I don’t know about you, but the pandemic has completely messed up my understanding of the passage of time. With so long spent where the days just bleed together, it’s hard to get your head around it again when for a while it lost all meaning. At times the whole thing feels like a blur, and you’re surprised to discover a moment that felt like yesterday was nearly two years ago. And yet sometimes you register just how long you’ve waited to see some light at the end of the tunnel, how much you’ve yearned for some normality, that you can scarce believe when it finally arrives. There was certainly a lot of the latter at play when it came to this gig. I was already long overdue to catch Belwood favourites Lanterns on the Lake when I first bought the ticket, and that day feels like an age ago. Now, after being rescheduled so many times I actually lost count, came the surreal experience of actually seeing them live and in person when for so long it felt like it was never gonna happen.
An excellent opening act certainly helped make the night feel like it was worth the wait. There’s an art to a great opener – the need to set the right tone for the evening, to compliment the style of the headliner while still standing firm on your own – and Hilang Child performed admirably in that regard. His soundscapes filling the venue with a suitably dreamy atmosphere ahead of Lanterns’ set, while also sharing his own unique stamp which fluctuated between hypnotic and euphoric. His expressive drum work, accompanied by piano and saxophone, offered a meditative experience that really drew you in. But like how the misty spray from a droning waterfall can catch the light and dazzle you with vibrant colour, so too did his honeyed vocals and charismatic stage presence cut through the haze. It was an absorbing performance, the kind that makes you forget that the outside world even exists, and felt like the ideal fit to set the stage for the main event.
When Lanterns on the Lake took to the stage that odd grasp of time found itself at work again, as we were presented with a kind of rushed tranquility. With a looming early curfew the band were left with little time to play around with, electing to rapidly rattle through the entirety of their Mercury nominated masterwork Spook The Herd. Little time left for old favourites, and even less for chit chat, besides frontwoman Hazel Wilde briefly acknowledging how long it’s been, and thanking everyone for braving a gig in still uncertain times. Yet even when it felt at times like there was someone just offstage tapping their watch, the songs themselves every bit as dreamy and contemplative as on the record. Tracks like ‘Swimming Lessons’ and ‘Every Atom’ each felt like a serene oasis free from the frantic hustle beyond. Even pushed for time their expansive soundscapes were given the same patient care and attention to detail.
Seeing the band in a live setting definitely gave me a greater appreciation for how they craft their atmosphere. How drummer Oliver Ketteringham could so easily shift from a tender expressive touch to a piercing rattle like gunfire when the occasion called for it on tracks like ‘Baddies’ and fan favourite ‘Through The Cellar Door’. And most of all how guitarist Paul Gregory managed to weave such soaring cavernous sounds – the likes of which you don’t expect to come from just one man and his guitar. It’s the kind of thing you almost take for granted when listening to an album, but in the flesh it was something to behold, especially the level of intensity and passion for his craft shown on ‘Beings’. ‘A Fitting End’ once again lived up to its name as Hazel brought Hilang Child on to provide backing vocals, and concluding with a promise that next time it won’t be so long until we see each other again. I hope it rings true, for as great as their set was it left me hungry for more in the best possible sense. After such a long road to get here I just wanted to bask in their beautiful soundscapes a moment longer.