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Nils Frahm: Live at the Barbican

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Some may have thought Nils Frahm’s big moment was the release of Felt, his great masterpiece of restrained piano, close-mic recording and analogue production, hugely imitated since. It could have said to have been when he sold out the Roundhouse, and added an extra date for his show, Nils Frahm Has Lost His Mind, in which the German composer really did lose his mind with an extended set of electronic madness.

All this should teach us that a week in which Nils has five sold out shows at the Barbican in the City of London may feel like his ‘moment’, but clearly he just keeps creating more and more of them. Nonetheless, it’s certainly a landmark moment for the Hamburg born, Berlin residing musician. Tonight is the final show of his Barbican run, and he bounces onto the stage looking typically underdressed for such an occasion, in a black t shirt, trainers and a flat cap.

Tonight, the set mostly forms around his latest record, All Melody. This album is the reason the stage is so bewilderingly full of keyboard instruments — there’s a grand piano, an una corda piano, a rhodes piano, a pipe organ which is fitted up with a drum machine, several synthesizers, including Nils’ trusty Roland Juno, and quite a bit more. Opener, The Whole Universe Wants To Be Touched, sees him darting around the stage from instrument to instrument, and at times the evening feels more like witnessing a mad professor carrying out experiments in his laboratory, than a mere concert.

The concoctions come off expertly though — Sunson is Frahm’s opus in which he combines kick drum, synthesizers, manipulated pipe organ and God knows what else, and it somehow sounds quite brilliant. When he switches to solo piano pieces such as My Friend The Forest, there’s no sense of pace being lost or any jarring. Then there’s one of the night’s great highlights, All Melody’s title track, the stirring and energizing combination of Berlin techno and classical instrumentation — next to the Barbican’s stunning lighting, it’s one of those live music moments you’re deeply grateful to be part of.

People will often say how an amazing gigs feels like a matter of minutes. But when I simply have to nip to the toilet in the brutalist expanse of the Barbican during the show, I’m absolutely floored to discover Nils has been performing for an hour and a half — I thought it had been about twenty minutes.

If you think this all sounds like a very serious occasion, you’d be mistaken. Nils Frahm is quite hilarious in between pieces, particularly when giving away his encore set:

“This is my last song…...well unless you clap and scream loudly afterwards, then I’ll come back and play again. And even if you all go, fuck it, I’ll do the encore set anyway.” He even self-deprecatingly introduces his ‘last’ number, the beloved Says, as his 'laziest' composition.

There’s certainly no sense of laziness as the Roland Juno arpeggiator regrains in the background, as he darts from his rhodes piano to the grand, with emotion dripping from him.

There’s a unanimous standing ovation prior to the encore, and a second one afterwards. And goodness me, it’s deserved. It’s tempting to write that Nils Frahm is a man at the height of his powers, but who’s really to say? Here is a composer who breaks boundaries, and then shatters them ever further with every new thing he does. What that next thing will be, is almost impossible to tell, but heaven knows it will be very exciting indeed.