There was a certain surreality that came with seeing Alexis Taylor behind a piano and not a synthesizer, without his characteristic lab coat and futuristic headwear, but the Hot Chip frontman’s trill was cutting just the same as he debuted a number of songs off his recent solo release Piano. Like the silver tongued piano man that he is, Taylor’s softly quavering murmurs reverberated around the small confines of the Hotel Cafe, bouncing back and forth within the audience’s solemn hearts, kindling sobering examinations on love, mortality, religion, and everything in between. It was intimacy without extravagance–he might as well have been in the privacy of his home, rehearsing, completely oblivious to our presence–stripped of all the guitar reverb and world-saturating synthesizers that usually accompany his polished croons, Taylor seemed to seep in from another universe entirely. No bombastic, neon-burst explosions or theatricality, just a man alone on a stage with his piano and a few simple songs (like Emily Dickinson with a piano, most of the songs’ first lines serve as their title), and for about an hour a wistful melancholia settled in over the dim environs of the Cafe.
It drifted in foggily through every predestined, carefully pressed piano key, with Taylor tumbling bittersweetly amidst it all, caught in the landslide of his own delicate candor. An appropriate tune for his setting, “In The Light Of The Room,” Taylor’s pensive gloom flickers distantly as he dreams, heart-wrenchingly so, of a past love (“Remember me, when all is said and done”). From the weepy doldrums of “Crying In The Chapel,” to the strangely uplifting heartache of “Lonely Vagabond,” Taylor didn’t just pile on this sullen sentiments, he provided a fire for us to huddle around to stay warm in the shadow of their chill. Like most balladeers, his songs carried the weight of their pessimism on the promise of an even heftier catharsis, and in this Taylor’s presence was a deceptively moving and beautifully high-strung focal point of all the emotion swirling inside the Cafe. “Just for a little while/I wanna feel your smile/ Shine on me,” sang Taylor later into the night, and the overbearing gravity of his soft lulls seemed to emphasize our needless attempts to run from our woes, instead of living with them.
Alexis Taylor’s Piano LP is available now from Moshi Moshi and features cover artwork by Oliver Payne. Physical and digital copies of Piano can be purchased HERE.
Words: Steven Ward