Multi-instrumentalist poptronica duo served up epic tracks at Bar Le Ritz
Since the release of their sophomore album, I’m All Ears, critical response for Norwich, U.K. duo Let’s Eat Grandma—comprised of Rosa Walton and Jenny Hollingworth—has grown to a crescendo of fawning adulation. Recently, they received a “Best New Music” nod from Pitchfork. So, please indulge me as I add one more sterling review to the pile.
Walton and Hollingworth are two of the biggest bosses I’ve ever seen stand on a performance stage. My friend that accompanied me to the show can confirm this. By the last song of the night she was simply yelling “yas, queen” every few minutes. The two held the crowd captivated for the entirety of their hour-long set, demonstrating an effortlessly breezy attitude while performing and interacting with their audience.
This included a moment, after they had finished their fourth or fifth song, when Hollingworth sat down, cross-legged on stage and seemed to get lost in thought for about ten seconds before snapping back to reality with a “sorry guys, it’s been a long day.”
By this point, the band’s mythology has been cemented by the press. They’re two creative wunderkinds, best friends since they were four years old. They met when one of them admired a drawing the other was working on in kindergarten. The drawing was either of an orange and turquoise snail, or a hot-pink elephant, depending on which interview you read.
By the time they were 13, they’d started writing and playing music together. By 17, the duo had released their debut album, I, Gemini, on Transgressive Records, also home to Alvvays, Flume, Neon Indian and SOPHIE.
I, Gemini was a careening, kaleidoscopic brew of contemporary freak-folk and psychedelica, combined with a proclivity toward the pulsating rhythms of rave and dance culture. And, like most bands’ first album, it was a bit rough around the edges.
Of course, because they were women, and not yet technically adults, they struggled to be taken seriously by the music press. There was widespread speculation that they were not the true authors of I, Gemini, but rather fronting the creation of someone else.
Perhaps in response to this, or simply as a result of maturing tastes, the production on I’m All Ears is more streamlined and precise. It pushes songcraft to the fore, clearing away all unnecessary flourishes to deliver a massive slab of anthemic, pulse-racing alternative pop music. They’ve put idle speculation to rest with I’m All Ears; they’re the real deal.
So, when they stepped out on stage, Saturday night at Bar Le Ritz, you got the feeling that every show for them right now is a gleeful celebration of the dunk they’ve just hit on the music industry.
Clearly, Let’s Eat Grandma is being savvy about wrapping their musical interests around a sound that can be taken into large performance spaces. The smoothly elevated sound of I’m All Ears is tailor-made for arenas and large concert halls.
The first two singles were produced by label-mate SOPHIE, who has produced for Madonna, Charlie XCX, and Vince Staples. SOPHIE also released her real debut album in June (after a compilation album a few years ago), Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides, to critical acclaim.
So, I don’t think they ever intend on playing a room as small as Le Ritz in Montreal again, and Montreal slept on this one. They have only a few more North American tour dates left before they head off to open for CHVRCHES in a string of concert halls across Europe. Yet, only about 150 people showed up to the 300-person-capacity Bar Le Ritz to see Let’s Eat Grandma. They had sold out a venue with the same capacity the previous night in Toronto.
For the show, they played their new album, I’m All Ears, from front to back, and only played one song from their debut as an encore, which seemed like the right choice as they’re clearly interested in moving on from that material.
The set began with just their drummer on stage, pounding out the rhythms of the John Carpenter-esque opening instrumental, “Whitewater,” before Walton and Hollingworth bounced on stage, ready to hype the audience with their particular brand of performance: part musical virtuosity, part searing vocal delivery, and part “party that someone brought a karaoke machine to.”
After “Whitewater,” the duo led straight into the two big singles, the most directly catchy songs on the new album. “Hot-Pink” is a quasi-bratty, menacing pop song, fusing the more extreme elements of SOPHIE’s sound with a conventional pop and R&B song structure, while “It’s Not Just Me” is a smart, sweet and summery indie-pop song about sharing your feelings with a new romantic interest.
By the end of their fourth song, the galloping, robust piece of twinkling electronica, “Falling Into You,” Hollingworth had busted out her saxophone for the soaring outro solo, elevating the performance that much more. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a good sax solo?
Throughout the rest of their set, Let’s Eat Grandma showed a love for the communal aspects of musical performance, playfully engaging with the crowd. Hollingworth crowd-surfed at one point, mock-collapsing upon being returned to the stage. There were also a few games of patti-cake played between the pair.
The second to last song of the night, gentle and stripped-down piano ballad, “Ava,” was particularly noteworthy. Hollingworth emoted in gorgeous overtures about a troubled long-lost friend, whom she wishes she could have helped somehow. It brought an audible hush over the crowd.
The eleven-minute final song, “Donnie Darko,” weaved its way through several parts, beginning with a meandering guitar centred intro, then driving through on a pristine, hand-clapping disco beat to arrive at a plaintive, organ-blaring climax that wouldn’t be out of place on a late-90s post-rock album. It was the perfect closer.
I have no doubt that Walton and Hollingworth will go on to produce some era-defining albums in the near future. The press should resist tokenizing them for their age and gender, as they’ve expressed sincere frustration over this in interviews. However, I also think it’s okay to celebrate the emergence of a group that can serve as such strong, positive role models for other young women wanting to break into the music industry. I am optimistic that by the time of their third album, their media narrative will have shifted from age and gender, to simply “check out these kick-ass musicians.”