“You’re mesmerising!” yelped a grey-haired man to the twenty-one-year-old woman on stage in Hackney’s Oslo. Awkward giggles from the crowd followed. “Your hair looks great!” was soon added, along with my favourite heckle of the night simply for its simplicity, a repeated cry of “was that the one from True Detective”?
Sadly the gentleman in question never did get an answer, given that he was swiftly escorted from the premises. The crowd seemed pleased, but a little sad that the megaphone of group sentiment had left. If I’m a temperature gauge, and if the awkwardly British titters were anything to go by, everyone was already in silent, largely gaping accord: Not only was her hair truly (and annoyingly) great, but Alexandra Savior is almost certainly the most mesmerising performer I have ever encountered.
Just to get it out of the way and, to ground my following statements, the Savior in question is beautiful in the French-muse vein (my friend’s response to a photo of the set was “who is she, Brigitte Bardot?!” I’d have gone with Birkin, but the point stands), waif-like in a floor-length black dress. She’s a slip of a thing, all wild waves and long limbs which seem to undulate, enchantress like, of their own volition. Looks oughtn’t have anything to do with it, but I’m saying this for a reason. Standing there with her daintiness, with songs titled ‘Girlie’ and ‘Cupid’, lyrical narratives of love and elopement, she seems like a standard chanteuse. Pretty, sings about fancying men, being famous, blah blah, and has a voice like the pluck on a heart-string. Nope. Alexandra Savior is a feral beast in sheep’s clothing. She’s what being a woman feels like. I’ve never seen – or heard – anything like it.
As I’m sure most people did, I first heard her name in the context of “Alex Turner’s new protegée”. For argument’s sake, let’s say that was Monday. By Wednesday, I knew every lyric to the songs then released, and the release date for the miraculously titled Belladonna of Sadness pencilled in my diary. Something about her affected me in a way that I hadn’t anticipated. Take ‘M.T.M.E.’, one of her first released and a track centred on a seemingly fleeting romance with a big of a flighty and condescending ass who “questioned my credentials… Quoted Vladimir”. What could be an “oh I’m so sad you left me, yakyakyak” track, plausible after the harrowing opening lines “It never was completely clear why you left me standing in the mirror/ The horizon drank me down”, is instead the weird simultaneity of assuming some blame while viciously blaming the other, all beneath a weak veneer of serenity and levity. It’s on the increasingly maddened repetitions of “I ain’t crying, I’m just fine”, and the savage scream which follows that the guts are spewed up and the balls are finally on the table. That was meant to sound disgusting. Real women, especially pissed off ones, ain’t pretty, and they sure as shit aren’t dainty.
Savior knows this. That’s why she dresses so effeminately, yet still seems an avenging priestess: I swear to god that by the last track, the mind-blowingly, composure-shatteringly brilliant ‘Mystery Girl’, her hair had about tripled in size. She looks like a sweet, innocent dear, yet halfway through her first track of the night, the stupidly well-written, time signature switching demon that is ‘Frankie’, she hangs deliberately on the pause in “you’ve gotta make me come… back to your battle-star, we’d better run”. The look she gives the audience is molten, self-aware gold. Reticent in a lot of the silences between tracks, she becomes some kind of prismatic, dazzling beast while performing.
The set was perfect. Her feather-edged steel of a voice was flawless, the lighting beautiful and the band impeccable, all entirely engrossed in their finely crafted art. Even their brilliance though couldn’t tear me away from Savior’s transformations for long. She’s like a sphinx. In mindscape escapade ‘Vanishing Point’, she transformed from wide-eyed and hopeful ingénue to a siren spitting with a snarl on the lines “you’re a thousand times mine, and I want a thousand more”. I entirely believe that were I standing in her way, she would claw my face clean off with hidden wolverine talons. I think I love her.
By the show’s close and with the audience emotionally exhausted after tales of jealousy and self-doubt in ‘Audeline’ and ‘’Til You’re Mine’ (when she says “I won’t stop until you’re mine”, I genuinely fear for the guy’s safety), the cracked veneer of appearances (‘Mirage’) and the un-love song that is ‘Cupid’, finale ‘Mystery Girl’ came with the brilliant explanation that it would most definitely be the last track, because “I’m not mean, I don’t wanna mess with your heads like that”. All this before a track which sounds like a film-noir incarnate, which sees her letting loose a torrent of belly-base emotion in a Hitchcock hysteric worthy performance. Her untamed tresses masked her face as she scream-sobbed her final lines, unleashing some horror-movie monster chuckle before she lapsed into silence, simply standing there as her set finished. She performed, but not like a performer. It felt like she was possessed. It felt like a truth. A terrifying, much needed truth.