Balmorhea @ Siroco


Out 17 2009, 13h39

Last Sunday, in a mist of cigar smoke and Cava, I left the city I have called home for the better part of the last seven years: Gothenburg, a place once described by a foreign friend of mine as "a veritable chateau of the music landscape". Madrid, my new habitat, may not be able to claim local artistic excellence in the genres revered by both me and said friend, but can nevertheless boast an extremely vivid music scene. Interesting concerts abound, as expected in a major Western city, filling my calendar for the fall to the brim.

As a warm-up for my most anticipated concert since visiting London in May, I took the opportunity to attend my first Fikasound event. Usually devoted to Swedish indie pop, the Madrid-based promotion company used Thursday's concert at El Sol to showcase two acts from neighboring countries: Danish duo Monkey Cup Dress and, most importantly, Norwegian Rockettothesky, whose wonderful song Grizzly Man had already made a strong impression. And well, despite a confused and very late starting time, recurring sound problems, and a near-empty albeit charming venue, the concert turned out rather well.

But the highlight of the week was undoubtedly to be the performance by Texan neo-classical post-rock band Balmorhea. I planned to see them at 2008's Preview Festival in Gothenburg, but due to poor tour management, their appearance was cancelled shortly before the show. To my disappointment, the event's promoter also failed to deliver on his promise to bring them to Sweden in the spring instead. But the long wait surely made Friday's concert even more special.

Arriving a little late, I unfortunately missed the opening act, which was supposed to be local ambient/IDM solo project The Folding and the Point - who I will try to catch later this fall instead - but had been replaced by the indie rock band Meryll, formed by the headliners' sound engineer. My venue of choice for a Balmorhea concert would probably be an old theatre with excellent acoustics, or better yet one of the limitless open-air variety. The cramped, smoky basement of Siroco, however, offered no such ambiance or charm. Supposedly with a total capacity of 350, the two-floor venue held barely 100 madrileños when Balmorhea took the stage at 11pm, but considering the crampedness and temperature, I wouldn't want the attendance for a concert there to be much higher. Still, what the audience lacked in strength of numbers, we more than made up for in enthusiasm.

Each equipped with an acoustic guitar, Rob Lowe and Michael Muller lead off with the twinkles of Elegy, a song that just like Dream Of Thaw, The Summer and Windansea reminds me of The Album Leaf's Story Board, one of my favorite pieces of instrumental music. Their string trio composed of violin, cello and bass then joined in to introduce the next song, the fantastic San Solomon. This track, which both opens and closes their incredible 2008 sophomore album Rivers Arms, defines Balmorhea to me like no other with its soaring piano lines and elemental vocals. And to my relief and pleasure, it was no less amazing in the live setting. Following this masterpiece was no easy task, but a worthy challenge for Night In The Draw, my favorite song from their new album All Is Wild, All Is Silent. In its glory, it also made apparent the habit of Rob and Michael to alternate on piano, acoustic guitar, banjo and electric guitar throughout the set.

Michael then paused to talk about how much they enjoyed having a looser schedule for this Madrid visit than for their last in April, now allowing them time to get to know the city a little. Unfortunately though, Rob was suffering from a cold, something he said was common for him during tours when I spoke to him briefly after the show. On a side note, I could mention that I found his stage manner with the electric guitar oddly reminiscent of that of Claes Strängberg, front-man for Swedish ambient indie rock band Immanu El who I hope to see present their new album Moen here in Madrid in February.

Following the wonderful Coahuila and a somewhat somber new track titled Night Squall, Balmorhea then gave us an electrifying rendition of Settler with two crescendos that drew massive applause from all in attendance. As Michael then informed us, it was apparently an unusual way for them to do it: "we like to play a version of that song with no claps, but we thought: Madrid, we have to clap!". Continuing to focus on new material, they proceeded with Harm and Boon, during parts of which their drummer to my amusement acted like Pinocchio on speed. Truth, with its majestic finale, was announced as the last song, but after resounding praise, the band returned to play us one last piece, a second new song, Bowsprit, from their new album to be released at the end of February. And judging from the samples I heard last night, it will be just as good as we have come to expect.

To show my appreciation before heading out, I bought their last two albums and a nice-looking t-shirt, duly thanked the band for the great performance and wished them a continued good tour.

01. Elegy
02. San Solomon
03. Night In The Draw
04. Coahuila
05. Night Squall
06. Settler
07. Harm and Boon
08. Truth
09. Bowsprit


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