"Best not to wear clothes, bring water and something to fan yourself with," tweeted Alison Goldfrapp before what must be – literally – the hottest gig of the year. The long-neglected, semi-restored Wesleyan chapel makes a breathtaking venue, but the heat inside is stifling.
Perhaps mercifully, given the conditions, Goldfrapp's second and final Manchester International Festival performance shuns their dancier material in favour of showcasing their forthcoming album, Tales of Us. Continuing their gentler lineage (including their debut and 2008's Seventh Tree), familiar influences – Weimar cabaret, Britt Ekland's eerie Willow's Song from the Wicker Man soundtrack – combine intriguingly with disco-era breathy vocals.
In 1970s Bowie trousers and billowing black shirt, Goldfrapp has surely never sung better, every emotional inflection captured by the building's pin-drop acoustics. Partly lit by the natural light coming through the stained-glass windows, and with the Royal Northern College of Music String Orchestra on a balcony above, the effect is magical.
The new songs are weightless, ethereal, strangely transportive affairs with intriguing themes. Annabel is about "a girl trapped inside the body of a boy", while Simone tells of a woman who came home to find her daughter in bed with her own lover. "Wicked Simone!" shrieks the singer, as the hushed, awed atmosphere increasingly gives way to blood and passion in the orchestral playing. There are even shouts of "Goooooarrrrnnnn Alison!"
With people whooping and waving makeshift fans in approval, she ups the saucy charm. "Why don't we take our clothes off?" she suggests, before quipping, "Eat Yourself? Is that a request or … "
The song goes unplayed, along with other big hitters Ooh La La and Train, but an encore of less obvious oldies includes a gothic horror Lovely Head, before Caravan Girl becomes a triumphant closing sing-song with the choir. "Give me a fuckin' vodka," howls the singer as temperatures soar, but perhaps both artist and audience would see greater benefit from a long, cold bath.
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