REVIEW: Stars Of The Lid, The Sage Gateshead

Stars Of The Lid.

Stars Of The Lid.

Although far from a household name, one need only have visited The Sage on Friday night to sample the cult surrounding Stars of the Lid.

There's only so far being in an internationally renowned drone outfit can get you, but the prospect of witnessing ambient royalty on their first proper UK tour in a decade proved more than enough to draw a healthy and much enthused Hall 2 audience.

Formed in 1993, the core duo of Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie are among the genre's modern forerunners, whose clutch of classics includes 2001's The Tired Sounds of Stars of the Lid, which recently ranked at #6 in Pitchfork's rundown of the Best Ambient Albums of All Time.

For the real tech-heads tonight was an extra treat, as it found the pair performing with a vintage Moog 55 Modular Synthesizer, an enormous contraption littered with knobs and LEDs which alone took up about half of the stage space.

That which remained was occupied by a full eight-piece outfit, with McBride and Wiltzie joined by guitarist Bobby Donne and studio collaborator Francesco Donadello, as well as the magnificent Echo Collective string ensemble.

Indeed, this was less of a band and more of a touring art project, played before a thick, foggy veil of dry ice and evocative lighting and projections courtesy of designers MFO and Luke Savisky.

Aligned, the effect of all this was truly engrossing, scaling deep emotional swells and coursing through the body like classical music played at fraction the pace.

It's music which requires a receptive mind and no little patience, swooning at its own pace and exuding beauty without the need for structures or post-rock-style crescendos.

It was an awkward event at which to stand, but most of the audience seemed too dazzled to care - and those who did were perfectly happy to soak it all up from the comfort of the floor.

In a sense, the crowd played a subtle musical role of its own, fleshing out the group's minimal sounds with that one crucial element they required to thrive: silence.

This was particularly pertinent during the first hour, which, although comprising five numbers, was performed as a single continuous piece.

It'd be too much for most, but these listeners lapped it up, and were even kind enough not to laugh when a member of the Echo Collective fell on his backside while leaving the stage - an amusing blot on an otherwise serene evening.

Challenging, absorbing and hugely rewarding, it'll be a mighty shame if we're made to wait as long again before Stars of the Lid's next visit.