It’s a freezing Friday evening when Hookworms come to Liverpool, and the sold-out crowd is ready for an experience that’ll heat both body and soul. Virginia Wing’s supporting performance is a promising start, their 80s sounds made memorable by the committed, attention-grabbing performance of frontwoman Alice Merida Richards.
But Leeds-based Hookworms are the band of the moment right now, and their set is an example of what great art a gig can be. All three of their albums have offered energy and euphoria, but new album Microshift introduced a new element: catharsis. The music of danceable energy frames lyrics about heartbreak and disease. The success of the Hookworms experience is how they bring a form of power to life in the room.
The key is the totality of the experience. The music is front and centre of course, but its impact is heightened by every element around it. Visuals have no small part to play in setting this tone. The Substation at Invisible Wind Factory is a long-staged, low-ceilinged room, with plenty of room for vivid projections. Sam Wiehl’s visuals alternate between rapid flashes of abstract colours and patterns, and figures of humans lost in a digital landscape. Clearly designed to align with moods and moments in the music, they create an energetic, immersive experience for the crowd to share in.
Then there’s the band themselves. So often at live performances the attention falls on the person singing the words, which doesn’t always do justice to the collaborative nature of the songwriting process. But as strong as MJ’s vocals are on the night, he chooses to quite literally perform away from the spotlight. It’s a choice which leads the eye to pay attention to the band as a whole, doing justice to the true democracy of making a record.
But it’s the sound which everyone is ultimately here for, and it’s a powerful one. Once Hookworms start playing, the noise doesn’t even pause until the show is over. Microshift has a quite different sound to their previous albums, but tonight songs from all three records blend seamlessly into each other. Crucially, this show is not simply about replicating the songs of the records, but enhancing them. Even the most electronic sounds have a sense of being physically created in this place and time.
The stage setup is so packed with the tools of their craft that Hookworms live could be a very static affair, yet nothing about tonight is still. A sense of immediacy permeates the entire set, each moment feeling more necessary than the last. Ultimately, it’s an experience of collaboration. Collaboration of voices who all sharing a belief in music’s power, with members of Virginia Wing return to the stage towards the end to add their voices to the mix. But also a collaboration of arts to create the best kind of gig, one that takes what you love about a band’s records and adds a whole new dimension.
Hookworms/ Virginia Wing played at the Invisible Wind Factory Substation on Friday 23 February 2018.
Julia Johnson is a writer based in Liverpool, interested in how engagement with art can be opened up to the widest possible audiences.