Last Wednesday, at the Barbican in London, there were at least six keyboards onstage, including a grand piano, a sequencer and what looked like a dinky harmonium. One of the keyboards controlled a hidden organ backstage. He showed it off between songs, experimenting with the instrument's oddly tropical timbre. "It makes a cheerful sound," he said with a smile. "Just what you need in depressing countries like England or Germany."
This was one of four sold-out shows at the Barbican, each seating nearly 2000 people. Frahm started his long set with a series of suites from his new album. The burbling synth melody of "Sunson" sounded huge in the auditorium. Due to the room's rich acoustics and his feverish performance style, the hypnotic loops of the new material sounded more powerful than on record. He played with his whole body, often weaving in time to rhythms that only he could hear.
During piano solos like "Familiar" and the beautiful "My Friend The Forest," a narrow spotlight picked out the balletic movement of Frahm's fingers across the keys. Sprawling centrepiece "All Melody" showed off the best side of his electronic compositions, its looped arpeggios rising through the air like bubbles through water. A huge kick thudded alongside the delicate chords, and as the song reached its climax, a golden light swept across the crowd, picking out hundreds of intent faces bobbing in synchrony.
At his best, Frahm can swoop between grand crescendos and hushed moments of reflection, but these extremes mean that sometimes the middle-ground material can sag—especially during a performance nearly two hours long. Add-ons designed to pick up the energy, like the spidery rhythms sometimes laid atop the electronic compositions, sounded simple and awkward compared to the elegance of his melodies. And during the quietest moments, some of the intimacy was sapped by the size of the venue. I never quite felt, as I had in that church in 2013, that he was playing just for me.
Yet it's hard to blame Frahm for wanting to please the sold-out crowd. He said he chose his final track, "Says", by looking up which of his songs was most popular on Spotify. Despite joking that the composition was extremely simple and would never satisfy a good music teacher, he clearly still loved playing it. While he harmonised with the rippling synth tones, he dipped his body towards the keys, as if attempting to cradle the notes themselves.
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