Nils Frahm - Manchester Albert Hall
Something is different. As we enter the Albert Hall, softening blue light still pours through the towering stained glass windows - the resulting haze appearing quite otherworldly. It catches on the stage, and a colossal set up resembling something more interstellar than instrument. In the middle, three tall blocks of constructed wooden pipes stand connected by a set of running tubes. They’re intrusively geometric, programmed to pump air as soon as one of the keyboards asks them to. It is their placement against the obsoletion of the venue's own original 30ft pipe organ, though, that creates the perfect metaphor for what is about to follow.
After rapturous applause, Nils Frahm bursts straight into his opening tracks without so much as a word. From gentle strokes of the grand piano, the composition builds into something more substantial with the focus shifting onto the keyboard, drum loops filing behind and swathes of bass flooding the spaces left in-between. It’d be unfair to note them as tracks mind, they fit more in the realm of atmospheres - moods even.
Each piece holds its own, yet ‘Says’ goes some way to stealing the show, offering the best example of his unique assemblage of tone. It builds and builds, from root to spire. He writhes metronomically, streams of sweat slipping in-between bloodied ivories. The softening light drifts to black; senses now occupying a middleground of juxtaposition, a space filled equally with heartache and elevation.
The incessant throbbing of the finale (in which he stretches over the back of the piano to play the strings with two toilet brushes) pulls you straight back. It is improvisation and education all at once, experimentation mixed with complete understanding. These seamless transitions from classical to contemporary are what defines Frahm's work, yet the willingness to break all existing rules within both areas is what truly sets him apart.
At the finish, the stomping upper hall mixes with the unremitting applause from the standing ovation. Within the confines of the human body, it feels near impossible to convey the amount of appreciation the performance deserves. One moment transcendiary, incendiary the next - if this is Nils Frahm having lost his mind, we can only hope he never finds it.