The Barbican Centre, London
Apparently not content with building his own studio from scratch in east Berlin’s Funkhaus in order to write a new album, Nils Frahm has committed to bringing it along with him on this latest world tour – his first live outings in five years.
Carting around five tonnes of equipment – including a pipe organ that Frahm built for himself – in support of a one-man show is virtually unheard of these days, when, for most, a laptop and synthesiser would do just fine. But Frahm’s ambitions have always erred on the bold side.
The wooden casings of his array of pianos and synthesisers reflect the hard floors and panelling of the Barbican’s grand amphitheatre. He’s here for four sold out shows, and promises the audience that their eagerness to get a spot at his opening night will be duly rewarded. They’ll discover over the next two hours that he’s a man who’s true to his word.
For 120 minutes Frahm moves from ivories to synth rack to module and back, occasionally addressing the audience when he needs a breather (or, he admits, to “press some buttons” to adjust the settings on his equipment). His back to the seated rows, he sprawls across his instruments: his foot tending to the pedal of one piano, while his hands feel out keys on another. You get the sense of watching the artist at home in his studio, shifting and nodding from place to place, deep in his creative groove. It’s a spectacle, and one that continues the intimate, bespoke story behind All Melody – the majority of which he plays tonight, interspersed with older tunes like Familiar and Says.
The set climaxes with a pounding, strobe-assisted rendition of All Melody, #2 and the frenetic keys of Hammers. People’s heads bob infectiously throughout the audience and you get the sense that, were it not for the fixed seating, you could just as easily be seeing out the night in a spotlit nightclub. He closes with crowd favourite Says, but not before letting the audience know – with impeccable deadpan delivery – that he’ll be back shortly to play “a great encore set that I’ve prepared meticulously.”
This consists of a segue through Ode, Our Own Roof and Toilet Brushes – performed by beating out a rhythm on his piano strings with a pair of, well, toilet brushes. The night ends on More, with a virtuoso piano performance that leaves you wanting just that: more. In the very best way possible.