Efterklang & Northern Sinfonia with John Grant @ Warwick Arts Centre
I’ll put it out there straight away, I knew next to nothing about Efterklang before this show. Save for a few songs I’d liked after listening on YouTube, I was a virtual stranger to their back catalogue. In actual fact, I was one of those weird guys who are more interested in the support act; anyone who’s had the joy of listening to John Grant’s debut solo album, Queen Of Denmark, can attest to his brilliance and why that would be so. This left me in that gorgeous position of everything in Efterklang’s set being a surprise, with all the twists and turns of the music hitting me for the first time.
Clearly targeted at Efterklang’s serious music loving fans, John Grant’s set was a strict sombre affair, leaving out the sillier, jokey songs from Queen Of Denmark. There was none of the fucking off and leaving him alone of Chicken Bones or the pop culture glory of Sigourney Weaver, his set list was definitely picked to be impressive: powerful singing and songs of heartbreak. The opening duo TC and Honeybear and I Wanna Go To Marz set the tone of his performance for those unfamiliar with his work, followed by Grant previewing a couple of songsfrom his upcoming album, tracks that certainly sounded like works in progress, seeing as Grant stumbled on the opening to the first and blatantly forgot the words midway through Glacier, the best of the new tracks. Any doubts in the audience following these new additions were destroyed by an impeccable version of Caramel, his rich warm vocals truly showcasing his talent.
Grant’s intimate, spotlight on a piano performance contrasted to the weight of Efterklang’s orchestral backing. Efterklang have managed to incorporate over thirty musicians onto a cramped stage and find a way to make this set-up work musically. They’ve added a commissioned orchestral piece to the midway point of the concert and using the heart swelling sound of a crescendo to its full extent at all possible opportunities. The performance was an almost exact replica of their latest album, Piramida, with the aforementioned orchestral additions mixed in and the substitution of one track for another for whatever reason. And as someone who’s never heard that record before, let me tell you that on first listen it’s damn good; a twisting tonal piece with definite Sigur Rós influences, My Bloody Valentine-like in its approach to the voice as an instrument rather than a way to say some words and as intriguing as Godspeed You! Black Emperor when at its best (though that could purely be a result of the power of Northern Sinfonia’s brilliant instrumental work).
Opener Hollow Mountain began with one of the many crescendos that populated the concert, soft strings and rich brass building up to the hair-raising moment of drummer Budgie, the grizzled ex-Siouxsie and the Banshees drummer, scattering a beat around the room, inviting keyboards to commence, Casper Clausen to hum a vocal and the moustachioed Rasmus Stolberg to play a bit of lovely, warm bass. The topic of facial hair brings about the only thing you could possibly take umbridge with: the twee, indie-as-fuck-look. Bowties, moustaches, blazers, sipping red wine from a glass during orchestral breaks; it’s too much for a commoner like me in my generic green t-shirt and baggy jeans…
Image issues aside, the music flows, only ever interrupted by rounds of applause and the odd nervous thank you from the frontman. The dynamic of Efterklang on stage is dazzling; lead singer Casper flits between being a terrified schoolboy in between songs to a supremely confident force behind the microphone during, to being completely absent from the front of the stage when not singing, but not in a Mark E. Smith, leave the stage to challenge what the audience expect you to do way. It’s more an act of generosity; he’s happy to let someone else be the centre of attention. How many lead singers could you say that about? And Peter Broderick’s dancing (don’t think I didn’t see you there Peter, getting into the groove), those shapes were just… wow. Further moments that sent shivers down my spine included the luscious refrain of The Ghost, and the sublime segue between The Living Layer and the added instrumental piece Vᴂlv. Leaving to a standing ovation, Efterklang returned instantly, as if they were just doffing their cap at the tradition of leaving the stage before an encore, to play a pair of older tracks, including the mercurial Modern Drift (one of their tracks that I actually knew), leaving pretty much everyone in awe of the uplifting sound that was warming the cockles of their heart, as well as sticking the line, “I can keep my head in sight”, in your head for the journey home. Leaving to a second standing ovation, one that was ever so slightly engineered by Capser Clausen inviting a number of audience members to stand up, Efterklang had assuredly won me over, so much so that I smiled away as I left. And I never smile.30 October, 2012 - 19:28 — James McKenna