Reviewed on Sunday January 11

The songs that filled Aldous Harding’s setlist touched on death, loneliness, psychological unrest and mortal despair. It’s pretty grim stuff, and when delivered in Harding’s wistful mezzo-soprano, it was enough to make one’s own thoughts turn dour. But the gravity of Harding’s compositions was kept at bay somewhat by the frequent appearance of memorable vocal hooks and the excellent support provided by electric guitarist Simon Gregory.

 

Harding’s between-song patter was a further source of endearment. Perceptibly humbled by the Centennial Hall’s architectural splendour, Harding nevertheless amused with offhand statements about her disinclination to create a follow-up to last year’s debut LP. A cover of Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’ closed the set, with Harding rising from her stool to take hold of the song with such aplomb that suggested she’d lived through the song’s every emotional crevice.

 

Anna von Hausswolff also has a predilection for morbid subject matter. Tonight the Swedish artist made use of the Town Hall’s famous pipe organ, which is the instrument that dominates her 2012 LP Ceremony. Thematically, the album focuses on how humans deal with death, both formally and emotionally. Von Hausswolff has noted that her biggest inspiration in the lead-up to Ceremony was drone-metal pioneers Earth. Channelling that influence this evening led her to utilise the full magnificence of the Grand Organ in order to build atmospheres in a cumulative manner.

 

Joined by an electric guitarist and keyboardist/percussionist, it was an instrumentally sublime performance. At one point the sound reached a point of overwhelming dissonance, which was akin to enduring a tidal wave of indecipherable emotional binaries. Although the organ’s position in the room required Von Hausswolff to sit with her back to the audience, the performance was still interesting to watch. Von Hausswolff clearly spent time prior to the gig familiarising herself with the organ, and had pages of detailed notes indicating what stops to turn off and on (allowing air to enter the pipes) before and during each composition.

 

The greatest joy came when Von Hausswolff demonstrated the depth of her magical vocal range. Singing in conjunction with 64 beautifully crafted, tonally expressive pipes is no mean feat. But Von Hausswolff’s vocals didn’t fail to match the brilliance of the organ, enacting a compound of emotional frequencies that defies articulation – perhaps not unlike death itself.

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