At precisely the designated showtime, Jane Weaver quietly steps on the City Varieties stage.
With minimal fanfare, she proceeds to switch on and tune the assorted bits of equipment and instruments that make up the building blocks of tonight’s experimental solo set with the purposeful air of an engineer carrying out some last-minute checks before a critical rocket launch.
It’s a suitably unceremonious start to an evening that dazzles and underwhelms in roughly equal measures.
Having made six earlier solo albums to little recognition, Weaver found her own voice (and a wider audience) with 2014’s The Silver Globe. It remains a jaw-dropper of an album that manages to openly worship at the altar of the motorik grooves and kosmische vibes that characterise oft-fetishized cult sounds from 70s Germany without ever toying with succumbing to stale and predictable retro-ist mimicry. This is due to Weaver’s unrivalled capacity to marry her uncompromising experimental urges with deeply pop-savvy and substantial songwriting, as evidenced by 2017’s even more impressive Modern Kosmology, the absence of which from the very top of the charts can surely only be explained by an admin error.
Part of a tour dubbed Loops in the Secret Society, tonight’s solo set seeks to dismantle and reimagine cuts from Weaver’s two most recent albums. The tour’s name proves appropriate. Moving between a laptop, two keyboards, an acoustic guitar, a turntable (playing dub plates of the basic rhythms of Weaver’s studio constructs) and unidentified electronic sound-moulding gizmos, Weaver gradually builds up richly layered tracks from looped base elements before adding her cool, cloud-bound vocals – distorted and often submerged in the mix – on top.
At their best, the results are as hypnotically powerful as the disorientating swirl of the accompanying visuals. The opening instrumental Element builds into an urgent, cosmos-gliding groove from a few creaky organ notes and a rhythm Kraftwerk could have tapped out of a discount calculator back in the day, with Weaver multi-tracking wordless vocal ululations until she’s effectively harmonising with herself like a choir of ethereal extra-terrestrials.
Elsewhere, the dreamier material fares equally well, and there are compelling juxtapositions between the mechanical and the organic, such as when a primitive percussion clatter (not dissimilar to what a pair of bongos rolling down a steep flight of stairs could sound like) and strummed acoustic guitar clash with results that sound out of tune, yet the effect is hypnotic rather than jarring.
It’s inspired stuff, but there’s a fair bit of perspiration involved too, as implied by Weaver’s regular study of the thick sheaves of notes stored on two large lyric stands. Often, Weaver seems too immersed in the effort to keep the multiple aural plates spinning all by herself to engage fully with the audience, resulting in a show that’s more reminiscent of witnessing a scientific experiment than watching a pop music performance and never quite achieves the lift-off the music is more than capable of.