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Warpaint Demonstrated Their Unusual Allure at Turner Hall

Aug. 30, 2017
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Photo Credit: Kellen Nordstrom

Milwaukee indie fans gave Warpaint a warm welcome when they returned to the city Tuesday night at Turner Hall Ballroom, where they played their first show here since opening for Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in 2014. The Los Angeles art rockers have continued to thrive in the time since they last played here, further distinguishing their atmospheric dream pop from the countless other bands putting out similar music right now. The show played to those strengths, highlighting the X-factor that makes them stand out from the pack.   

The concert kicked off with a performance by newly formed Milwaukee band Rose of the West, whose grounded synth-pop tunes were the ideal primer for Warpaint’s floaty sonics. Their set was a feat of slow dynamism. Anchored by dramatic percussion and frontman Gina Barrington’s honeyed vocals, each song felt climactic, like shedding skin in preparation for a new beginning.

Warpaint delivered a similarly powerful performance for their headlining set. Whereas Barrington’s steady voice and resolute lyrics took the lead in Rose of the West’s opening set, Warpaint’s pliable, harmonized verses took a backseat to their instruments. It’s rare to see a live band conjure this much drama despite giving so little fanfare to stage production and crowd banter. The quartet performed songs from their three albums and their 2008 Exquisite Corpse EP, including “Elephants,” “Undertow,” “Love is to Die,” “Disco//Very” and their newest record’s pop-centric single, “New Song.” They didn’t mess around with an encore.

The women were like sirens on stage, but it wasn’t their voices that made them so alluring. Their spaced-out songs aimed for the heart rather than intellect, each mirroring the way that jumbled thoughts jump around, rattling our emotional state. Both the band and crowd moved unrelentingly in the low lighting, feeling out beats that by all rights should not have been so danceable. Every impromptu, free-flowing jam they added mid-song was like a pump of adrenaline that cut through the band’s dark, moody tendencies, showcasing the talent, spontaneity and heat that makes Warpaint so worthy of their hype. 

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