Are you going to the party? Are you going to the show?
Canadian pop eccentric Claire Boucher, alias Grimes, brought her Ac!d Reign tour to the U.K. last week, playing to a full house at the Manchester Academy. This marked her first gig in the city since having her equipment stolen following a show at the Ritz in 2012.
Last November’s release Art Angels proved Grimes to have impressive pop chops, marrying massive hooks with 80s synths, all the while infusing the whole thing with a healthy dose of K-pop. Grimes’ star has risen exponentially since the release of 2012 breakthrough Visions and the combination of this and her almost four year absence from these shores has caused this to be one of the most hotly anticipated tours of the year. A mostly youthful crowd of Grimes acolytes, many with multi-coloured hair and glittery faces, turned out to finally see their woman in the flesh, some of whom will possibly have chosen this gig over the allure of Cosmosis festival, happening across the city at Victoria Warehouse.
Following an opening set by HANA, dry ice clouded the stage and the opening strains of Laughing and Not Being Normal gave way to Genesis. Through the fog, Grimes appeared at her work station to a hero’s welcome, simultaneously intoning the song’s Cocteau Twins-esque lyrics and playing its oriental synth lines. Brilliantly, a large chunk of the crowd sang the dreamy vocals back at her. During the verses, she would climb down from her podium, working the full length of the stage in a way that belied her oft-proclaimed stage fright. Unlike many laptop/synth based solo artists, the visuals were as considered as the music, her two dancers alternating between jerky dance routines, twirling ballet ribbons and performing sword dances with what appeared to be parrying daggers. REALiTi (replete with Princely drum machines) and Flesh without Blood followed, with support artist/sidewoman HANA and Grimes both providing heavy guitar and bass work, giving these renditions an edge which is not present on Art Angels. Grimes seemed almost apologetic about replacing Aristophanes’ Mandarin rap on Scream with her own Russian translation, but the crowd lapped it up.
The tension building throughout the opening gambit of songs finally bursts during Venus Fly, featuring Janelle Monae’s sampled vocal. The combination of the song’s thunderous bassline and the dancers shining hand held lasers into the crowd generates a rave atmosphere, something which Grimes is well aware of when she advises everyone to take care of each other and to keep hydrated. From here on out, the pace doesn’t let up, with Butterfly and a reworked Be a Body dispatched one after the other. 2014’s standalone single Go, originally written for Rihanna, is introduced as her ‘most controversial song’, but any controversy wasn’t apparent inside the walls of the Academy as the dubstep infused breakdowns sent the crowd into a frenzy.
After World Princess Part II, performed here for only the third time, the much-discussed dichotomy between Boucher herself and the Grimes persona was shown at its most clear. She announced that she was going to play an encore, but would not leave the stage before doing so as she would not be able to reinhabit the ‘headspace’ of Grimes if she did so. This provoked a rapturous response; her humble demeanour is one of many reasons why Grimes is so idolised by her fans. Earlier in the show, she had endearingly stated that she did not know how to respond when faced with a sea of cheering fans. This pseudo-encore, a refreshing departure from the perfunctory minute or so spent offstage by most artists turned out to be her ‘favourite’ song, Kill v Maim. The deranged bubblegum chant can be heard echoing down Oxford Road as the crowd trickle out, synapses still firing and presumably praying that Boucher’s next absence from the city will be much shorter than four years.