Daughter review – artfully poised acoustic sparseness

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh
The London group’s breathy ballads about love and loneliness pack an emotional wallop, inspiring murmured singalongs in a reverent crowd

Elena Tonra is suffering from a cold. It doesn’t adversely affect this gig: Daughter’s singer still has a remarkable voice, a mix of skyscraping purity and breathy huskiness. There are side effects, however. Some rock stars dash backstage to do a quick line; Tonra nips off for some tissues. “Sorry, I’m a snot monster,” she whispers. It gets a big laugh from the sold-out crowd, breathing some extemporised warmth into an otherwise artfully poised performance.

On record, it’s possible to overdose on Daughter’s sonic hauteur. The admired London indie group’s chill production, spindly guitar lines and permeating sense of heartache can feel a little too much. Live, while the songs are as heart-in-throat as ever, there are moments that pierce the aestheticised veil. On new song Alone/With You, an expedition into noir reggae powered by an offbeat organ throb, Tonra delivers the line “I should get a dog or something” with an affectlessness that feels like mordant wit.

With the core trio of Tonra, guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella boosted by an additional utility player rotating between guitar and organ, Daughter are capable of ramping things up to almost Arcade Fire levels of cathartic clamour, although acoustic sparseness remains their default setting. Muted doesn’t mean wimpy, though.

Doing the Right Thing, the standout track on their recent second album, Not to Disappear, sounds like a mutant relative of Seven Nation Army, languid but packing an emotional wallop. Tonra delivers the last four lines a cappella, leaving great, pregnant pauses between them, while the audience involuntarily holds its breath. Youth, a spidery ballad about recklessness that bursts into a tom-tom gallop, is still perhaps Daughter at their most resonant. While hardly a terrace anthem, it inspires a reverent, murmured singalong. Like the rest of this show, it’s a cultish experience, but by no means an unpleasant one.

  • At the Academy, Newcastle, 25 January. Box office: 0844 477 2000. Then touring.


Graeme Virtue

The GuardianTramp

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