Active Child – St Giles in the Field, London 20/02/12
Originally posted on The 405
Photos by Dan Smyth
The thought-process behind placing Active Child in ecclesiastical venue St. Giles in the Fields was one of Divine Intervention; well, perhaps that’s a shade strong a sentiment given Pat Grossi’s well-chartered former choir boy days, but it was most certainly a befitting choice from the promoter (how to please a promoter Lesson One; compare them to God).
The bit with the history.
In 1101 the foundations of the church were established – known as St Giles Hospital at the time – St Giles being the patron saint of outcasts. It has gone through various incarnations since, including acting as a mass graveyard for plague victims, that, due to the high levels of damp caused by putrid rotting flesh, ultimately led to the rebuild in 1734 to the church we know today.
Though perhaps St Giles is no longer the befitting partner for Active Child these days – debut album You Are All I See casting aside any notion of being an outcast by receiving wildly positive reviews and glowing praise. We named it Album of the Year for Christs’ sake.
Once inside the mini-Union Chapel, and having located a seat not obstructed by a pillar or sacred ornament, Active Child take to the ‘stage’ to a lengthy warm applause and then a ghostly respectful silence. Oh this audience knows how to behave, no iconoclastic-types tonight thank you.
Album opener ‘You Are All I See’ also opens tonight, a gentle shimmering intro as Grossi tickles his harp finitely and we get the first glimpse of his pitch-perfect falsetto vocals. Though it’s the 2nd track ‘High Priestess’ where another level is hit – the earthy drums pounding and resonating acutely with the surroundings. The scene is set whilst the acolyte crowd remain in utter silence, just… starting, and absorbing every minimalist nuance and lofty heavenly note.
‘Shield and Sword’ posses a menacing grace, a sparse concoction of moody, bassy synths and drum track, which plays well against the towering, foreboding shadows cast by Active Child onto the pillars, caused by the minimal lighting. Actually perfect. And as for the voice… it’s something to wax-lyrical about until the angels come home. Instead of creating some new superlatives, here’s what we said in relation to the performance at Iceland Airwaves that remains true here:
“a stunning ambitious falsetto enough to reduce even the most stony-man into a goose-pimpled emotional snotty mess”
‘Playing House’ bleeds, ney, glides into ‘Way Too Fast’ with the double header achieving grandiose designs, heightened by the setting; the aesthetic more akin to former touring partners M83 in this sense as opposed to a James Blake minimalism – boasting the beauty of each however. Sure, the sensitive, quieter moments are very much that – though when a higher realm is sought after and a reach to the sky is targeted, the moment is grabbed by both hands and ridden with a leviathan quality to the cosmos. Pre-encore beauty ‘Ivy’ does exactly this – an instrumental synth-driven number that once the organic drums come dramatically crashing in, threatens to unearth the plague victims buried in the outside graveyard into a holy frenzy.
A thoroughly engaging evening – from start to finish the delivery and sound-quality is crisp, the ethos earnest, and the setting perfect. Much like the album, and containing the very sui generis with which it became so loved.