Concerts at the annual Red Bull New York Music Festival always have a limited-edition quality — the shows nearly always are either unique or held in unusual venues that are chosen because they enhance the visual aspect of the performance. In 2017 Solange — accompanied by around 100 dancers — took over the entire Guggenheim Museum for a pair of eye-popping shows around her Grammy-winning album “A Seat at the Table,” and in 2013 James Murphy and his DFA label colleagues staged a 12th anniversary concert/DJ set at Brooklyn’s gorgeously garish Grand Prospect Hall (which was such a great setting that his pals in Arcade Fire used it for a livestreamed Apple Music concert four years later).
On Saturday and Sunday, FKA Twigs returned from a long musical hibernation with her all-new “Magdalene” production, featuring several new songs, at the gargantuan 55,000-square foot drill hall of the ornate Park Avenue Armory, which was built in 1877. The show was similar to the one that premiered in Los Angeles last week — but the setting was not.
While she’s released a series of well-received EPs of offbeat electronic pop, there’s little question that FKA Twigs — aka 31-year-old Tahliah Debrett Barnett — is primarily a visual artist: She’s a world-class dancer (as evidenced by her starring role in last year’s stunning Spike Jonze-directed Apple Homepod ad) with a canny sense of style and self-presentation that lands somewhere between Bjork and Solange. This show, preceded by her NSFW, pole-dancing video for her new single “Cellophane,” took advantage of the cavernous hall’s dimensions not with props or flying objects, but by treating it as a kind of giant screen: As the audience entered the dimly lit hall, it wasn’t even clear exactly where the stage was (because it was obscured by a towering, 70-odd-foot-tall black curtain), and the stage was revealed gradually through the 90-minute show.
After the house lights dimmed, FKA Twigs parted the curtains and performed the opening “Hide” in front of them; for the next song, “Water Me,” she was joined by four lithe dancers; next, the curtains parted to reveal more curtains, with images of clouds projected onto them. So it went for the next several songs, the slow rhythms giving FKA and her dancers plenty of room for sinewy steps and gestures and gravity-defying, trick-of-the-eye synchronized movements — and in many ways this was more of a dance performance than a concert. While FKA Twigs’ music is atmospheric and haunting and led by her high, breathy and distinctive singing, it was often upstaged by the visuals here; it was almost the obverse of a traditional concert, in that the music was almost a backdrop for the visual presentation.
Toward the end of the set, a last level of curtains dropped, revealing a giant set of stacked glass boxes with musicians and dancers inside — similar to the ones used recently by Lorde and Kanye West’s Kids See Ghosts — to gasps from the crowd.
The show wound down with FKA Twigs performing the steamy, NSFW pole dance from her new single for the song “Two Weeks,” finishing with an upside-down split; the song concluded with dazzling, flashing pink lights, which made for an even more dazzling effect as they illuminated mylar confetti falling from the ceiling. She finished the set quietly at the front of the stage, performing a quiet version of her new single “Cellophone” in in the last of several costumes, this one an almost Alice in Wonderland-like regal gown.
At the set’s end she addressed the crowd for the first time, thanking them and blowing kisses as she was joined by her dancers and musicians for a curtain call — and as the giant black curtain closed, they could all be seen hugging each other euphorically, knowing they’d flawlessly executed an enormously challenging performance.