Lanterns On The Lake brought their UK tour in support of this year's fifth studio album Versions Of Us to Manchester's Band On The Wall on Tuesday night. In front of an enthralled and attentive Manchester audience they played the album in full plus standout tracks from its Mercury Prize nominated predecessor Spook The Herd and a couple of old favourites. Support came from fellow Bella Union artist Sophie Jamieson.
Sophie tells us that most of her songs were written as love songs, but actually ended up being break up songs. Her half hour set is given the most respect we've seen in a long time for a solo support act, pretty much everyone around us and listening to these tender fragile songs, often so sparse that they'd blow away with the slightest gust of wind, but which simply adds to their beauty and the sense that Sophie is imparting some of her darkest innermost thoughts, feelings and fears.
The set is a mix of songs from her debut album Choosing - Empties and Boundary being stand outs - and new songs from the follow-up that's taken far less time than the nine years from her debut EP to album. The newer songs feel like they delve even deeper into matters of the heart and mind and take the listener on an emotional journey that's a difficult ride, but ultimately rewarding and revelatory if you stay with it. Sophie's voice has a richness to it, the sort that makes the songs so compelling because they come from the heart and personal experience.
The room has filled up by the time Lanterns On The Lake enter the stage yet the crowd's attentiveness doesn't wane with the latecomers that make their way from the bar. In fact the loudest noise outwith the band is the sax that can be heard intermittently from the jazz band playing on the bar stage. Hazel jokes between songs that it's some kind of recurring nightmare, but it never fazes them the moment they start to play. Expanded to a six piece with both Radiohead's Philip Selway (who has a one-woman fan club in the front rows) and Matt Hardy providing dual drums that beef these songs up from their recorded version alongside Paul Gregory's ability to extract weird and wild sounds from his guitar that flesh out these songs. Accompanied also by multi-instrumentalist Angela Chan, playing a hometown show, and bassist Bob Allan, the Band On The Wall's impeccable sound revealed the emotional clarity and depth in Hazel Wilde's vocals, as well as her keyboard playing on the slower songs in the set.
Where Lanterns On The Lake in their earliest days seemed to want to cram every single idea into every song, the 2023 incarnation don't overcomplicate things and this makes them one of the most intense and powerful live acts around. The songs have a natural beauty that the band allow to flourish and fill the room with their grace and uplifting power. Hazel shifting from keys to guitar and Angela's shifting between instruments allows them to vary the pace of the set, not that the audience's attention would wane. On The Saboteur, Versions Of Us's highest peak, Hazel sings "I'm the saboteur of a future me" before vowing that "I'm going to turn this thing round like you wouldn't believe" and when Rich Girls laments not being able to put on a happy face for socials and the internet when everything's going to shit around you connect at a personal level on the record, but even more so in a room and on a stage.
Five songs from Spook The Herd - four of them played together early in the set plus Swimming Lessons at the end of the main set - feel like they've had to grow to keep pace with their younger brethren. Through The Cellar Door and Ships In The Rain are the only two older songs to make the cut - hard to believe that none of the songs from their magnificent Live With Northern Sinfonia album recorded in 2016 feature in the set tonight - the former given a much harder edge than the recorded version whilst the latter is a beautifully tender encore opener that they weren't sure whether they should play because of the sax from next door.
They look and sound like they're having the best time out on tour too. Hazel teases Paul taking his time to tune his guitars, saying it's her favourite part of the show, while when Paul retorts other bands have someone to do it for them, someone chips in all the money is being spent on the drummer. When someone shouts United when Angela's hometown is mentioned, Hazel pauses for a second before asking if they meant Newcastle.
They finish on String Theory, which sees Hazel ditch all instruments and just sing giving it a real extra intensity as she muses on alternate versions of us living somewhere without being dealt the bad hands of fate whilst Last Transmission leaves us with its positive message of finding the good in the world after wading through all the bad stuff to find it before the six of them let loose for the final minute of the song.
It's a perfect way on which to finish - it's been a long journey for Lanterns On The Lake, over a decade on the fringes, and now even without the full recognition their magnificence truly deserves, they are a band at the peak of their powers. Intoxicating songs from the heart that connect on every level both through lyrics and the music that tug at the heartstrings and excite the senses in a way that only the very best and most important artists do.
Lanterns On The Lake played The Likes Of Us, Real Life, Every Atom, Baddies, Blue Screen Beams, When It All Comes True, Rich Girls, Vatican, Through The Cellar Door, Locust, The Saboteur, Thumb Of War, Swimming Lessons, Ships In The Rain, String Theory and Last Transmission.