Louisiana, Bristol | 8 May 2012
As Geordie indie popsters Shields leave the stage having played out a charming warm-up set filled with melodies that fellow north-east natives Field Music would be proud of, whispers begin to circulate that tonight’s main draw only formed last year, and that this marks merely their second headline slot outside the capital.
It would appear the stakes are high; yet as Zulu Winter begin to play out tracks from their forthcoming debut LP Language, the clamour among those assembled gradually melts and we are absorbed into a vortex of ethereal musical landscapes. Slow-burning opener ‘Key to my heart’ dispels any suggestion that the performance might in any way seem embryonic – its moderate tempo and luscious refrain lulls us in and gently pulls us towards the aptly immersive ‘We Should Be Swimming’. It’s a highly assured performance epitomised by frontman Will Daunt, whose piercing looks, obligatory hair-tousling and fey movements make for a captivating spectacle that is matched only by his voice, which is perhaps the true highlight of the show.
While the opening bars of current single ‘Silver Tongue’ are met with healthy cheers from the crowd, the much-repeated line of ‘You are silver tongued’ gives the impression that the band has simply caught wind of an idiom and written a song around it. Yet the vocal delivery is such that this lyrical sluggishness is instantly forgivable – Daunt’s voice shimmering and gliding effortlessly through elegant falsetto phrases. At points, the vocal dexterity is akin to that of Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe; at others, it’s without comparison.
For the most part, the set is draped in a certain airiness: the stand-out ‘Let’s move back to front’ combining cowbell-infused tribal pop rhythms, befitting of the band’s name, with languorous, clean, reverb-rich guitar strokes and warm synths. The cumulative effect is that of a soothing balm: something that is to be enjoyed immensely but which doesn’t leave you ravenous. Notably, there’s no hint of an encore and no requests from the crowd. As the spaciousness of Zulu Winter’s sound best exemplifies – sometimes less is indeed more.