On Tuesday this week Jon G and I went to Hammersmith Apollo for a much anticipated concert: Nils Frahm. The German pianist, composer and all-round electronics whizz. I’d seen him before: Latitude in 2014, where he was amazing in the Sunday lunchtime slot at the Sunrise Arena (at that time the i-Arena) and then in 2015 at the Roundhouse. The album being showcased then was “Spaces”; in 2018 we have a new album, “All Melody”. It’s an intriguing and, as ever, entrancing piece of work. Mary Anne Hobbs on 6 Music, one of Nils’ greatest champions, has just made it her album of the year, and I can see why.
So there was a lot to look forward to, other than going to the Apollo, which is one of my least favourite venues, apart from the fact that it is easy to get home afterwards. We had seats in the balcony at least, so settled down for what turned out to be two and a quarter hours of engrossing musical adventure. There were ten songs stretched over that time. Each one a meticulous composition. Usually with periods of light and shade, looped refrains and punching beats one moment, mellifluous piano sections the next. Two banks of keyboards, with Nils moving from one to the other as the moment required. Electronic music can sometimes be rather impersonal – it’s made by a machine as much as the human operator after all, but the cadences of Nils’ music, the moments of soothing beauty, the soaring climaxes, can be quite moving. You are sucked in, at one with the music. It’s good on record, but it’s the live arena where Nils’ music has its power, its humanity.
It’s hard to pick out highlights, as I’m not so familiar with his music that I can instantly identify out many of the pieces. But “Says” from 2015, which came near the end, stood out; while “All Melody” (the track) was a thing of reflective beauty. Nils had a nice, self-deprecating patter, and talked about the simplicity of “Says”, with its repetitive shapes and journey through the chords from C to A to F minor (I think). Simple yes, but hypnotic and greeted enthusiastically by the crowd.
So, yes, a truly captivating performance. The two and a quarter hours flashed by. A Nils Frahm concert is an immersive experience, a real joy. Catch him if you can.