Lanterns On The Lake @ O2 Academy Oxford – 04/04/12

The moment that Hazel Wilde of Lanterns On The Lake places a doll-sized lamp atop of her amplifier before her band’s set tonight, you’re sure that some drama is about to happen. What soon appears in the six-member collective from Newcastle, however, is not drama but extraordinary reserve. The stage lamp isn’t acting as some radical, outward statement, but serves as a subtle group emblem. Wilde’s meekness, by traditional standards, also doesn’t ratify her position as a dramatic front man (or rather, front woman). But this doesn’t matter, because a brash and bold attitude would go against everything that makes Lanterns On The Lake so special.

In accordance with their latest release, Gracious Tide, Take Me Home, the set is awakened by the rousing, looped samples of footsteps in ‘Lungs Quicken’. Each member shuffles to mark their territory: to the right, Sarah Kemp locks her head to her violin, swaying urgently; to her right, Paul Gregory bends the neck of his guitar with playful, involuntary-like movements; and centre-stage, Wilde cements herself to the microphone, exhaling each note with a breathy calmness. It’s a strange sight to behold, because each member performs within their confined space and yet is bound to the rest of the group.

Sadly, the levels are a little unbalanced at points. Adam Sykes’ acoustic is barely audible below his warm, Geordie hum in ‘If I’ve Been Unkind’ and Kemp’s twisting violin  is drowned out by the swirls of bowed guitar noises and thumping drums in ‘Tricks’, regardless of their elegant interplay.

The Geordie bunch constantly pepper their set with surprises, such as a thriving rendition of ‘You Need Better’ that swelters with a hefty southern guitar riff, off-kilter rhythms and a crystal tambourine. ‘You’re Almost There’ is the most unexpected success live: where shadows cast themselves on hollow cheeks; an asserted piano melody stands tall against jarring strings, and cinematic whooshes blanket the crowd in supernatural ambiance.

With some of the musical details drowned by the sheer multitude of instruments onstage – and what a multitude it is, with nearly all of the members swapping guitars or glockenspiels at every instant – ‘Not Going Back To The Harbour’ is a reviving set-closer with over half of the group singing in unison, projecting away from their mics. The glorious choral singing allows the band to radiate with a rare confidence right at the last minute, which, although uncharacteristic, is a brief and welcome change from their self-effacing identity.

Photo by Anika Mottershaw