NEW YORK If her U.S. live debut Wednesday at Bowery Ballroom is any indication, Alison Goldfrapp's got all kinds of vocal tricks up her sleeve, and she's not in the least bit afraid to use them.
With the aid of her Goldfrapp bandmate Will Gregory and more than a few new-age gadgets at her beck and call, Goldfrapp's performance was at once retro and futuristic, otherworldly and rooted in American jazz. In all, the duo whose 2000 album, Felt Mountain, has garnered favorable comparisons to trip-hoppers Portishead and Massive Attack managed to make a cohesive whole out of some very disparate parts.
Following a set by knob-twiddlers Plaid ("They're not really entertainers," remarked one attendee), the capacity crowd patiently waited for Goldfrapp to take the stage. Posters bearing the frontwoman's millennial flapper-girl visage stared in from every corner. Laid back, ethereal beats bumped from the house speakers while Moby chatted up his manager atop the VIP balcony and chin-scratching critics milled about the floor.
Goldfrapp made her grand entrance following a noir instrumental courtesy of Gregory and their touring band. Outfitted in of-the-moment military chic, the former vocal muse for Tricky and Orbital stood her ground in red stilettos, firmly planted.
When the frontwoman began singing through one of three awaiting microphones, her vocals evoked another time and place. Equal parts Billie Holiday, Björk, Shirley Bassey, Saint Etienne's Sarah Cracknell and a classically trained opera singer, Goldfrapp's small frame served as a medium for multiple, multifarious voices.
After the moody, calliope-infused "Paper Bag," Goldfrapp belted out the slow-burn diatribe of Felt Mountain's latest single, "Human." "Are you human/ Or a dud?" she snarled at the responsive and equally vocal audience. Punctuated with dissonant scratches and Bond-movie symphonics, the song worked the crowd into a hot, swirling frenzy.
For the next two numbers ("Felt Mountain," "Lovely Head") the singer bounced from one effects-processed mic to the next, sounding like a vocal theremin one moment, a golden-throated, modern Madame Butterfly the next. Retreating into a more demure landscape for "Deer Stop," Goldfrapp revealed yet another face as the frontwoman crooned her way through the sad, Sarah Vaughan-esque song in a hushed, almost shy voice.
The surprise of the night came in the band's encore, a Casio-driven take on Olivia Newton-John's "Physical." As if to prove Goldfrapp's not all about gloom and doom and lost love, the band showed its sense of humor with a trip-hopped take on the early-'80s hit.
At the end of the brief, emotional roller coaster ride the set lasted less than an hour the band showcased an as-yet-untitled new song. Whether or not Goldfrapp will be taking the piece into the studio remains to be seen, according to a spokesperson for their label.
Though they will only be making a handful of Stateside stops this time around (see "Goldfrapp Come Down Felt Mountain For Tour"), Goldfrapp are planning another U.S. tour for the fall, their spokesperson said.