FKA Twigs Delivered Sydney An Unspeakably Beautiful Show, But Sydney Let Her Down

This was a once-in-a-lifetime performance, and nobody could actually see it.

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In theory, Sydney’s Carriageworks is a perfect venue for FKA Twigs.

Twigs, real name Tahliah Barnett, makes music of remnants — and Carriageworks, once a rail yard, was left empty for over a decade before it re-opened as an arts precinct. Its cavernous, concrete bays adaptable for large-scale installations, modern operas, and performances, perfect for that gothic-industrial atmosphere.

And Twigs’ music — spanning one LP, two EPs and assumedly a pending album — sounds like assembly line, but in reverse. Breathy and often-cold, her take on R&B is filled with electronic stabs, warbles and snares, like jagged edges that unravel Barnett’s relationships, including that to her own body.

A trained dancer, Twigs music is esoterically sensual. She is one of very few contemporary acts for who you can say that sound and movement are of equal importance; in live performances and videos, each movement, every twitch is meticulous.

FKA twigs, Carriageworks. Image Daniel Boud, 2019.

Twigs’ international touring show is named ‘Magdalene’, after Mary, the Biblical figure (incorrectly) seen as both vixen and pious witness to a miracle. On-stage, she plays with both roles.

At the show’s beginning, she arrives on stage in white, hidden in smoke. Towards its end, a pole appears out of darkness — in gravity-defying feats, she twirls in the air to a remix of ‘Lights On’, showing off the moves she spent a year working on in preparation for the video accompanying comeback single ‘Cellophane’.

Unfortunately, it’s one of the few moments the crowd can definitively see her. Carriageworks’ stage is simply too low for the audience, and without screens, we were all on tip-toes for the night.

FKA Twigs

FKA twigs, Carriageworks. Image Daniel Boud, 2019.

Bay 25’s large columns don’t help, either; frustrated, people put their phones up not to record, but just to see via their screens. It’s a stop-gap solution, to say the least, and the 70 minute-or-so concert has people wandering around the venue the whole time, trying to find the best spot they can.

Frustrated, many leave; others chat to their friends or even sit down, resigned to merely hear, not see. Some stand on bins or crates they found leftover from Carriageworks’ weekly markets, before security stops them.

After the show, Carriageworks’ Facebook event for the gig was inundated with calls for refunds. “Ridiculous waste of money for something which, I’m sure if I could’ve seen, would’ve been worth every dollar,” wrote one, capturing the sentiment many felt.

FKA twigs, Carriageworks. Image Daniel Boud, 2019.

They’ve since apologised, but Carriageworks faced the same criticisms a year ago after St. Vincents’ Vivid show. But it feels like much more of a disservice to Twigs — Magdalene, from what we could see, was absolutely stunning, on par with the likes of Solange’s Opera House shows from last year.

Magdalene is also a debut of Twigs’ new (long-awaited) new songs, and it’s clear watching that she has a precise vision for them. The performance begins with her alone in front of a red curtain, singing about a ‘woman’s prerogative’ and the ‘sacred geography’ of the feminine body.

Behind the curtain is a backdrop of clouds, and the smoke on-stage often-obscures Twigs, who for much of the performance is wearing a white, fluffy dress — it as if she is part of her own backdrop, or it is of her.

FKA twigs, Carriageworks. Image Daniel Boud, 2019.

Four dancers come and go, and while the Ballroom breakdowns and moments where they become her throne are impressive, it’s the smaller synchronised movements that display Twigs’ commitment to her craft. Every sound has its counterpoint, whether we’re at its most chaotic clanging or moments of near quiet.

Twigs changes costumes four times throughout. Watching, I thought she ran off-stage for five minutes to do so; later, I was told by a very tall friend she was dancing on the ground.

Even with the impaired view, the show was stunning. The new songs are noticeably warmer than LP1 or 2015 EP M3LL155X. Twigs voice was centred, where previously it’s been in the background. In one new ballad, it soars over flutes; in another, it was backed by ’80s drums reminiscent of ‘Hounds Of Love’, though Twigs trademark crystalline sounds remained present throughout the concert.

The meticulous movements were impressive — alone on-stage, it seemed as if a backing track would be the only way to make sure everything clicked. Then, after twirling a sword around in a haze of red lights, they shone from behind the clouds, and we saw, for the first time, the scaffolding behind. The backdrop fell, revealing a three-piece band and her four dancers standing on top; it was a show filled with surprises. Thankfully, this was one we all saw.

FKA twigs, Carriageworks. Image Daniel Boud, 2019.

After a rendition of ‘Two Weeks’ closing the show, confetti and all, Barnett returned to the stage alone for new single ‘Cellophane’. No movement, no lights; just her voice, devastatingly pleading to a (very famous) ex — “Didn’t I do it for you?… They’re waiting/And hoping/I’m not enough.”

Someone in the crowd shouts she is more than enough. You didn’t even need to see the show to know it.

Images via Carriageworks, by Daniel Boud.

FKA Twigs will perform at Dark Mofo in Tasmania Friday 14 June.

Jared Richards is a staff writer at Junkee, and co-host of Sleepless In Sydney on FBi Radio. Follow him on Twitter.