Someone has thrown a costume department’s laundry basket onto a 10-member progressive pop band. They are using flutes and keytars to break free from the corsets and linens. This is what it appears like when the Last Dinner Party performs at a well-known venue in Bristol, with a chaotic mix of hair, Napoleonic clothing, mandolins, and even modern attire. This show was originally postponed, but it could have easily been moved to a larger venue due to its popularity.
The group has been named the newest recipients of both the BBC Sound of 2024 award and the Brits Rising Star award. Their first album, Prelude to Ecstasy, will be released this weekend, followed by a performance at London’s Roundhouse with a capacity of 1,800. Their upcoming tour will also include larger venues. This marks the first time in 11 years that a band with guitars has won the BBC Sound of award. It is noteworthy that Haim won in 2013 and that the majority of members in The Last Dinner Party are female and non-binary, adding to the overall harmony.
The atmosphere is reminiscent of indoor fireworks, with guitar necks intertwining and everyone packed closely together in their bouffant sleeves. Lead singer Abigail Morris, who could easily play a young Helena Bonham Carter in a biopic, puts her whole body into her vocals, headbanging and thrusting her elbows as she moves around and even hanging off the venue’s iron support pillars. The Fleece, a 450-capacity venue that is independently owned, stands out as a success story in a difficult time for grassroots venues. They received a grant before the pandemic and used it to renovate the entire place during lockdown. In contrast, the nearby Bath Moles closed down in December, adding to the 16% of small venues across the nation that were forced to shut their doors last year, as reported by the Music Venues Trust. On a recent episode of the Today programme, Mark Davyd from the MVT brought up the idea that implementing a £1 levy on arena tickets could almost single-handedly solve this issue. Aside from the cultural destruction and loss of jobs, the bottleneck in the supply of new talent, such as the Last Dinner Party band, is also a concern. Their journey to success through live performances sets them apart in an age where digital fame reigns supreme.
Surprisingly, the Last Dinner Party’s dedication to traditional methods may have caused a negative reaction when they unveiled their first single last spring. Being fully established led to allegations of being “industry plants”, a vague label often given to individuals, especially women, whose rapid success is questioned.
Tonight, there will be no discussions about their musical skills or the validation of their ideas: their songs revolve around themes of passion, Catholic guilt, and toxic relationships, all delivered with energetic movements. Emily Roberts, the guitarist, showcases her unique St Vincent guitar and delivers impressive rock solos with a subtle smile. Her experience in a Queen cover band (where she portrayed Brian May) is evident in her precision and calm demeanor, which stem from her background in classical music. In 2020, she was a semi-finalist in the BBC Young Jazz Musician of the Year competition; in TLDP, she also displays her talents on the mandolin and flute in songs like Gjuha and Beautiful Boy.
During the performance, Georgia Davies’s strong bass is adorned with strips of white fabric as she skillfully avoids the angular shapes created by singing guitarist Lizzie Mayland. On the other side of Morris, keyboardist Aurora Nishevci stands out as a modern interloper, dressed like a young woman out for a night on the town rather than a disheveled lady-in-waiting. Nishevci, a Guildhall-educated composer, also adds a touch of classical music to the band’s debut album, opening and closing with beautiful pieces. She also sings “Gjuha” in Albanian, a song that reflects her struggles with her native language. Completing the lineup on tour is drummer Rebekah Rayner.
During their hour-long performance, The Last Dinner Party covered a large portion of their first album, despite some technical difficulties. Their energy and enthusiasm was evident throughout the show, especially on songs like “Beautiful Boy” which explores traditional gender roles and the privilege of being conventionally attractive. The entire band kicked off the song with a stunning a cappella harmony.
During the performance of “Caesar on a TV Screen,” Morris reflects on the power dynamics of gender in another song. Fans at the front of the stage enthusiastically sing along to one of the band’s bold declarations. Morris sings, “As a child, I never felt like a child. I felt like an emperor with a city to destroy!”
TDLP’s combination of Kate Bush’s precise enunciation and Måneskin’s grandiose rock may not appeal to everyone. It’s no surprise that Justin Hawkins from The Darkness and Florence Welch from Florence + the Machine are fans, since the band’s over-the-top style is heavily influenced by Welch’s maximalist approach in her album “Opheliac”. Their exaggerated take on “rock” may seem out of place with their indie roots, but they did warn listeners with their name “The Last Dinner Party”. They never intended to be just another post-punk band. In an interview, they stated that their focus was more on an “end-of-the-world orgy” rather than singing about the struggles of the cost of living crisis.
After Mayland sang part of the track “Sinner,” technical issues arose and disrupted the performance of the group known as the Gremlins. The Last Dinner Party continued on, making improvised additions to their act, until they had to briefly leave the stage to resolve the power problems. Jokingly comparing the situation to Lana Del Rey’s shortened performance at Glastonbury in 2023, Morris commented on the group’s return to finish with their debut single, “Nothing Matters.” This song was initially met with skepticism, as it was believed that a group of ambitious young women could not have created something so polished without the support of management and a record label. With Morris singing, “And I will make love to you, as if nothing else matters,” she motioned towards the sky, referencing the technical difficulties and emphasizing that ultimately, nothing else mattered.