Written by Jalban De Silham
For FKA Twigs, the real question is how to translate her music--ethereal vocals over beats that are often sparse--to a live show that is interesting to the viewer without losing its essence. Congregata went above and beyond in this regard, with Twigs and friends staging a show that was less of a concert and more of an all-encompassing experience, a confluence of sound, light, and movement. Congregata was not the work of a solo artist but an ensemble, made up of dancers, drummers, contortionists, a lone violin player, and lighting (which seemed like another member of the show, sharing the stage and attention equally with the performers.) The dancers alternated between being on Twigs’ side or against her; they propped her up, writhed with her on stage, and then shoved her away just as she, later in the show, would reject them in return. This choreography was strategic, a magnifying of the overt sexuality of Twigs' music. Just as she vacillates lyrically from "I'm your sweet little love maker" to "Motherfucker, get your mouth open you know you're mine” the show was a struggle between submission and domination, a power play staged for a captivated audience that hung on every sound and movement.
FKA Twigs’ (aka Tahliah Debrett Barnett’s) music is only a fraction of the experience that was Congregata. The venue itself, The Brooklyn Hangar, complemented the show perfectly. It was over 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the heat from the amassed bodies in the large, dark, steamy venue only added to the amount of sweat pouring off the audience. At first, the excessive heat seemed to make everyone uncomfortable, until Barnett took the stage. Her own massive stage presence in conjunction with the immensely impressive physicality of her dancers, the almost theatrical drumming of her band, and the stunning spectacle of the light show elevated Barnett’s music to a new level, inaccessible from her studio album alone. Although she does convey her sensuality and hyper-sexuality in her lyrics and her vocal delivery on the record, these themes are raised to a deafening new volume in her live performance. Although the music was sparse, the bass in the Hangar pounded loudly and clearly, creating that immediate link between the music and physical feeling, as each audience member was literally shaken by the low frequencies. In addition to the show on stage, Barnett clearly brings with her a reputation and a near-cultish following. All it took was a few minutes of her back towards the audience and then one quick turn of the head to make hundreds scream. This screaming and cheering quickly became melded with the music and the experience. I can’t say FKA Twigs does anything musically daring or extraordinary, but her live performance, as well as those of her friends on stage with her, was a breathtaking experience that instantly transcended the music itself.
Twigs revels in the artifice of performance. She does not present herself as someone “just like us,” with mumbling banter between songs, but as a trained performer whose body is capable of contorting in different dimensions. She twists and flows above the audience in response to the pulsating bass that inhabits the skeletal foundations of everyone in attendance. This is not trance music, but still, a general hypnosis is cast over the room the moment she takes the stage. She is Queen over a cloud of sweat and a sea of “yas!” Behind Twigs, in the shadows, four men are hitting drum pads. It’s hard to tell what’s been pre-recorded and what’s being done live. In this context it doesn’t really matter, what’s important is what we’re seeing and experiencing first hand, not how it’s served. At the end of the performance she has a heart to heart with the audience, reassuring us that “there’s no concept, I just wanted to represent how I felt with these songs.” This sly denial makes sense for an artist who claims to be “unrestricted by any musical genre.” Even though Twigs’ music is arguably formulaic, and claiming to not have a concept could be interpreted as a concept in itself, this concert proved, nonetheless, that Twigs knows how to put on a great show.