Fierce and alive
Little Dragon - Live At O2 Academy, Bristol

Little Dragon are at an odd place right now. The success of 'Ritual Union' (the song), and Yukimi Nagano's attention-grabbing – and brilliant – collaborations with Gorillaz and SBTRKT have earned them popularity, and a large crowd. But ‘Ritual Union’ (the album) still feels like a bit of a let-down; a sporadically pleasing, but undernourished follow up to 2008's excellent ‘Machine Dreams’.

Spooky support comes in the form of Holy Other. He's a mysterious one, Mr Other. You can tell that because a) no one outside of his inner circle (and, presumably, his mum) knows his real name, b) he's signed to Tri-Angle – purveyor of all things witch housey, and c) he's wearing a shroud over his head. Yes, a shroud. Unfortunately, given that his performance is basically him manipulating a sampler (in a shroud), it's not the most visually exciting of performances. Doesn't matter, it sounds pretty ace, all densely throbbing bass and half-formed female vocals. One track sounds like a house tune, slaughtered at the altar of Genesis P-Orridge. But, it's so not suited to a half-empty Academy dance floor. This is music for smaller, more intimate, and preferably subterranean venues.

Little Dragon arrive shortly after, Yukimi dressed in what appears to be a pair of gold spandex tights and a PVC kimono. “It's great to be back!” she says. What, in the Bristol Academy? Really? Well, OK...

They certainly sound like they mean it. 'Looking Glass' is a gentle way into the set. It's quickly followed by 'Ritual Union' – the song you imagine a lot of the audience is here for. Little Dragon are a brave band playing their big hit so early in a set, but it works. The already packed floor is moving.

It's not until 'Brush The Heat', though, that the tone of the show is set. A reasonably sedate, slightly forgettable song on CD is transformed here into an extended polyrhythmic jam. It's a tactic that the band returns to four or five times during the night, with drummer Erik Bodin getting a solid workout. And it sounds fantastic. Music that previously felt polished, but sometimes a little cool and distant, is now fierce and alive. Tonight Little Dragon aren't a cute indie-electro group - they're an impressively tight dance act. 'My Step', already one of the band's best tracks, sounds phenomenal and funky.

When they change pace, then, with 'Test' and ‘Crystalfilm’, it feels jarring. They’re wallpaper songs, too discreet and nice to stand out on such a raucous evening. But hey! There's a man in the crowd here who looks eerily like Grant Morrison. A gorgeous, ethereal 'Feather' gets everyone moving again. Kudos to the wonderfully into it guy throwing extravagant Christian rock moves.

The night ends with 'Twice', the first song from the first album. Yukimi murmurs quietly over a gently ebbing piano loop. It's atmospheric, but not sombre or overbearing. An appropriate end to a night that left this reviewer clear that while ‘Ritual Union’ may have left him cold, live Little Dragon are just fucking great.

Words by Will Salmon


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