Published Mar 23, 2018Nils Frahm is a musical anomaly. Straddling the line between classical and pop, and flavouring his compositions with every genre in between, the idiosyncratic German pianist is a performer that dips his toe into the pool of rockstardom but never quite dives in.
Frahm is a musician's musician — he designed his dream studio inside of Berlin's historic Funkhaus complex and spent two years building his own instruments in order to record his latest album All Melody — and yesterday evening (March 22), he brought his sound to Montreal for a complex and moving (and sold-out) performance.
While most musicians have an opening act to warm up the crowd, Frahm's setup usually does that work for him. On one section of the stage, a grand piano with its lid removed cozied up to a Danish upright piano and a cluster of wires that led seemingly everywhere at once. A different group of pianos and organs, antique-looking table lamps shining over wooden structures that looked almost like the captain's quarters in the belly of an old ship, were grouped separately.
Taking to the stage wearing jogging pants tucked into checkered socks, Frahm bowed, hands clasped together, and then opened his set with his back to the crowd. Launching into "The Whole Universe Wants to Be Touched," the room was drowned in silence, the sound of clinking bottles and the occasional dropping of a cellphone becoming part of the composition. Moving seamlessly into "Sunson" and then "A Place", hands moving from keys to dials and back to keys, it became clear that this was an intricate dance that he's been practicing for quite some time.
Ending the first three songs to a roar of applause, Frahm took the microphone and explained with a smile that, "I wanted this to be cool, and you guys are in the right mood." Continuing his set with "My Friend the Forest," "All Melody" and "#2" under flickering, fluorescent lights, the evening became less of a concert than a sensory experience. Moving from a quiet piano interlude to a pulsating bass that was punctuated by a panoply of choral voices bubbling up from the depths of his upright piano, Frahm transformed the concert into a séance, he himself morphing into a Shaman.
Before tackling his final song, "Says," off of the album Spaces, Frahm explained that he was just going to move right into the encore, joking that his last song — his most popular — is not "a banger."
"At the beginning, you have a very awkward minute or two of a C minor synthesizer on loop, followed by me tinkering on the piano for a bit," he explained. "But don't worry; I'll bang on some grand piano keys at the very end."
Charming and undeniably cheeky, Frahm came back on stage ten seconds later (as promised) for the 'encore,' a milky-looking cocktail in hand. Taking toilet brushes and drumming on the top of the lidless grand piano, he ended his set on a high note with "For" and "Peter" off of 2011's Juno. And when all was said and done, he placed his piano stool in the middle of the stage and stood upon it, overlooking the crowd — some of which was in tears — and placed his hand to his chest, bowing one last time.