Live Review: LALA LALA - Sebright Arms, London 21/02/19
Emerging from Chicago, Lillie West made her debuted as Lala Lala in 2016 with Sleepyhead, followed quickly by the deftly-produced sophomore release, The Lamb late last year. It’s an angst-ridden record, tackling nascent sobriety, isolation and the death of a close friend – all honeyed with the vim of post-punk gone dream-pop melodies.
Tonight, that eclectic mix graces the intimate stage of the Sebright Arms. It’s a bit of a homecoming for London-born West, who maintains the slightest hint of an accent despite moving stateside in her teen years. It’s a sold-out gig and the tiny basement venue sardines fans together, but West still bashfully lets us know that her mum’s bought 22 tickets: “it’s sort of cheating”.
The night kicks off with a short but sweet set from South-Londoner J.W Ridley. Ridley marries lyrical intensity, eerie production and the warmth of fuzzy guitars, and it’s a thoroughly captivating mix. ‘Somewhere Else’ is hypnotically immersive, while ‘Jaguar Spring’ grips with jarring intensity: the entire set feels a bit like a fever dream, in the best possible way. The set ends on a high note with Ridley’s newest single, a track which draws inspiration from time spent medicated as a teenager, ‘Glass Eyes’.
A quick gear set up and Lala Lala throttle into life with drum-heavy The Lamb highlight ‘Water Over Sex’, a song penned about navigating a newly sober life. it’s deeply vulnerable, filling the space between beauty and despair with grunge guitars and tender, comforting chords.
“Here it comes / That’s another one” West croons, opening ‘Copycat’ unaccompanied before the rest of the group layer themselves in. As the song builds to its climax, West and her bassist face off and gradually crouch down together, before finishing the song lying on the stage alongside their guitarist.
It’s interactions between the band like this that give the show its vibrant energy – whether it’s lying on the floor, swapping instruments, or West joking about how her and guitarist Abby had promised to kiss on stage – it’s fun, and a welcome juxtaposition to the melancholy which hangs heavy in West’s lyricism.
Despite a slight tech mishap which leaves West and co unfazed, ‘I’ll Get Cut’ quickly proves to be a crowd-pleaser with the entire venue shouting along to the addictive hooks. It’s an intimate gig which is garnering a lot of engagement from the bodies on the floor – particularly during their latest single ‘Siren 042’, where the cut out the harmonies provided from West’s collaborator WHY? were replaced seamlessly by the crowd singing them right back at her.
There’s something incomparably stunning about how West’s tender vocals compare with her lyrical content. On ‘The Flu’, ‘Dropout’ and Sleepyhead deep cut ‘Lala Song’, West’s vocals are quivering waves washing over the crowd; pulling in jagged, raw emotions and filtering them down to a glassy smoothness.
‘When You Die’ sees the band build and build together, with West chanting “Keep my friends safe night and day / Keep my friends safe now and always” until they reach a full crescendo, looking palpably stoked with each other for nailing their respective roles.
There’s a steady flow to the set, with most of the performance comprising fresh cuts from The Lamb and a few hard-hitters from Sleepyhead, like the colossal ‘Fuck With Your Friends’.
The set climbs sky-high, culminating with the simultaneously jarring and healing lament about `a friends’ sudden death, ‘Destroyer’ and ‘Spy’, the latter delivering an addictive melody that leaves the set on a sudden high note.
It was a performance that no doubt whets the appetite of those hearing Lala Lala for the first time, keen to see what they’ll bring to the table next. But in tandem, the chorus of voices coming from the London crowd stands testament to what a diehard influence these relative newcomers have already had – West is making herself a cult-classic, and there’s no question that she’ll be standing front and centre of the indie scene for the foreseeable future.
Words by Madeleine Dunne