Live Review: Efterklang @ The Black Box, Belfast
As far as concert venues in Belfast go, The Black Box is definitely one of the nicer ones. Gracefully skimming the line between rowdy, leery pub and wanker-infested bohemian dive, it’s a blessed haven where you won’t be immediately saturated with drink upon arrival, or be greeted with an onslaught of diabolical ironic moustaches – a rare occurrence.
Tonight’s line-up is, in a word, unpronounceable. Enigmatic Danes Efterklang are headlining the bill tonight, but first up is fellow Danes Slaraffenland (Slara-wha?) who bound onto the stage with puppyish enthusiasm, each wearing a matching pastel-coloured t-shirt adorned with the felt outline of a ribcage – making them more akin to children’s television presenters than a poe-faced gaggle of post-rockers. Their set is a strange one – each of the individual musicians display extraordinary skill (their set boasts an extraordinary saxophonist), but the material itself is weak – a gawkily formulaic cross between Arcade Fire pomposity and Sigur Rós’s Baltic shimmer.
And so onto the main act. Efterklang look exactly as you’d imagine them –a handful of blonde, disturbingly tall Scandanavians with a bassist who looks like he just sauntered out of an American Apparel advert. Dubious facial hair and endearingly awkward stage presence taken into consideration, you’d be forgiven for assuming Efterklang were a band of painfully hip indie knob-twiddlers rather than the pastoral purveyors of ethereal soundscapes they are extolled as; there’s simply an inexcusable absence of woolly hats.
However, by the time their set reaches the gossamer piano chords and clicking, whirring music-box electronics which usher in ‘Mirador’; any doubts about Efterklang’s position as Copenhagen’s reining kings of indie majesty are soon dispelled; ‘Mirador’ is as sumptuous as Vespertine-era Bjork and an undeniable set highlight. This soon melts into the diaphanous ‘Step Aside’, which finds Efterklang performing some admirable lighting wizardry over the track’s brackish, shifting time signatures and wafting horns, and new track ‘Modern Drift’ is as close to pop as Efterklang are ever going to get, frontman Casper’s soaring vocal hook lushly bookended by reams of melting horn and ghostly choral snippets.
A few technical difficulties – namely with the band’s bass – are laughed off with admirable stoicism – the band are bashfully apologetic, frontman Casper beaming at the crowd with a mile-wide grin, and joking merrily in charmingly broken English. Efterklang’s stage banter proves surprisingly entertaining, despite the language barrier– they tell a sweetly mournful anecdote about female vocalist Heather’s brother, who was meant to go on tour with Efterklang as their drummer, but fell over his suitcase in the process of packing, and injured his leg. ‘But hopefully, he’ll be able to drum with us soon. And everyone else in Copenhagen who wants to play with us!’ grins Casper.
However, when Efterklang stray from their default pastoral loveliness, the results tend to be mixed – new track ‘Raincoats’ clatter-and-bang structure is a little too erratic to be absorbing, and the track eventually dithers into leaden, horn-laden cacophony.
It’s really female vocalist Heather who holds Efterklang’s set together, her mild, girlish croon rising above the male member’s baritone growl like a lark soaring gracefully above a gaggle of unruly geese. Not to say Efterklang’s male vocals are lacking in any way – there’s something oddly beautiful in the incongruities between Efterklang’s sugar-paper, gauzy electronics, as fragile as the cogs in a pocket-watch, and Casper’s brusque foghorn – it has an odd grace, like an elephant balancing, precariously on a tricycle.
The set closes on the bucolic ‘Cutting Ice To Snow’; deceptively frail, the track blossoms from a seemingly ramshackle choral arrangement to a full-blown miniature epic, dripping with sumptuous horns and sparkling piano and everything that makes Efterklang so bloody wonderful. After their set, the band wade through the crowd, grinning fit to burst, and disappear through the back door. Ignoring the fact that the back door leads directly into the toilets, it’s a suitably dramatic exit for an extraordinary band.