The house lights went out, and the crowd started cheering. Aldous Harding walked onstage in all white, eyes wide and frightened. Her chin and lips trembled, and she didn’t blink. Everyone fell silent. Harding scanned the room, took a moment’s pause and cued her band to play the first song.
The kits, bass and rhythmic keys came first. Harding picked the microphone from the stand and bent her knees, bobbing to the beat. She continued to unblinkingly scan the crowd. I couldn’t shake the feeling that she was nervous. Was she looking for someone? Did we just make eye contact? Was she going to sing?
A warm relief swept the room as her soft, swooning voice repeated the hook to “Ennui,” the first song off her new album Warm Chris (2022): “Come back, come back, and leave it in the right place.”
So the scared and awkward-seeming lead singer on stage was, in fact, Aldous Harding. We were indeed in the right place, attending the concert we paid for, listening to the music we love. OK, phew.
But Harding had more strings to pull. During one instrumental interlude, she pulled out a Professor McGonagall hat and a tambourine and danced up a jittering riot, unblinkingly staring down the crowd the whole time.
What was going on? What was with all this intensity? I felt on edge and unsettled, but I was captivated and fascinated at the same time. I looked out at the crowd. Every pair of eyes shadowed her every movement. One older man looked like he’d just drunk some of Slughorn’s love potion.
So who was this Aldous Harding, really, bewitching and enchanting El Club on a Saturday night?
A recent New Yorker piece about Harding says that she “described herself as a ‘song actor,’ writing songs as roles to be performed or exorcized.” In an interview with The Guardian, Harding called herself “the Jim Carrey of the indie world.” So was this whole thing a schtick? Was she just putting on an anxious character to entice the audience and engage them in her performance? That seems to be the implication of her own descriptions, but that still doesn’t sit right with me. For one, it seems a little insensitive to feign anxiety and not something that indie artists or audiences would appreciate. Even more convincingly for me, she just seemed so incredibly genuine in her actions that I find it hard to believe that any of it was a farce.
But maybe Harding’s true character is irrelevant. She’s a performer: What does it matter how she crafts that performance or whether it’s crafted at all? Maybe it just matters that the audience was hooked and having a blast.
So if you’re a fan of Big Thief or The Shins, or you enjoy poetic lyrics underscored by showers of rhythmic elegance, I would give Aldous Harding a listen. And whether you think she’s putting on a show or not, I definitely wouldn’t miss a chance to see her perform.
Daily Arts Writer Joshua Medintz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.