Let’s Eat Grandma Take Their Bewitching Avant-Pop To America For The First Time
Back in June, the English duo Let’s Eat Grandma released their debut album, I, Gemini. It’s a fascinating, genre-defiant introduction to the group: There are pop elements layered in psychedelic embellishments, pastoral and prog tendencies, and a tone that can be legitimately beautiful before swinging toward something quirkier or more unsettling, a haunting whimsicality. It sounds like dark fairytale music, all of it coming together in a shimmering murk. Also: The two women behind Let’s Eat Grandma, Jenny Hollingworth and Rosa Walton, are 17, recorded the album almost two years ago, and wrote much of the music when they were just 13. It would be an impressive debut regardless of those details, but it’s more impactful for the fact that you’re listening to two childhood friends who grew up discovering the world together. As a result, I, Gemini is an assured, experimental work that, for those who have discovered it this year, has remained an album worth returning to while also a suggestion of what the two could come up with now.
On the heels of all that, Let’s Eat Grandma have been touring a bit this year, and last night they played their first-ever U.S. show at Brooklyn’s Rough Trade. It was one of only a handful of dates they’re playing in North America before returning home to continue working on new music.
Onstage, it was just Hollingworth and Walton, no backing musicians there to reproduce the intricacy, or the range of instrumentation, of some of I, Gemini’s songs. They began the show by playing a quick clapping game with each other, and then taking their places, each behind a synth, their matching long hair falling in curtains obscuring both of their faces. It seemed like this is where they would stay for the whole show, triggering samples for various songs and playing the main keyboard lines. That’s the danger of unconventional lineups, especially just having two people onstage: How do you make that dynamic? Over the course of the show, the two began racing between instruments during the course of a song — xylophone, now a plastic recorder, now guitar, now saxophone, now drums. On a few songs, they swapped places in breaks — first Hollingworth might be on drums, but when the beat came back, Walton was behind the kit. Sure, that could come across as gimmick-y, but it made for a more interesting performance, and showcased the impressive range the two of them already have.
And the thing about the whole Let’s Eat Grandma project is that there’s a wink, a knowing self-awareness and jocularity that keeps it all from getting too precious or too trying-to-be-weird. I mean, how do you make dance music with a recorder? Hollingworth and Walton look and sound like popstars in the nascent lineage of Lorde, but more idiosyncratic, more indulgent of strange and arty detours. And they play this stuff with a great deal of silent confidence onstage. One of the highlights was “Eat Shitake Mushrooms” — in turn the best song on I, Gemini. It’s such a strange composition, at first lurching on a lead synth line accented by xylophone, then growing floatier, then suddenly dropping into a pseudo-rap section, before Hollingworth and Walton begin layering their vocals again for one more small-scale celestial chorus before the song drifts off into the distance. Live, it was one of the songs that had the two of them hopping between instruments frequently, conjuring up all six minutes of the twisting, surprising song. And, again, this is all for a track called “Eat Shitake Mushrooms,” by a band whose name is rooted in a punctuation joke (“Let’s eat, Grandma” vs. “Let’s eat Grandma”) that also sums up the nightmare-fairytale world of I, Gemini.
So there’s a balance between mystical elements and not taking everything too seriously with Let’s Eat Grandma. But watching them onstage, the experience leaned toward the former. Sure, the two of them are lifelong friends, but they looked more like sisters onstage, displaying some preternatural understanding of each other’s movements as they slid around each other finding their way to different instruments. Not to dismiss what the duo has already achieved with I, Gemini, but it’s the kind of thing that makes you wonder where they’ll be in a few years, if they wind up playing bigger shows. The kind of connection they display onstage is rare, something more elemental than a few musicians who got together when they were already adults with plenty of experiences behind them. Maybe it’s a perceptual thing given the knowledge of Hollingworth and Walton being childhood friends, but last night it felt like watching a very unique partnership.
The show ended with a meditative synth gurgle and a simple “Thank you” from the duo, after which they quickly left the stage. That was the only thing they said all night. It felt like a “performance” more than a “show,” in that sense, like we were getting the arcane music of I, Gemini as it is, but also like Hollingworth and Walton were “playing the role” of musicians on a stage. There was a lot going on there, altogether, and the major takeaway is that there is the seed of something really special in the work of Let’s Eat Grandma. There weren’t enough people at the Rough Trade show, but the ones were there seemed like they were already devotees, rapt during the biggest yet also most convoluted moments in many of the songs. Next time, I have a feeling there will be enough people.