Not many bands can say they’ve opened for The Rolling Stones, amassed over 12 million Spotify streams, played Glasto and Latitude, and earned a spot on the hallowed FIFA (or EA Sports FC, if you’d rather) soundtrack off the back of three singles. But that – among a great many other things – is exactly what fresh, all-female baroque-pop quintet The Last Dinner Party have done.
And, despite the eye roll-worthy suspicion that meets young women experiencing success in this industry (accusations of nepotism, industry shilling and more have been rife), the band – a product of the Windmill scene – show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. Last night, at Manchester’s Academy 2, they silenced their critics the only way they know how: by cranking up the volume and letting the music do the talking.
It doesn’t take long to realise you’re at a Last Dinner Party concert. Fans with flowers in their hair, others with dresses seemingly torn straight from Ari Aster’s Midsommar, platform boots, Doppler effect jumpsuits and leather trousers fill the 900-capacity venue at the heart of Manchester’s Student Union. It wouldn’t be inaccurate to describe the scene as being like a glitter bomb explosion in a vintage shop. The dress code for the evening is Velvet Goldmine; the vibe is the stargate sequence from 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the mood is “I got offered some Skittles by a lovely lady with stars painted round her eyes.” This is all to say that subtlety would seem gauche on a night like this, and nobody seems remotely surprised when support act Picture Parlour are welcomed onstage, accompanied by an orchestral prelude.
As warm-ups go, Picture Parlour come on like a blazing inferno. Already drawing favourable comparisons to the likes of Arctic Monkeys and St. Vincent, the band – comprising vocalist Katherine Parlour, bassist Sian Lynch, guitarist Ella Risi, and drummer Michael Nash – form a slick-as-you-like rock quartet. Despite only having one single to their name, in the form of crushing confessional ‘Norwegian Wood’, their half-hour set is wall-to-wall bangers.
Parlour, dressed in red crush velvet dinner jacket with a shock of white through her dark mane, dexterously switches between Alex Turner-like accented crooning and invoking Ann Wilson with her hard rock register, as the band rattle through a half-hour set filled with sexy guitar solos and abstract lyrical imagery. You imagine the next time they play here, a stone’s throw from where they first started writing, they’ll be headlining.
And then, after an extended musical introduction complete with flashing crimson lights and silhouetted power poses, The Last Dinner Party – led by lead singer Abigail Morris – take to the stage. The show gets off to a punchy start with a triple-whammy – ‘Burn Alive’, ‘Caesar On A TV’, and ‘Feminine Urge’ – that makes no bones about what we can expect from the night: high-drama, high-energy tracks that explore womanhood and sexuality with a healthy dose of theatricality and more than a dash of blasphemous balladry.
From the get-go, you can’t help but be beguiled by the ritualistic way Morris – dressed in baby blue bodysuit and apple-red boots – twirls, whirls, and writhes about the stage, conjuring a sonic storm that strikes through Emily Roberts’ howling electric guitar and the earworming melodies poured out of Aurora Nishevci’s keys.
An early set mood shift hits with Wuthering Heights-meets-Skins heartbreaker ‘On Your Side’ and its yearnful chorus, “When it’s 4am and your heart is breaking / I will hold your hands to stop them from shaking.” It creates an intimacy between artist and audience that carries into the ethereal ‘Beautiful Boy’, a hymnal piece that sees lead guitarist Emily Roberts turn fine flautist as Morris flexes her falsetto on deliciously Gothic lines like “What good are red lips / When faced with something sharp?”. It would be the set’s standout moment were it not for what follows: Aurora taking the reins for ‘Gjuha’, a soulful piece performed entirely in Albanian that’s accompanied by Morricone-esque mandolin. (Yes, it turns out Roberts triples up as a great mandolinist too).
The party atmosphere returns swiftly, with force, for recent single ‘Sinner’. Grinding riffs and ABBA-like bouncy keys propel an unapologetically theatrical pop provocation about the way the lines between love and lust blur as we come of age and discover our sexual selves. “I wish I knew you / When touch was innocent,” Morris purrs before pogoing around the stage as the Academy turns into a veritable troupe of Tiggers. “Oh, you know that one?” she playfully comments after the song’s frenetic climax, before launching straight into ‘Second Best’, a punchy new track only played a fistful of times that adds acapella harmonies to The Last Dinner Party’s eclectic musical menu.
Over the course of the evening, I’m repeatedly left dumbstruck by how tight the band are; music, performance, the ebb and flow of the evening are entirely at their mercy, and there’s not a loose link to be found among the fivesome. This sense of control is never more apparent than on live favourite ‘Portrait Of A Dead Girl’, where Morris conducts the crowd in a call-and-response refrain. “Give me the strength,” she wails into the wall of bodies; “Give me the strength,” we wail back.
As a blistering (all too short) hour-long set heads towards its final course, new single ‘My Lady of Mercy’ goes like gangbusters with an already word-perfect crowd. “A song about going to Catholic school,” we’re told, preceded with hands smirkingly clasped in prayer by bassist Georgia Davies and rhythm guitarist Lizzie Mayland. The tune sees the band lean towards PJ Harvey territory, showing off a surprising heaviness. “Let me be your arrow / Baby, make me bow / I’ll see you on Sunday,” Morris sings, epitomising her band’s brand of sacrilegious imagery and unapologetic sexuality as Davies’ bass descends to the bowels of hell.
Penultimate number ‘Godzilla’, a five-minute mini epic, draws a wild reaction from the congregation, leaving the band visibly emotional as the weight of what they’ve built in such a short span of time hits them. And then, of course, it’s time for ‘Nothing Matters’. It’s a barnstorming closer that sees Morris fully unleash her inner Kate Bush, pirouetting joyously as she paints a picture of “A sailor and a nightingale / Dancing in convertibles,” before finding her way into the crowd for the song’s euphoric chorus. It’s a triumphant end to an unforgettable evening of pomp, ceremony, and baroque-pop.
As we all drift, dazed and intoxicated, out into the night and back to the humdrum of the daily grind, I’m moved by the overwhelming sense that – despite the gleefully nihilistic directive of that last song – some things do in fact matter. Nights like these matter. Music like this matters. And The Last Dinner Party matter – despite what you might read online.