Friday night, as the wind whipped through downtown a few hours after darkness and the dipping temperature made autumn’s belated arrival officially known to Milwaukee, roughly 600 people braved the elements and came to Turner Hall to witness two international indie rock outfits playing music befitting of the conditions outside the historic ballroom. Daughter was especially equipped for the evening, with a downcast and delicate set that showcased 14 of the British band’s most gorgeous and gloomy songs over the course of 70 captivating minutes.
Before Daughter took the stage, punctual showgoers were treated to the lush, anthemic, and frequently-falsetto stylings of Vancouver Sleep Clinic, a gracious Australian act making its Milwaukee debut during its first American tour. Once the Aussies exited stage right, the headliner eased into motion with “New Ways,” the opening track from its 10-month-old sophomore record, Not To Disappear. Though Daughter has managed a slew of EPs and singles, along with two full-lengths since its 2010 outset, the set list leaned heavily on new material, especially early on. Five of the first six songs were off the latest (and best-known) record, which charted in the teens in the band’s native Brittan and peaked at No. 80 stateside earlier this year.
The first Disappear single, “Numbers,” followed the down-tempo opener before the clouds cleared—at least comparably speaking—for “How.” Though it’s a full-fledged band, Daughter lives and dies with front woman Elena Tonra. Fortunately, she expertly played the part of bandleader. As she alternated from guitar and bass, the reserved singer-songwriter doled out dour numbers with an album-caliber level of execution. At times, her arresting vocals and the band’s atmospheric and emotive instrumentation lulled the brimming ballroom into a collective trance, as people slowly swayed and kept their eyes firmly fixed on the 26-year-old powerhouse quietly commanding the room.
Between-song interactions were sparse, and usually handled by guitarist Igor Haefeli. One of the few times Tonra addressed the audience was after “Mothers,” when she offered a soft-spoken and nervous thank you. Still, both Tonra and Daughter succeeded by simply letting the music do the talking for them. During “Youth,” the standout single from 2013’s debut full-length If You Leave, the crowd even helped out, as reactionary cheers at the somber song’s start transitioned into a full-blown singalong. Before the bleary and mellow “Winter” eased the show to its (pre-encore) conclusion, Tonra said, laughing, “We can depress you all one more time, then you can go home.”
Following a feigned exit, Daughter quickly reemerged to play “Medicine,” a rarity from 2012’s Wild Youth EP and, later, bring the decidedly dejected performance to an unexpectedly upbeat end with “Fossa,” the rowdiest and most hastened number in the band’s catalog. Much like the conditions beyond the ballroom’s walls, which found bright-but-decaying leaves blowing through a dark city that was slowly coming to terms with colder days to come, Daughter offered Milwaukee a night of barren and depressing material that came together to forge something as beautiful as it was bleak.