The Dodos rehearsing with the stargaze orchestra (Image: Emanuel Florakis)
The Dodos are a band of two, clean-cut halves. One of the duo was a student of West African Ewe drumming and intricate Blues fingerpicking guitar, the other hails from a background in heavy metal bands. Going from the raw, acoustic roots-rock on their albums 'Visiter' and 'No Color' to the more expansive, pop sound of 'Time to Die' and 'Carrier'; guitarist-vocalist Meric Long and drummer Logan Kroeber have spent their career seeking to blur the line between the inherently melodic nature of Long's guitar and the rhythmic, atonal clatter of Kroeber's drums. Their most recent album 'Individ' can be seen as a resolution of this duality, combining their old acoustic sensibilities with an expansive vision and sound, and this performance served as further proof.
At London's Village Underground this dialogue was supplemented by the Berlin-based fourteen-piece orchestra stargaze, a troupe who specialise in combining contemporary classical stylings with electronic and pop music - using their traditional instruments and techniques in new and innovative ways. This pairing is not an entirely new direction for The Dodos, as they have played sessions with a full orchestra in the past.
The evening begins with a barely audible flute - more breath than a note - as Meric Long walks onto the stage and picks up his acoustic guitar. He gently launches into an expanded version of 'Holidays' off their 2013 album 'Carrier' - a small but emotionally charged ode to The Dodos' occasional touring guitarist Christopher Reimer, who passed away at the age of 26 in 2012.
After such a subdued beginning, proceedings are truly kicked off with a galloping (and rapturously received) rendition of 'Fools', in which stargaze's full power is unleasged. Undulating strings underly the verses, bombastic horns puncture the bridges, and - as Long and Kroeber charge forward with their relentless strumming and clacking - the added weight of the orchestra gives what is already a raucously energetic song a further injection of adrenaline. It magnifies the duo's love of rhythm and dynamics, forging new peaks. These two opening songs show the triumph of having such a large supporting orchestra, which allows the more introspective moments between Long and Krober to truly be felt, while blasting the more explosive parts of songs into the stratosphere.
The times at which the partnership works best are when each contribution from the orchestra and band is clearly distinct. For instance, the staccato string play on the offbeat, frenzied 'Hunting Season' perfectly compliment Long's vocals and complicated-fingerwork. The same is with 'Death', a heartbreaking duet between Long and Maaike van der Linde, in which their voices glided together over subtle, penetrating strings, directing the current of the orchestra without standing above it. But what really pulls the band together is Kroeber's frenetic drumming, relentlessly driving all the layers forward when it feels as if they are in danger of collapsing under their own weight.
Orchestral support can often feel self indulgent and egotistical with the orchestra often only there to serve the band. But here it feels entirely equal; two like-minded musical entities fluidly playing and communicating with each other, as if the conversation between Long and Kroeber has simply been amplified. The encore, 'Confidence', which feels like a film soundtrack compressed into three minutes, complete with triumphant swelling horns, huge distorted guitar, and the customary racing jam to the finish, is a fitting conclusion to the evening. As stargaze themselves put it: "Its a musical evolution. The band is the orchestra. The orchestra is the band."
The Dodos orchestral was part of the Barbican's Contemporary Music events