(Photo by Prudence Upton)
Vivid Live, Sydney Opera House, June 15
IT MAKES SENSE. We get people to mow our lawns, deliver our food, stand in line for us at the passport office, eventually we would have someone get stoned for us.
Not Nils Frahm: the slim, cheerful German, in loose black gear, nondescript sneakers and signature Kangol cap, looks too healthy, too alert, too … vegan for that. He moves between his two stations, between his old keyboards of rickety wood and strings and their blinking/winking electronic companions – and tonight a sparkling glass harmonica which tone-wise looks and sounds halfway between analogue and digital – too nimbly, too Rick Wakeman as re-imagined by Jacob Collier, too exultantly busy, to be altered.
But Frahm’s easy ambient-light classical-friendly electronica melange, with its leisurely tempos and airy space, its mildly suggestive mood setting and hug the one you’re with arpeggios, is like someone dialled up Otto Brings and ordered for the room.
Don’t worry though if you’re of more delicate sensibilities: what Frahm does isn’t altering minds; it’s easing them.
The looped sounds rustle rather than ruffle; the one song where an emphasised bottom end suggested his connection to the dancefloor, or at least the chill room just off the dancefloor, politely knocked rather than banged; the reminders of Jean-Michel Jarre, that burbling modernity affixed to a traditional form that made the Frenchman’s electronic sounds so translatable and marketable in the ‘70s and ‘80s, felt almost like homage. And a piece performed at the piano without technological accoutrements made introspection pleasantly sombre.
(Photo by Prudence Upton)
Pleasantly sombre in fact is as dark as things got, as dark as they ever are on his records for that matter. Not for the German, or his Australian audience, the suggestion of any shadow passing across the mild visage: there’s a lingering haze of optimism, of mildness, with everything Frahm does that invites everyone in. And once in, to give in.
Having become a staple at the Opera House over the course of eight years since his first run of sold out shows in this building, and with these new shows also sold out – “It’s a love affair,” he beamed, talking of his connection with the Sydney audience – Frahm knew he could allow the show to be dominated by new music without complaint, the pieces from a coming album, called Music For Animals.
The animals are us, of course: domesticated, trusting, our bellies exposed to be rubbed. And rubbed they were.
A version of this review ran originally in The Sydney Morning Herald.