Anna Meredith’s electronic pop music has always been orchestral in scale, layered, interconnected, harmonically complex and structured like a tight stack of circuit boards, wired for glorious sound. So the notion of performing her Mercury Award nominated second album FIBS with the London Contemporary Orchestra seemed more than a natural step to take, a drift back to the familiar and foundational for this irrepressible musician who strides so confidently across the classical and contemporary borderlines.
What Anna Meredith always brings, besides her compositional gumption, is energy, enthusiasm and a genre busting disregard. Bouncing out onto the packed Barbican stage with all the excitement of a kid let out into the playground, there was a sense that here was a moment about to be seized. Not that this was diva-esque in anyway. Meredith and her band may have stood out from the crowd in their retro-snazz, clinic white jumpsuits but being squeezed to one side of the stage heaving with a full orchestral crew, underlined that tonight they were part of a collective about to make a big, big sound.
The breathless opener ‘Sawbones’ seemed to leave everyone, band and audience, in a momentary state of shock, astonished at the energy released around the Barbican’s sweeping terraces, it’s rollercoaster bass-lines, switchback staccato and techno drive getting almost pushed to breaking point by the extra orchestral propulsion. Composure was gradually regained over the course of a sprightly skip through ‘Inhale Exhale’ and the drifting sway of a lightly pulsing ‘Carlion’ where the LCO brass section’s heft added to the tune’s seething urgency. However it was with the folksy patter of ‘Killjoy’ that the whole collective really hit their buoyant stride as the pre-flight adrenaline ebbed away.
Playing a complete album in sequence can be risky but with FIBS the undertaking emphasised the consistent greatness of a record deftly crafted from an almost hyperactive spread of ideas. Working live with the LCO pumped further life into this already luscious proposition. Even a beaming Meredith had to apologise for saying ‘amazing fifty thousand times’ in her excitable between song banter. The high points in the set popped out continuously: the cartoon bombast of ‘Bump’; the swooning strings in the Tunng flavoured ‘Divining’; and the indie innocence of ‘Ribbons’ given an eccentric skip by a trumpet and trombone bandstand touch.
If anything the more restrained songs from FIBS allowed the massive ensemble just a little more breathing space to reach out and connect subtly with each-other. That’s not to say that the ‘dialed up to 11’ moments during the show weren’t stunning and an essential foundation for the concert’s dynamic clout. Penultimate number, the much loved pumping electro-reel of ‘Paramour’, drove that point home, its giddy urgency, skittering prog switches and symphonic riff pounding climax, coaxing a communal head-bang amongst the punters and around the stage. Even Robert Ames standing tall and cool in the conductor’s podium couldn’t resist.
It felt like the whole evening found the mercurial Anna Meredith in her element. The quirky roller disco in the foyer, the joyful Sir Elton karaoke encore, her honest T-shirt plug (‘we dragged in the buggers in hundreds of Sports Direct bags so please buy’) and her carefully curated bill, all revealed the humour, imagination and integrity that she brings to the musical arena. Praising her support acts at the concert’s close, the deep cut, broken beat afro-soul of Auclair and the fizzing DIY electronics of Carmel Smickersgill, you knew that this was no empty gesture. Anna Meredith is refreshingly genuine and her music simply good for the soul.