London’s Lafayette is a unique proposition. Opened just last March, it’s mere minutes from the mayhem of King’s Cross station, past bustling restaurants, Google’s UK headquarters and the Universal Music Office, and itself housed within a building that also plays host to food traders, a saloon-style bar and a hidden speakeasy with a secret entrance. But step through the hubbub and you quickly descend into a contained space somehow concealed from the city centre commotion surrounding it. It’s the perfect spot for A.A. Williams’ biggest headline show to date.
The singer-songwriter hasn’t sat still since her debut LP Forever Blue came out back in 2020, releasing both a stripped-back covers record and an EP of reworked tracks last year, but there is a bit of unfinished business to attend to. Tonight’s show is a one-off, and first and foremost a chance for the singer-songwriter to finally give her first album the London headline show it should have received at the time (cheers Covid). Thus tonight is a sort of belated celebration, albeit an understated one befitting Williams’ elegant music and refined aesthetic. Her style could be called “gothic” but there’s something wonderfully effective about the lack of pomp or pageantry – her iconic “A.” logo and some simple backlighting is all Williams needs to make the stage her own.
Her music might not be able to manifest mosh-pits or conjure a sea of bobbing heads but its poignant power certainly excels live, boasting the sort of melancholic weight that most metal bands could only dream of. Though her music is heavier live, bolstered by a hefty rhythm section, the gothic keys and forlorn croons are just as integral. Williams is a master of the quiet-loud dynamic that forms the foundations of the post-rock genre, and as the songs drift from mournful intimacy to arresting crescendos, it is her voice that steals the show. This much is evident from the opening moments as the evocative ‘All I Asked For (Was To End It All)’ weaves a beguiling spell, but it only grows throughout, reaching an absolute pinnacle with the towering ‘Melt’.
Though the album isn’t played in full tonight, there’s a cinematic quality to Williams’ performance. It flows remarkably well from soaring highs in which her backing band turns up the intensity into emotionally raw tracks where Williams is alone with her keyboard, and she deserves full credit for her restraint in keeping the set concise and eschewing a faux encore. She’d have been well within her rights to play for two hours and leave the attendees running for the last train home, but elongated setlists can quickly (well, agonisingly slowly) turn a euphoric gig into one tarnished by memories of aching legs and a bad back. Instead, for all the melancholy music memories of tonight will be joyful, aided by Williams’ heartfelt performance and palpable excitement to finally be bringing these tracks to her home city.
The title of Forever Blue points to the enduring gloom of Williams’ music but perhaps more than any other hers is a style that exemplifies why even the most miserable art doesn’t necessarily evoke sadness. In the desolate gothic grandeur of her songs’ most dramatic moments there is an exhilarating catharsis, an uplifting reminder that we’re not alone in our tendency to drift into despair. Even as she sings the very words “I belong on my own”, we’re reminded that none of us ever is actually alone.
Words: George Parr