Camp Basement, London
August 26, 2010

It’s shows like this which give birth to the very nature of rock and roll. The hip-swaying sounds of a band as they rock back and forth, eyes closed, mouths pressed against the microphone, their feet marking the beat. It’s an undeniably sexual thing. This isn’t news. It’s why they tried to ban Elvis in the ’50s. He turned young girls on, and it wasn’t so much the man, but the music, the stage, the sweat, the motion — the rock and roll of it all. Wedged together in this barely ventilated Old Street basement, Los Angeles’ Warpaint are presiding over something that had this been the ’50s, would’ve gotten them banned too.

The phrase “pregnant with song” has never been more appropriate for Warpaint. Tucked away recording their debut album (entitled The Fool [review]) these past few months, the girls are back in town to play a warm-up show before their appearance at the Reading and Leeds Festival. As warm-up shows go, it’s less a warm-up and more a sauna. As the evening progresses, sweat is visibly pouring down their collective arms and if Warpaint were wearing any, it would be pooling in a mess at their feet. In a set that draws heavily from their debut EP, Exquisite Corpse, and the new album, the difference between old and new is negligible. Warpaint have a sound and its something they’ve clearly spent years refining.

Textural pieces like “Stars” and “Undertow” build palatially and hit in waves, but when the band weave together a simple bass line and some skeletal guitar, as on “Beetles” they come across like a beautiful mix of the New Age Steppers and the Tom Tom Club. The girls are all smiling to themselves and swaying to the music, and the audience are locked in the groove with them. New material like “Composure” and the self-titled “Warpaint” feel much less spectral and melody-driven. The voices are stronger, the music more rhythmic and tempered with aggression, and if they weren’t already signed to Rough Trade, they’re the archetypal band you’d expect to see on their roster, circa 82/83.

Saving their signature tune till last, the four girls become one on “Billie Holiday”, a track the over-excited audience had begun spelling out the title long before it was reached. As the harmonies weave from voice to voice, the word spelling, spell-catching song forms a gently rocking lullaby. A slightly rambunctious ending breaks the trance and the girls disappear while the tune still lingers. Fast forward a couple of months when The Fool is released, that effect will be more pronounced and the spell widespread. Warpaint are coming.