Portland’s ethereal drone merchant could well be from another galaxy. This piece was originally published by The Stool Pigeon on 10 October 2011.
Icy, somnolent, and haunted by the sound of faintly tinkling music boxes: Liz Harris aka Grouper’s recent A.I.A. doublealbum could have been beamed in from the lonely depths of outer space. Playing St Giles-in-the-Fields on a night when the Indian summer seems to evaporate before our eyes and the UK is plunged back into the cold, the setting for Harris’s London show could hardly be more apposite. The chilly church, with its gold ceiling soaring up above our heads, becomes a craft on which we are taken back to the origins of the Portland musician’s extraterrestrial sound.
Hiding beneath a black hoody, Harris installs herself behind a small table at the altar, takes a sip from a little white tea cup, and proceeds to twiddle with the silver machines and wires that cover it. She will not utter a word to, or look up at, the audience at any point throughout her performance (even when the rigid wooden pews become too much for some, and they start sloping sheepishly off towards the end of the set). White lights, shining like UFOs on the wall behind her, signal the show’s arrival, as a noise — like distant stormy skies — slowly becomes audible. Soon it fills the room like a fog, layers of reverb lying on top of us like a heavy blanket.
Harris winds her way through a slew of recent material. The songs all end up merging into one long piece, but ‘Alien Observer’ — on which Harris’s vocals become more insistent — and ‘She Loves Me That Way’ , which features stronger, more metallic clanging from her guitar, particularly stand out. The set closes with ‘Mary, On The Wall’, which builds to a mighty crescendo, before ending abruptly, leaving the air still buzzing. Harris stands up and starts clearing the table, as if none of the above ever happened.