Better Than: Possibly anything I saw at South by Southwest.
Danish collective Efterklang came to the Bowery Ballroom on Saturday night bearing gifts. “We asked people on our tour what they wanted to say to New York,” frontman Casper Clausen announced, pulling some handwritten letters from his suit jacket’s inside pocket. There was a stamped letter from Tara in Minneapolis and a postcard from someone who missed his New York friend’s “monkey noises.” Then, he pulled out a winner. “This one is for ‘any girl who wants to date a nice Oklahoma boy,'” he read, showing the audience the accompanying wallet-sized portrait. “This is the new dating. It’s better than this Internet thing.”
Or maybe it’s Efterklang that’s better than this mp3 thing. Listening to them on Spotify after seeing them live is like eating test tube meat after a steak at Peter Luger. Without sweeping lights tailored for every song, the bassist’s Night at the Roxbury head-bobbing, and the awed silence after soprano Katinka Fogh Vindelev’s solos, Efterklang on record just sounds like your standard classical-influenced art-pop. But in person, well. Efterklang restores faith, lifts spirits, pumps fists, and even upstages the Met’s Wordless Music Orchestra and the Danish National Chamber Orchestra. A random person in the audience probably put it best when he yelled “FUCKING AMAZING!” between songs.
Dave Hartley, bassist and guitarist in the War On Drugs, opened the show with his solo project Nightlands. He literally dreamed up the band, recording musical ideas that occurred to him while he slept. They became Nightlands’ debut, Forget the Mantra, and the result can be entrancing to the point of soporific. The band began their set as they do their sophomore record, Oak Island, by summoning Simon and Garfunkel for the multipart harmonies of “Time & Place”. The lyrics– “I’d like to invite you/ For just a little while/ To a place I used to go/ When I was only 17”– also seem to invite the listener into an idyllic dream-like world that may or may not have existed at one time.
Wispy keyboardist Eliza Hardy Jones provided one of the best performances of the set. She outlined each word with the dedication of a speech therapist and made sure to send blissful, encouraging smiles toward her bandmates between sips of whiskey. The other gold star goes to Hartley and his crisp, compact guitar work. Even when he got emotional reminiscing about this would be the last night of drinking Efterklang’s alcohol, his axe cut through the haze with his WOD riffs’ easy power. That, and powerful bass from the Roland JP-800, kept Nightlands’ deconstructed shoegaze from floating too close to easy listening.
Then Efterklang snapped everyone to attention with the revelatory drum clap of “Hollow Mountain.” In a single sound after only 30 seconds onstage, Efterklang was already more exciting than they had ever been to me before. (It may have also been the visual effect of so many dapper Danes on the stage at once.)
Efterklang carefully controlled its moving parts, including a glockenspiel, keyboards, shakers, horns, strings, multiple voice parts, and slight outfit changes. After “Black Summer,” however, Clausen moved away from the mic, grabbed two extra drumsticks, and began tapping on the floor of the stage. Sometimes he hit an orphaned cymbal on the floor next to him, but he kept pounding on the floor of the stage like he was throwing a tantrum. His bandmates petered out and Vindelev watched him from the shadows and he still kept going. All of a sudden, he was putting on an awkwardly earnest avant-garde performance. After what felt like an eternity he put down the drum sticks, handed the cymbal back to the drummer, and backed away slowly. Their guitarist grabbed another drumstick and hit his guitar with them, as if bowing it, looping the sounds for “Between the Walls”.
The other most planned spontaneous moment was during the last song of the encore, when Efterklang pulled the members of Nightlands onstage with them. Everyone clustered around the microphones except for Hartley the dreamer, looking almost relieved to be playing bass and headed back to his hometown of Philadelphia. “I’m looking forward to going home,” he said.
Overheard: “People get married to this song.” – Man behind me named Temple, about Beethoven’s “Movement 2 from Symphony No. 7. “I don’t know what cracked-out weddings you’ve been to, but people do not get married to this song.” – His female companion named Rosamund.
Critical Bias The guy next to me didn’t know what The Village Voice was. He was a tax collector from upstate, but still.
Random Notebook Dump: At least he seemed to know something about politics in Turkey, which he was mansplaining to the Turkish girl next to him.
I Was Playing Drums
The Living Layer
Between the Walls
Cutting Ice to Snow