Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 5 December, 2001

 "Eroticism, surrealism, theatre and great music - a seductive combination"

[Alison Goldfrapp]

"My dog needs new ears" - so say the lyrics of one of Goldfrapp's songs. I'm not too sure what that's all about but it is fairly typical of Goldfrapp's off-kilter take on life. This was the last of a three night sell-out run at the Empire, Shepherd's Bush in London. Backed by a four-piece string section, an oddly muscle-bound drummer (who also played violin and keyboards), a seriously bearded guitarist (also played keyboards and harpsichord), electric violin player, Alison Goldfrapp (vocals, keyboards and more) and Will Gregory (instrumentation) are the two-pieces that fit so eccentrically together to form Goldfrapp the band. The supporting line-up largely looked like they'd just walked off the set of Twin Peaks for the instrumental intro. Alison Goldfrapp then walked on stage, theatrically attired in a see-through skirt, bodice, black panties, cleavage and straight, peroxide blonde hair.

There's a theatrical air to the evening's events, the Empire an ideal surround to the on-stage proceedings. (The management of the Empire should be commended for their relaxed view on audiences. Drinks could be taken into the seated auditorium, and people generally came and went as they pleased, with folk milling around the bar just like pre-show theatre.) Anyone who has been seduced by their debut album on Mute will have loved the set, and those who haven't could easily be won over by Goldfrapp's quirky blend of Alpine yodelling, warm, valve-powered electronics and sumptuous string arrangements.

[Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory]Apparently uncomfortable performing to a seated audience, Alison asks "Does it feel strange sitting down?" She doesn't let the typically reserved reaction stop her from recommending that the audience stand - it's clearly what she'd prefer. Most did. Goldfrapp's anthem, Utopia, was a more morose, bass-heavy version and I missed the spiritually uplifting properties of the album cut. Human on the other hand was spot on, though not simply an identikit version of the album mind you, but just right. Apart from the above-mentioned dialogue, there was little communication with the audience except through the music.

Two encores and one (astonishing) new track and technical musical ability to be admired, it occured to me that Goldfrapp would be the perfect choice for providing the next Bond film title theme.  Fleetingly, there were even elements of the best of the Sixties with shades of Burt Baccarach and John Barry peaking through now and then. There was a chill of winter about the tiny, snow-like, white lights at the back and the glitterball ballroom drama created by a superb lighting set up, amazingly varied and moody. Pilots was another memorable track, but the version of Physical by Olivia Newton John (that featured in the encore) effortlessly claimed the surrealist trophy.

In the foyer, an extraordinarily tall 'cigarette' girl could be seen, gracefully swaning around. In fact, her tray was full of small, fold-out programmes. Designed by vocalist Alison Goldfrapp, these neat little mementos sum the band up perfectly; what with its images of Goldfrapp and Gregory, forests, women spanking women, roses, snow-capped mountains, and a black and white photograph of a smiling woman's mouth with a sticky, whitish substance splattered around her chin (that caused some interesting debate amongst our group). Despite the Austrian trappings, there is something undeniably, eccentrically English about Goldfrapp. Pure pleasure that's part tempered eroticism, part subtle surrealism and part theatre. All this and great music too. It's a seductive combination.

Rob Dyer