Sat 6 Mar – Efterklang, Acrylics
The show started late, and Efterklang
didn't end up taking the stage until 11:30, but it was well worth the wait. They were playing downstairs at El Mocambo in Toronto, a warm venue with wooden floors, a couch, good acoustics, and plenty of standing/sitting room. A band from NY called The Acrylics opened for them, but there's not much worth saying about their set. They were two guys and a girl playing some kind of indie alt-rock, all three on guitars and doing vocals, with programmed drums. They were in sore need of a drummer. They weren't inspiring or original at all, especially when the drum track was virtually the same tempo and pattern for each song. They didn't seem to have much to do with Efterklang's music, either, so the pairing made little sense. Their amateur stage presence was in stark contrast to Efterklang, who were like a breath of fresh air to a crowd tired of waiting and suffering.
Frontman Casper Clausen is clearly the band's visionary, conductor and spokesperson. At least that was the impression I got, having never seen the band before. The crowd warmed to his modesty and humor immediately. It was refreshing to see a band take the stage that were sincere in their musicianship and performance, but with an unassuming and lighthearted air. They had six members that were multi-instrumentalists, including a bassist, drummer/trumpeter, guitarist, programmer/sound magician, keyboardist/flutist, and Casper as primary vocalist. I didn't realize until later, but they were missing their violinist, Peter Broderick, who was getting knee surgery. It's fun to imagine how a violin would have enriched the performance beyond what it already was. I also found out their supporting band for this tour, Balmorhea, had to cancel, which was too bad because they seemed like a good band to open for Efterklang.
Not knowing what to expect from their live show, and only being familiar with the album Tripper and a little of Under Giant Trees, I was surprised at how much they have embraced indie electronic pop. The songs they played had distinguished transitions and lots of vocal sections (at least four members contributed on vocals), making their set always entertaining and accessible. The unorthodox placement of each musician on stage also made them interesting to watch. The drummer was sitting front-right with his back against the wall, facing Casper. The guitarist was at the back, while the bassist was up front and slightly left of the guitarist. The programmer was in the back, and the keyboardist (the only female member) was standing off to the left, also facing Casper in the center. She did backup vocals and also played the flute and tambourine. Casper had some drums up front by his microphone with what looked like some electronic pads that he played with the drumsticks. The bassist helped the programmer on one or two tracks. The programmer also stepped up to the guitarist's mic to play the recorder on one track. Their setlist included Step Aside (one of my favorites), Mirador, Caravan, and several tracks off their new album Magic Chairs, including I was Playing Drums, Modern Drift, and Full Moon.
It's hard to pin down the feeling their music inspires. The orchestral elements make them uplifting, dreamily delicate and pretty, while the micro-glitch electronic elements give them an experimental edge, and at times a melancholic one (as on Tripper). Upon listening again to Tripper after the concert - their debut from 2004 - I still prefer it to their newer pop-infused style. That album was nocturnal, intimate, nostalgic, and less playful. The vocals were quieter and tinged with sadness. It was intriguing in its subtlety, and very original. To me, this was the winning combination for Efterklang. Their live rendition of Step Aside from that album, although really enjoyable, also seemed to have been redressed in their modern, bright colors. Notice the difference in album art: Tripper had a minimal, black cover overlaid with a strangeish psychedelic line art, while Magic Chairs has an almost festive-looking cover with colorful flying streamers and blue skies. It's quite a departure from their origins. Nevertheless, I was inspired by their performance. Their set was entertaining and refreshing the whole way through, and their collective demeanor was professional. I especially liked how well they used space in their songs to great effect. These silences helped to emphasize the amazingly rich sounds of each instrument, especially the drums, which were a vibrant centerpiece. The occasional solos from guitar, recorder, flute, or trumpet were used in perfect measure. They excelled at performing lightweight and seemingly free-flowing songs that were in reality probably anything but random or improvised. No matter how noisy the ensemble became as a song coalesced, the pleasant melodies coming out of the chaos were perfectly easy to absorb. I'd highly recommend their concert to anyone. They are a unique group, a thing unto itself that has been developing over the years, and I can easily see people of all ages and tastes enjoying their show.