Short

FKA Twigs got a sword through customs to play Primavera Sound in four artistic acts

It might have been 5 or 6 – it was a little overwhelming to keep count

It’s best to describe FKA Twig’s 3am Primavera Sound set in the order it happened, rather than jumping to when she’s 10 feet up a pole in a bejewelled two-piece doing the splits upside down to a track of ‘Lights On’ – a moment so brilliantly void of subtlety that you question if you imagined the preceding 40 minutes.

Twigs plays performs for an hour in total, splitting her new high-concept show into four acts (I think).

Act One.

We hear Twigs before we see her, as a pre-record talks plainly of “a woman’s worth” and “a woman’s prerogative” (a motif we’ll hear again at the start of Act Two). It’s been a while and it’s a reminder of who Twigs is – a young female artist who’s found power an inspiration in rejecting gender shame.

She half glides/half scuttles on in a semi-mechanical fashion that has clearly be thought and re-thought about, setting the agenda for a highly stylised hour that mixes contemporary dance and movement, West-End musical ballads, costumes and set staging, and Twig’s own brand of half speed trap beats and arias about fucking. For now, though, she’s on her own in billowing white that looks like it’s been design by John Galliano, and a French aristocrat hat; not even a band, DJ or pretend music source with her. She picks her most delicate songs first. Her voice is beautiful and pin sharp, but it’s the boldest of moves at 3am at a festival. A lot of people seem oblivious to the music as they continue their convocations, but this will change. Others are already being pulled towards the stage by the simplicity of Twigs and her music. Every now and then I think about how weird and miserable our digital editor Greg and I must look to the groups of friends around us. I don’t think Greg’s blinked and we’ve stopped talking to one another.

Act Two.

When Twigs discards her hat she’s joined by six dancers and the pace increases, but only slightly. Everyone’s dressed like they’re in Les Miserables now, but every so often they all click into Destiny’s Child synchronisation to ratcheted sounds coming from God knows where. Twigs the choreographer shines here. And then they’re back to floating around her for another glacial track where a bass drop will inspire some in the crowd to attempted to imitate Twigs’s movements – a fool’s errand, not just because the next drop might be in another 3 minutes.

Act Three.

For me, it could go on like this and end. Twigs’s voice is enough, and although at times it’s safe to call the dancers and coded ‘narrative’ of the piece pretentious, it’s hard to not go with it. Not least because who brings a show like this to a mixed crowd and has enough faith in such a slow start that can’t be adjusted on the fly? Twigs knows what she wants to present and how she want to present it – she will not be changing tact.

For anyone underwhelmed enough to leave (there aren’t many by there are still a lot people who appear to be at the Ray-Ban amphitheatre just to meet friends) they miss the real dramatics, when Twigs’s final air slice of a samurai swords solo dance piece cues a curtain drop to reveal a live band on a giant scaffolding behind here. Up there they’ve been triggering the drum pads, playing some pretty unconventional guitar, and, currently, carving up a cello. As the band beat away and the dancers hang off the poles and writhe around, it can’t help but feel a bit like Stomp on the set of Chicago, which is about right for a show that’s ambition does at times butt up against a little corniness. Still, Twigs just cues a curtain drop with a samurai sword.

Act Four.

It takes Twigs pole dancing to finally break some people away from their conversations. It is after all a traffic-stopping moment, seen in her video to new single ‘Two Weeks’ (the ballad she’ll end on) – on YouTube a too-sexy-for-TV Galaxy chocolate commercial; here, a raw display of Twigs’s elite athleticism and sexual freedom.

For all of this, her voice remains the nebulous star of the show, even if her songs aren’t. But that’s not to say that she should stand down the dancers, staging rig, five costume changes, sword interlude and theatrics. These elements are what make her so dynamic, even if it leaves the door open for those more cynical to occasionally wince at the way two of the dancers are over accentuating. More than that, they’re as much part of Twigs’s identity as her voice is – more perhaps, which is why what she actually played doesn’t feel so relevant.

You get the feeling that this has been her show, rather than a show made for her. Naturally, it ends with a curtain call where her dancers and band stand either side of her in a line, they link arms and bow.

Photos: Festival/Sergio Albert

Follow all of Loud And Quiet’s 2019 Primavera Sound coverage.

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