Efterklang, Our Broken Garden, Wildbirds & Peacedrums
Angus Reid 02/04/2008
The Queen Elizabeth Hall is a funny kind of venue. No matter who the performer, the sound is always reminiscent of a classical concert and, as such, the gigs always feel like more of an arthouse performance. This is something that befits the performers tonight rather well as all three show off the more alternative side of Scandinavian pop.
First up are Wildbirds & Peacedrums, a duo consisting of one drummer and one singer. For such a sparse set up, it's a surprisingly full sound, the voice of singer Mariam Wallentin filling the room as she whoops and hollers away. Drummer Andreas Werliin has a dynamic range not normally seen in percussionists, going from the most subtle of snare rolls into all out attack mode seemingly at the flick of a switch. It is a mesmerising performance, all the more so considering the size of the venue and the hushed reverence in which they hold it. By the third song, Mariam is adding what appears to be some kind of autoharp into the mix for a slow, fragile moment of beauty before it's back into the distorted blues laced howls and yelps which characterise much of this set. As a finale, she too has a set of drums, and the rumbling percussion fills the room, pauses, launches off again, pauses, starts up yet again and finally comes to rest. It's rare to see an act so instantly captivating.
So on to Our Broken Garden, a trio now, featuring piano, bass and the most effect-laden guitar sound since Kevin Shields stepped onto this very stage with Patti Smith a few years back. Maybe it's the curtains bathed in red light, or the epic swirl of the guitar sound, but there's a distinct Julee Cruise / Twin Peaks vibe going on here. I'm almost expecting to see a finger clicking dwarf take to the stage, talking in reverse. Each of the slow piano songs takes a melodic twist along the way, with unexpected chord changes picking out the flow of what could otherwise be simplistic melodies. At points, the counterpoint between voice and piano feels like a Roy Budd or John Barry film score from the 60s. The main problem here is that, as wonderful as the songs are, and as talented as the performers are, after a while it gets a little bit boring. A good long while after that and it's still going. The songs may be brilliant, but there is little or no dynamic variation to hold the attention, and no upbeat sections either. Everything plods along rather morosely without really seeming to go anywhere.
Finally, Efterklang take to the stage in what looks dangerously like Nazi concentration camp uniforms. Propelled by electronic clicking and whirring, combined with a powerful drummer, Efterklang are a band of diverse instrumentation. There is a guitar and a bass, but also a trombone, trumpets, French horn, piano and laptop. Oh, and everyone sings. They make the noise of a whole orchestra and choir (possibly something to do with the feel of the venue again), and the effect is fantastic. With sparse lighting, it's a shame not to see the projections that used to be a part of the band's live show, but they more than make up for it with energy and enthusiasm. New single 'Caravan' explodes into life like a mechanical colossus, literally making the venue pulse with sound. As the lights are turned upon the crowd, the whole room is bathed in purple light and it feels as if some en masse communal birth is taking place, albeit one sitting very politely in it's seats and behaving itself.
The only real problem with all of this is that after about eight songs, it all starts to feel a bit samey. It's a very good one trick to have, but it can only be sustained over a certain amount of time. The constraints of getting home on a “school night” in London mean a choice of heading home early, or staying, making a night of it and hang the consequences. Though good, it's just not quite good enough to tempt me into serving out the rest of the working week feeling exhausted. The set works perfectly at this length for me, so the night ends on a high. Well worth seeing them on the rest of this tour if you get the chance.