A school report for FKA twigs – real name Tahliah Debrett Barnett – might, in the past, have noted her aptitude for singing, dancing, drama and art. But it would have spoken about potential not yet fulfilled, of all the elements of greatness being there, but not in the right helix to spin off into something transcendent.
Following an extended absence, the Gloucestershire-born singer’s performance at Alexandra Palace Theatre on Tuesday night is, by contrast, nothing short of a masterwork of genius, a moving, shifting, visually stunning wrecking ball of emotion – and a marriage of venue, artist, material and occasion that’s all too rarely experienced by us mere mortals.
The venue: the recently reopened Alexandra Palace Theatre, a slice of faded glamour intentionally left artfully unfinished, like a half-excavated Egyptian tomb, tonight scented with burning wood, sensory before the music even begins.
The artist: a woman whose aptitude for dance and song has, in the past, torn her in opposing directions, but here allows each to breathe, separately and in unison, whether tap dancing in the intro, pole dancing towards the end, sword fighting at one point or simply standing and singing, in passages of sheer fragility, backed by a velvet curtain like a tragic chanteuse. In a set largely full of unfamiliar new material, there are moments where twigs breaks down in tears, and such is the reality of the emotion you can’t tell if it’s scripted or not.
The material: nearly all new from her forthcoming second album, four long years since her first, typified by Grimes-like experimentation but grounded in moving piano ballads that pick up Kate Bush’s ‘This Woman’s Work’ and spin off into intergalactic scales, her voice fragile, powerful, alien and brilliant in every single phrasing.
And the occasion: the awakening of that promise, the result of an artist being allowed the room to grow, the sheer power of singularity of vision, as curtains open and close and backdrops drift and costumes change and big dance sequences shift to intimate solo numbers, in which an apparent backing track is revealed to be a flesh-and-blood band, like waking from a dream.
It’s hard, really, to know whether to consider twigs’s masterful show a gig, a piece of theatre, or a contemporary dance performance. It’s more than any of those things might individually imply, and in any one discipline it would be an exceptional example. But whichever way you chop it up, you know that it’s the kind of once-in-a-bloody-long-while performance that will make other artists sit up and pay attention and – most probably – weep in envy.
For an artist too easily written off as hipster catnip, or too easily dismissed as R-Patz’s former girlfriend in tabloid gossip pages, FKA twigs has put together a magical, powerful, cynicism-destroying show that places her in a league of her own.
It would be criminal not to bring it back for a longer run. For FKA’s sake, make it happen.