When Swedish four-piece Little Dragon played a tiny sold-out show at Sydney’s Oxford Art Factory in August last year, it begged the question, “Why are a popular festival-ready band playing such a cramped, tinny venue?” Frontwoman Yukimi Nagano’s vocals were drowned out by competing frequencies, but she promised the group would return as soon as they could, hopefully for something a little bigger.
Currently touring as part of Laneway Festival 2015, Little Dragon’s Sydney Opera House sideshow saw the group stretch their synth-pop wings beyond the sonic limits of their four studio albums, expanding and shrinking their songs in a venue large enough to hold Nagano’s powerful vocals and warm personality.
Taking to the Opera House stage in a neon candy wrapper dress, sporting glow-in-the-dark orange lipstick, Nagano instantly became the centre of attention. From opener Please Turn, she and her bandmates were buzzing with a slight nervousness as they faced a seated crowd dotted with glasses of champagne.
Little Dragon turned those nerves into pure energy, pulling heavily from their impressive 2014 album Nabuma Rubberband. Album highlights Klapp Klapp and Paris finally saw the crowd rise to their feet as the band eased in to their groove.
Machine Dreams track My Step was extended into a blazing crescendo, with Nagano running on the spot in her chunky white sneakers. She led the crowd into belting out Ritual Union’s chorus line — “I was wonderin’ of a white dress / And the mistress / And a spirit holding my hand” — but the focus wasn’t always on her.
Nagano’s male bandmates all had their rockstar moments. The unassuming, well-bearded Håkan Wirenstrand showed off some super-intricate synth work, before almost comically hopping across the stage to bash on drummer Erik Bodin’s kit, with Bodin climbing atop an amp to crown himself king of the House.
Bassist Fredrik Källgren Wallin kept the grooves together with a genuine smile as Nagano admitted to the crowd, “This is a life moment.” She scurried off the stage, and left the boys to momentarily turn the Opera House into something of a krautrock nightclub.
But Sydney had loosened up and wanted more, so Little Dragon closed out their hour-and-a-half set with a two-track encore, concluding with the humbling downtempo comedown of Twice, once again proving their ability to go from zero to 100 and back again without any whiplash.
Little Dragon’s albums seem to have trouble capturing the band’s true sonic power; they move from dancefloor banger to graceful lament with ease, creating contrast which can be difficult to translate in the studio.
That said, finding the right venue to host Nabuma Rubberband did wonders for the group’s sound and freedom of movement and expression on stage. But now that they’ve played the Opera House, where to from here?
Little Dragon perform as part of Laneway Festival in Adelaide today, before taking to the stage in Melbourne and Fremantle over the weekend.