When I was growing up, I discovered new music the old-fashioned way: radio, MTV, and mixtapes from cooler friends.
Now, with the proliferation of streaming services, file sharing sites, digital downloads, Sirius XM, groovy cable TV soundtracks, etc., it’s theoretically easier than ever to stumble across something great, yet I barely register most new and new-ish artists these days unless they’re literally dropped right in front of me.
Such was the case at the 2017 SXSW music/film/everything fest in Austin, TX, when I wandered into an East 6th Street day party with performers wailing away on four stages…
…including a striking brunette in a white linen suit who, from a distance, bore a striking resemblance to Chrissie Hynde on the cover of “Pretenders II”. Curious, I moved closer as she trilled a breathy melody, seemingly oblivious to the power chord riffs of surrounding bands in the club’s back patio performance area.
Then, when the Woman in White finished her tune, she announced (in an accent I couldn’t quite place), that her next song would be: “What If Birds Aren’t Singing They’re Screaming”.
She had my complete attention.
Not only was that one of the greatest song titles I’d ever heard, but the performance, lyrics, and melody were so instantly, intensely riveting that all the surrounding bands seemed to fade away, as if those of us in front of her stage had slipped into a dimension just a bit off to the side of the reality we’d occupied only moments before.
Conversations and smart phone surfing around me all stopped as the Woman in White jutted her jaw out, slightly off balance one moment then rooted and commanding the next, alternately cooing and keening like a warrior priestess. Over the course of her captivating set, her striking presence, swooping vocal range, and dreamy/nightmarish lyrics reminded me of everyone from Kate Bush, Bjork, and Siouxsie Sioux to Joe Cocker and the doomed mutant scientist trapped in the spiderweb at the end of “The Fly” wailing, “Help me! Helllp meeeee!”
And then, as if transforming from an anonymous day party singer to one of my favorite live acts ever wasn’t enough, The Woman in White launched into “Horizon,” a song which instantly “Inception”-ed its way into my head as a long-lost anthem I’d somehow always loved from the very first moment I heard it.
“I broke my neck
Dancing to the edge of the world, babe.
My mouth is wet, don’t you forget it,
Don’t you lose me.
Here is your princess,
And here is your horizon…”
When the spell broke and the show ended, I felt compelled to approach the stage and let the Woman in White know how impressed I was by her performance. She thanked me and introduced herself as Aldous Harding, from New Zealand.
An hour later, a friend and I hit a promotional event for the upcoming season of “Twin Peaks,” featuring a line-up of bands meant to capture the spirit of David Lynch’s sweet, scary creation.
My friend and I both agreed Aldous would fit perfectly with the line-up…just minutes before we noticed her entering the establishment to perform a version of the set we’d seen on East Sixth.
We stood and watched the crowd milling around, talking and laughing and checking their smart phones before they, too, fell silent in fascination as Ms. Harding took the stage and repeated the ritual.
Here was our princess, and here was our horizon.
Aldous Harding’s second album (“Party”) will be available after May 19, 2017.