The last (and only previous) time that Australia’s Gordi (Sophie Payten) played in Manchester she opened for Highasakite at the Deaf Institute, a band she aptly described as having “the most gear in the world” as she and her own small band teetered on the edge of the stage, barely able to move because of it.
Not so this time around. With plenty of room on Night & Day’s platform, she was able to give vent to her remarkable rich contralto voice (and you don’t hear too many of those in soprano-dominated female popular music) as, aided by a tight electronic orchestra of a synth player and drummer, she turned in a stunning performance.
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A two-song middle section of the performance, consisting of ‘Heaven, I Know,’ from her debut album ‘Reservoir’ and ‘So Here we Are’ from her preceding EP, ‘Clever Disguise,’ was, without doubt, one of the most powerful to be played on a Manchester stage anywhere this year. Clever Disguise got a particularly good airing on the night; four of its five songs were played out of nine in total.
Gordi has been compared to several artists, including most frequently Bon Iver, with whom she has been working recently and, more intriguingly, Peter Gabriel. If you imagine big, unrestrained intelligent pop songs like Gabriel’s late 1980s, early 1990s epics such as ‘Come Talk to Me’ and ‘In Your Eyes’ you are at least part way towards grasping what’s she about.
On Heaven I Know the repeated “123, 123, 123, 12,…” voice changing and other distortion effects on the album are something of a distraction but the way she handled a not-quite-so-intrusive version of them live, combining pre-recorded tracks and her own voice played back, was a master class in stagecraft.
Her live performances are so much more imposing and authoritative than the recorded tracks that they could be different songs entirely. While her slower, relationship-focused pieces like ‘Myriad,’ the set opener, ‘Wanting’ and ‘Bitter End’ are lovely she really excels with power ballads such as ‘All the Light We Cannot See.’
It was clear too, that she has developed a commanding stage presence since her last appearance here. She is intensely focused and says little between songs apart from telling the odd little story about writing depressing ones in what passes for daylight in an Icelandic winter and being given a Ryan Giggs shirt for her fourth birthday (her Manchester connection) while tuning her guitar. But no rapport with the audience is lost as a result.
She wraps up the all-too-short set with what is probably still her best-known song, ‘Can We Work It Out?’ in which the appealingly different drum beat is given extra emphasis as the kit gets a pounding. Together with all-enveloping synths and a ramping up of the volume, it is transformed almost into a rock song.
Sophie Payten’s star quality was already becoming evident at the Deaf Institute even in a short set played on a postage stamp but at this show, she made it clear that she has a big future ahead of her and that live performances are going to feature highly in it. You watch abundantly talented artists like her, you picture them (with a shudder) as a tiny dot in the arena they really should (and will) be in, and you thank your lucky stars for intimate moments like tonight.
Of the two supporting artists, unfortunately only was seen. Young Manchester resident Phoebe Green is already carving out a little stage persona of her own with her deathly eyeshadow. Backed by a competent band of very young-looking guitarists, synth player and drummer their sound is atmospheric and their presentation holds your attention. One thing she might want to revisit though is that most of her songs don’t so much end as fizzle out. She and her band stayed behind to watch Gordi from the sidelines, and it was probably the best 60 minutes they could have spent professionally, the equivalent of a University course.