Sunday, June 13, 2010

Kings of Convenience @ Warsaw, 4 June 2010

The Norwegian duo had packed the Polish National Home, Warsaw, in Brooklyn's Greenpoint on this Friday night. The demographics of the audience were somewhat unusual, with a preponderance of geeks and oriental girls. Of course, there were also a large number of tall blond Norwegians and other Nordic types amongst those crowding in front of the stage. It struck me that Yoko and I fit quite neatly in at least two of these categories. I went to the bar to get us cups of white wine and as I returned I found that there had been a further condensation of the throng close to the stage and I had to push myself through to reach Yoko in their midst.

I had been aware of the Kings of Convenience for a long time and I had listened to their CDs, Versus and Quiet is the New Loud, which we had at home. We also had the solo disc, Unrest, of Erlend Øye who together with Erik Glambek Bøe forms the duo. But although I had found these records to be generally good and quite soothing, they always were more Yoko's music than mine. Neither was I aware that the Kings had such a following even here in the States, so I was surprised at the whistling and girls screaming when Erlend Øye modestly showed up on the stage just to announce the warm-up act.

So the concert started with Franklin for Short, a less known band from Ventura, California, performing for the first time on the East Coast on this Kings of Convenience tour. As Erik Glambek Bøe would later say, Franklin for Short is their favourite American band, for now. And I could see why. Franklin for Short was quite fresh with an early-1970s spirit in their music (think The Beatles, Beach Boys, The Byrds, with a heavier Indie rock sound) that extended to their appearances. The bearded lead singer/guitarist, Seth Petterson, wearing a baseball cap, had the air of the Beach Boys after they had abandoned the clean look of the 1960s. The bass player Trevor Beld's style was that of George Harrison of All Things Must Pass period, with skinny white pants and a beard as long as his hair. Even the instruments reflected the bygone era. The lead guitarist Bryan Russell played a green Fender Telecaster, while Beld used a white Fender Mustang, which he plucked very skilfully with his thumb. But the most impressive was the set-up of the long-haired keyboardist, Matt Barks, with a drooping moustache, who in addition to a vintage looking keyboard had a theremin hooked up in front of him. All in all the quintet's music was quite engaging, with with better than average vocals and definitely better than average melodies. I only found the drummer Brian Granillo to be a bit heavy handed, but there was a nice variety in the arrangements.

Then finally the boys from Bergen came on stage accompanied by wild screams and applause from the audience. From the moment they launched into their first song (which they announced as playing their first song), they held the rapt attention of the audience throughout the lengthy and rather low volume concert. It was just the two of them and their acoustic guitars, Erlend on steel strings and Erik on nylon strings. The music was interspersed by low key banter by the two friends in their heavy Norwegian accents. Erik apologized for their concert starting 15 minutes late and told that Guns and Roses had just been to Bergen and that their concert started 3 hours late: “Everything is so big in America.” They played their known songs that had been modest hits, such as ‘I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From,’ as well as numbers from their new album, Declaration of Dependence. At times they sounded like young Simon and Garfunkel with quiet songs and close harmonies. Apart from mellow love songs, their lyrics would reflect a modesty that is quite rare on this side of the Atlantic (“Failure is always the best way to learn…”). At times, they’d be quite riotous, as far as one could be with just two acoustic guitars. In the song ‘The Girl from Back Then,’ Erik cooked a lively jazz beat with a strong bass on his guitar, while Erlend jumped behind the grand piano. The result was a very nice jazzy jam. Frequently, the mood turned Latin with Erlend playing solo against Erik’s thick Bossa Nova chords. At one dramatic moment, which the boys made their best to hype up in their deadpan way, they switched instruments, both of them testifying how liberating it was after having had their specific roles in the duo for a decade. But the switch was only for one song before they were back with their own guitars in hand.

It is hard to pinpoint why the music of the Kings of Convenience is truly so appealing. I guess it has to do with many factors, not least that the songs are really very good (as my friend Jussi observed, “the boys play nice music”). But it also has to do with the fact that Erik and Erlend are deceptively good musicians. They both play the guitar amazingly well and the arrangements for the two acoustic instruments are very imaginative indeed, making them sound like a larger instrumentation. It also helps that the fellows are genuinely sympathetic and clearly are having a good time on stage.

Towards the end of the concert, they invited Franklin for Short back. From that moment on the mood again changed as the music was fortified with the electric instruments and drums. Erlend, who at that time was liberated from the guitar hanging around his neck, danced around goofily with his red hair swaying above the bespectacled face as he craned his long neck to the reggae tinged beats. He also went back to the piano and added some well-placed accents to the music. Franklin for Short proved their own skills as musicians, having mastered the intricacies of the Kings of Convenience songs. The audience was dancing along and reacted enthusiastically when asked whether they’d want to hear another song (Erik: “Good, because we wanted to play one more song”). When the concert finally ended, I could see only happy faces streaming out to the warm Brooklyn night.

No comments: