Show Review: Daughter @ The Royale 11.2.16

by Isaac Feldberg (Journalism), published November 13th 2016

photos by Isaac Feldberg

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Daughter’s best songs, like the delicate “Landfill” and agonized “Smother,” are steeped in shadow and smoke, rolling dissections of heartache and hopelessness that feel at once crushingly intimate and hauntingly universal.

The London trio’s set on Wednesday at the Royale, accentuated by swirling fog and icy lighting, seemed designed to mirror that same sonic sparsity, even as the band prioritized material from their latest, rockiest record Not to Disappear. Sheltered in gloomy ambience but never consumed by it, lead singer/guitarist Elena Tonra, guitarist Igor Haefeli, and drummer Remi Aguilella remained committed to letting the music speak for itself.

And given the frontwoman’s gift for sharp songcraft, that approach proved wise. Opening number “New Ways” set the tone for the evening, with Tonra’s breathy sighs mingling with a reassuring guitar line from Haefeli to cast a spell that, for the audience, was eerie and engrossing.

Daughter isn’t known for innovative instrumentation, but their stage presence proved both effective and clean. When the band followed four tracks from Not to Disappear with “Tomorrow,” an elegant track from breakout If You Leave, the transition felt not just slick but natural. Even a jarring bout of technical difficulties in the first half couldn’t disrupt the depth of feeling brewing between Daughter and their fans – like a clumsy gesture during an otherwise smooth seduction, it was laughed off with a timid smile and playful banter, then quickly forgotten.

As the band meditated on recent material, performing every Not to Disappear track apart from closer “Made of Stone,” and reached back through its discography for hits “Youth,” “Winter,” “Human,” and “Smother” – all devastating crowd-pleasers – their sense of comfort in the small, crowded venue remained constant.

Tonra, delivering sharp lyrics with a voice as gossamer as spider silk, proved wholly capable of transforming her songs to better suit a live setting. “Doing the Right Thing” felt somehow more shattering, and the album’s occasionally overwhelming production was put on the back burner to favor Tonra’s exquisite vocals. On “No Care” the band bore its teeth for a bruising, bitter kiss-off that landed like a heart-in-mouth antidote to the rest of the evening’s gauzy remove. With portentous guitar riffs and surging vocals, the track felt special, like Daughter’s admission that they could punch through the veil they otherwise choose to reside behind.

By the time Daughter first left the stage, going out on a soft and melancholic rendition of If You Leave conclusion “Shallows,” the audience was on its feet. Some cheered the band on, others wiped away tears, and many more split the difference. “I love you,” one choked-up attendee yelled, to a mixture of laughter and agreement. Though a cursory glance around the darkened venue would have yielded tear-stained faces as early in the evening as second song “Numbers,” the gut-wrenching one-two punch of “Youth” and “Smother” (still the trio’s most aching accomplishment) was what appeared to put the majority over the edge. No one goes to see a band as rooted in love and loss as Daughter without expecting a few tears, after all, and the band was in such fine, forlorn form as to conjure them easily.

Only a few minutes later, the crowd reached its highest decibels when the band reappeared for a two-song encore of early track “Medicine” and Not to Disappear highlight “Fossa,” tying together their past and present with impressive dexterity. It was startling to note the band’s progression from elegant, depressed austerity on the former to sweeping, rippling magnitude on the latter. Despite their ponderous nature, Tonra, Haefeli, and Aguilella seem, more than ever, forward-facing. Though entrenched in the same dreamy, desolate soundscape they’ve always called home, the band is beginning to blow on the coals of ice-covered hearts in their songs, and finding within them faint fires they can coax back to life.

To put it another way, to watch Daughter at the Royale was to find them deep in the process of doing what all bands in their position must inevitably do. Daughter, as they heal, learn, ruminate, and explore the limits of their sound, are also growing up.

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