band further exploring a territory they helped make popular. Ritual Union and Nabuma Rubberband are damn fine albums. Seeing them perform for the packed house last night at the Manchester Academy was a treat. The lightshow made it look like someone had blown paint in the air.
The four-piece Swedish band, helmed by Yukimi Nagano – dressed like a neon crossing guard in a dress made of clouds – took the crowd through ‘Little Man’ off Ritual Union, and two new tracks ‘Sweet’ and ‘High’ from Season High. The bass practically chewed my gum for me. In part because it was cranked, and in part because this new album is harder, chewier, and more rave-y than their previous output. For the first half Little Dragon danced, pantomimed, and set a quick-then-slow rhythm as they alternated between material from Ritual Union and Season High. The new material is more thump and bump, and Nagano’s lyrics – which usually sound integral and woven into their tracks – sometimes felt relegated to a shorthand written over the beats. But only sometimes. ‘Sweet,’ from their new album, is a great track and the hook a pure contagion. By the time Little Dragon had played through to hits ‘Crystalfilm’ and ‘Pretty Girls’ it was clear the crowd was sold on the new material, and the old.
After a mid-show pause Nagano re-emerged in a rubber-band kimono with a red linen over her face and a blue and green cloth in either hand. Nagano danced. The crowd danced. Fredrik Källgren Wallin picked up a bass. Erik Bodin got on the speakers. Håkan Wirenstrand stayed the wizard-hermit on the keys. An extended version of ‘Blinking Pigs’ that saw Nagano join Bodin on the drums was proof of just how good Little Dragon can be, and a highlight of the night. It was clear the band shared the crowd’s appreciation for the night’s energy, and the band returned for a three-song encore to finish out the show. Little Dragon are veterans at this point, and though some critics have lamented they haven’t made a wild transition in sound with Season High. What they have done is put out another solid album. Last night was a fantastic, colour-drenched show. ‘We have to come to Manchester more’, said Nagano. I hope they do.