Warpaint are a difficult band to pigeonhole. Post-punk /psychedelia/prog-rock only cover half of the band’s sound, but the trouble classifying their music would probably run smoothly with the experimental LA all-girl quartet. Vocally, Warpaint draw influences from the likes of Cat Power and Bjork, but listening more closely to their debut album, ‘The Fool’, the guitars are so heavily saturated in lilting phaser effects that their music harks back to early The Cure and even The Verve. I am digressing; just like their music swallows you up a world of ghostly landscapes and angelic harmonies, and it is this profound musical escapism that I wanted to see performed live by one of the most hotly-tipped acts of 2011.
The quartet opened their set with the monotonous, yet dulcet bass tones of ‘Set Your Arms Down’, allowing the crowd to slowly fall in love with guitarist/singer Emily Kokal’s ethereal vocals and meander to guitarist Theresa Wayman’s delicate arpeggios. While ‘Set Your Arms Down’ is a personal favourite, there was a sense among the crowd that this was not perhaps the best song to open with and, unfortunately, either the P.A or the band’s volume levels were too low to fully appreciate the beauty of this song live. The volume increased a little more for the remainder of the gig and fans did not let the earlier levels impede their engagement with the band’s ability to thread hypnotic guitar lines between eerie vocals, walking bass progressions and syncopated beats.
It was fantastic to hear the band play tracks off their 2009 EP, ‘Exquisite Corpse’, such as the progressively haunting, ‘Stars,’ which implanted a deeper appreciation of the band’s early style and their capability to stay true to their experimentalism – also displayed by ‘The Fool’. Their unpredictable rhythm changes and irregular song structures clearly show how the band are passively avoiding being fashioned for mass-consumption, albeit their celeb-culture origins (Kokal used to date RHCP guitarist John Frusciante/Bassist Jenny’s sister is actress Shannyn Sossamon). Refreshingly, it is their talent and extremely original song writing that has pushed the band into the spotlight, reflected by the all-ages audience who sway in trance-like states, hypnotised by Warpaint’s on stage cosmology.
The performances of ‘Bees’, ‘Warpaint’ and ‘Shadows’ is where the band really comes into their own. Drummer Stella Mozgawa is rapturous behind her drum-kit, half-standing up with excitement as she snaps at the snare drum in ‘Shadows’. The fragmentary structure of ‘Bees’ ambushed the crowd half-way through the set, with Wayman and Kokal’s riffs splashing in restless dissonance and Lindberg’s roaring bass lines also cleverly interlacing Mozgawa’s off-beat pelts. Their hit, ‘Undertow’ was a little weaker than expected live, while the romantic, ‘Billie Holiday’, projected a faultless three-part harmony that looped beneath the gentle folk ballad tones.
Warpaint returned to the stage with a little more confidence for their encore; the capillary wave of Wayman’s guitar hook in ‘Elephants’ creeping about the stage and Kokal’s manipulative lyrics, ‘I’ll break your heart’, cunningly worming their way into the crowd’s heads. They most certainly left a residue.
Published for 'Impact Magazine', 14th March 2011.