With its elegantly proportioned 1790s architecture and matchless riverside location, Somerset House is in many respects a dream venue, especially on a perfect summer evening under a sky turning cobalt as the sun goes down. However, I'm not certain this was quite the right setting for the erotic techno-cabaret of Goldfrapp, an act surely designed for murky nightclubs reeking of cigar smoke, spilled whisky and cheap perfume.
Judging by the aura of pervy sex that drips from the songs on their new album, Black Cherry, the band's theme tune ought to be Tainted Love (surely the source for the pumping electrobeat of Train). Singer Allison Goldfrapp seems bent on perfecting her own digitised update of Marlene Dietrich, taking the stage in a short black dress and pert matching cap, like an airline stewardess from the Weimar republic. She doesn't say much - her typical between-song comment is "cheers" - perhaps in order to avoid destroying the auditory illusion carefully assembled by her band.
In fact, even though there are five musicians on stage, she might just as well stand there with her musical partner Will Gregory and a bunch of machinery, since Goldfrapp's music is highly processed and synthetic. Every track is a sleek confection of drum machines, synths and mock-string effects (although, to be fair, there are some interludes of real violin, too). And Goldfrapp's voice has a curious treated quality, as if we are hearing an electronic facsimile of what she is singing.
Consequently, it was no surprise that a certain sameness began to creep into the proceedings: many songs share a sound palette and tick along at a similar pace. Notable exceptions are the nervy pulse of Twist and an encore of Black Cherry that finds the band running in slow motion as Goldfrapp mooches through the lyric. New single Strict Machine bowls along tidily enough, but its echoes of Suzi Quatro's Devil Gate Drive and Gary Numan-ish lyric about robotic love create a strange sensation of time running about 25 years in reverse. We had already been through that with the support band, the aptly named Colder, who seem to be on a mission to revive the "classic" sounds of Ultravox and Steve Strange. Help!