Intrepid mysterious Special Guest Star The Paper went in search of good live sounds, and the following is what transpired when he took in Agnes Obel at the 9:30 Club.
There is no greater joy than seeing a band for the first time and proceeding to fall head over heels in love. Such was the case when I discovered my favorite band, and this was the case Tuesday night with Agnes Obel. While her music is more than enchanting enough, I was smitten for an entirely different reason.
Poised behind her keyboard, Agnes transformed the usually rowdy nightclub into a hallowed symphony hall. Not a single sound was made, staff included. She did so with almost no perceivable effort. Her majestic voice simply compelled all to listen. It helps that her band, who she provided with the most adorable introductions regarding their accents, is just as wonderous.
There's the exquisite matter of the two cellos. Opening songs with pizzicatos lasting for minutes at a time mesmerized like a lover would teasingly walk fingers over the thigh. When the horse hair finally meet the string, it took immense restraint to hold back and savor the change in texture. Each assertive stroke unleashed a deep and throbbing urgency that was as welcoming as it was breathtaking. As if one could withstand such overwhelming sensation, the other cello would join in with fresh fury or pensive passion or a combination thereof. Charlotte and Kristina had one more surprise for us. They closed a song sitting at attention but not playing. Apparently they had been looping all along! Lest I forget, Catherine was just as marvelous on percussion. Always unrelenting but never overbearing, she marched with pristine precision.
Agnes had made some pleasantries earlier about being happy playing in DC because it was minus 17 Celcius* at the last show, and also because this was the first stop for the U.S. tour. When she started to introduce a song stating that she was definitely angry when she wrote it, I was unprepared for what followed. After a brief strategic pause, in a tone of suppressed anger intentionally disguised to fail, she insinuated that it is very fitting to the times. Deafening cheers erupted in the once tranquil symphony atmosphere.
And like that, I was in love.
She didn't stop there. She introduced another song saying it's about revolution. And for "Stretch Your Eyes," the last pleasure before the encore, she specifically stated that she wrote it while angry at her country.
"I guess you know this feeling too," she concluded with an air of indignation, of empathy, and of solidarity. The crowd roared.
Looking back, the piano post pop musician arranged each song so that no sound overshadowed another. All the instruments danced in true tandem. If the keyboard dominated for a section, it would eventually give way to the clarinet. To achieve such graceful unity may just be genius.
*My college logistics professor once said that he would be proud if one of his students could lead the US to adopt the international standard. I am sorry, Dr. DeWitt.
[words and photo of Agnes Obel by The Paper]