Agnes Obel | Live Review

Agnes Obel @ St George's, Bristol. 18.04.14.

Tonight was more than just a concert, it was a near religious experience. Agnes is a rare mythical creature; a beautifully tormented soul living in a world of magical fairytale.

“It’s a serious affair” are my first thoughts as I enter St George’s. I’m greeted with a delightful grand opening of an enchanting dimly lit setting and a golden oak glazed concert hall filled to the brim with what seems like a respectable gathering of fans for Agnes. This particular concert resulted in a complete sell out in just one day from announcement. All are appropriately seated and in silence with the odd natter “pass the sparkling mineral please dear…” No doubt a more mature audience tonight; they wait for her with keen anticipation, wet tongues and heavy breathing, almost panting for their queen, that is Agnes.

As the lights dim further; a slip of a thing whom I assume is Agnes, floats onto the stage like a strayed autumn leaf in the wind. She’s elegantly dressed, all in black with a thick pile of blonde hair neatly poised into a high bun. She shyly takes her place behind the intimidating black grand piano, there are no words just an airy calm, I watch as the audience wiggle back into their seats, predicting excellence, little did they know this would later be an understatement.

The opening tracks ‘Loretta’ and ‘Philharmonics’ both taken from her hugely successful and five-time platinum debut make impact with well executed soft piano which echoes richly throughout the hall complementing warm but haunting cello and sharp sour slides of violin all harmonising as one. These musical elements wrap around our ears and enlighten our senses leaving all in a deep half unconscious. All three women seem to have a profound respect for each other and especially their instruments; which they hold and caress like a mother would treat her newborn, and I have to say, watching them perform together is similar to consuming a very good bar of rich dark chocolate, the quality and feel good factor is intensely satisfying.

Obel and her troop manage to fuse together folk, classical, contemporary and ambient effortlessly and although they certainly hold their own originality, there are present elements of PJ Harvey’s later work from the ‘White Chalk’ era along with whispers of Fiona Apple, Jesca Hoop, the wispy cool vocal tones of Cat Power’s Chan Marshall; and a definite influence from Joni Mitchell’s heart wrenching ‘Blue’ album. I also feel like her work could have featured in French film of the decade Amelie, as her piano style is very similar to legendary classical pianist Yann Tiersen, although she probably would have blown him out of the water.

Stand out tracks of the evening comprise of ultimate melodic melancholy masterpieces; ‘Dorian’, ‘Words Are Dead’, and the beautifully showcased folky lullaby ‘Riverside’. Contrasting perfectly and giving some refreshing variation are the more upbeat ‘The Curse’ and ‘Aventine’. The latter is intensified with fast paced stern staccato strings, which cleverly harmonize together supporting Obel’s lavishing vocals, powerful lyrics and storytelling with a statement.

As the night draws to a close Agnes is beckoned back on stage for an encore with a surge of violent stamping, the suddenly rowdy audience clearly haven’t had enough; slowly but surely Agnes re-emerges. She manages to whisper out a soft frail “thank you, Bristol, you’ve been great” and takes her place for the final time this evening in her seat. By this stage, myself and few others close by have hit an emotional brick wall. Tears are stinging at cheeks, eyes are nicely lubricated and transfixed as Agnes lures us back into her captivating well of fantasy with a well suited John Cale cover ‘Close Watch’. The grand finale is a standalone number and quoted love song by the mistress herself titled ‘Smoke and Mirrors’, one of my personal favourites from the evening.

All in all a triumph. Tonight was more than just a concert, it was a near religious experience. Agnes is a rare mythical creature; a beautifully tormented creative soul living in a world of magical fairytale who I feel is worthy of all the great successes that will surely continue to come her way.

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