Empress Of Warms the Hearts of Manchester, 27.03.19

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Hidden along the cobbled backstreets of Manchester’s city centre, the newly-opened venue, YES, is a refuge of vibrant nightlife that lets out no more than a squeak of the peppy energy that blossoms inside. Travelling through bars and up stairwells, the Pink Room emits a plush hue, reminiscent of the pristine bar counters and dancefloors that pave the popular holiday destinations of Ibiza or Marbella. It’s as if the walls ooze synthpop – I came to the right place then.

Support act, Banoffee, takes to the stage in a wave of synthesised vocals, dispersing across the room. Her set consists of songs pondering on heartbreak and breakup sex – “the best kind”, she proclaims. Whilst snare hits and vocal samples spring out of the mix, the singer’s head voice is drowned out by the more potent bass lines. Each track is a bouncy bop, allowing Banoffee to flail her arms and sway her head throughout instrumental breaks.

This energy is pushed further for Empress Of’s headline set. Rising abruptly from the backstage, Lorely and her stage partner begin with the slightly more mellow tracks of ‘Trust Me Baby’ and ‘In Dreams’, showcasing the shifts between English and Spanish lyrics with flourishing dexterity. But the pacing of the show quickly jumps a few gears; the incredibly sped-up performance of ‘Love For Me’ carries it towards the realm of dancehall, much to the crowd’s joy. But there isn’t a single stop for breath, as this segues straight into ‘Just The Same’, owing to Lorely’s self-professed anxiety, which prompts her to speed up the music without pause.

As each moment passes, Empress Of takes another step up the ladder of euphoria. If she’s not galloping around the stage herself, as if midway through a cardio workout, then the walls of sound will liquify the entire room into an aqueous state of entrancement. It is at this point, however, that Lorely pulls the audience back into focus; we feel her aching as she confesses the alienation she feels in relationships on ‘When I’m With Him’, alongside her frustration at the dismissal of her independence and the male gaze on ‘Woman Is A Word’. As she repeatedly asserts that “you don’t know me”, she points towards random individuals within the crowd, accenting at each turn her oration.

The quick prance back and forth from the backstage marks a distinct turn in the set – a transformation à la Stars In Their Eyes, only minus the schlock smoke machine. Finally, Lorely stops for informalities with the crowd, discussing the amazing work of her mother in creating her costumes for the tour. She reassures the crowd that they will be treated to slow songs, a move which has her best intentions at heart: “go home to bed, don’t go out, don’t do drugs”. The luscious string swells of ‘Again’ underlie the most poetic and graceful pronouncements of love that any artist might offer, whilst the soft marimba arpeggios and glistening keyboard melodies smooth over her Blood Orange collaboration, ‘Best To You’. The result is an endearing close to the show, ensuring that the audience leave with nothing less than the most warming feeling in their heart.

Header Image Credit: Junkee