A Nils Frahm performance is a virtuosic tour-de-force that balances moments of great beauty with those of wild experimentation.
Revolution Hall, Portland, OR
The slight man in the black T-shirt and newsboy hat took the stage shortly after 8pm. The sold-out crowd had settled into its seats in Portland’s Revolution Hall, conversation sliding into stillness as the musician stepped forward. Without saying a word, the performer nodded to the crowd in wry silence. Behind him, two different workstations of keyboards, a grand piano, a harmonium, various keyboards and sound boards ate up the bulk of the stage. Nils Frahm mounted a stool, turning his back to the stage. Then, he turned to us once more, smiled, faced his instruments and began to play.
Half classical concert, half foray into electronica, a Nils Frahm performance is a virtuosic tour-de-force that balances moments of great beauty with those of wild experimentation. No matter whether the 35-year-old performer is seated at the grand piano, his wild hands a blur on the keys or up on his feet, leaping from soundboard to soundboard to keep a song in precise rhythm, there is something otherworldly in watching him perform. Trained by a Russian pianist who had been a protégé of Tchaikovsky, Frahm may have eschewed playing classical music such as pieces written by Chopin, but in many ways exhibiting his own compositions is a braver, less-trodden path.
Touring in support of new album, All Melody, the Berlin-based performer concentrated mainly on new tracks for the first part of the evening. Beginning with compositions “The Whole Universe Wants to be Touched” and “Sunson,” Frahm immediately demonstrated his incredible prowess, musical and athletic. Running back and forth between keyboards and boards, Frahm would create a loop on a keyboard, fiddle with some knobs, plop himself down in front of the piano for a quiet moment, keeping his melodies and counter-melodies flowing. At his most impressive, Frahm would even play two different keyboards, reaching across the void with both hands in a musical crucifixion, playing two melodies at the same time.
In between songs, Frahm was a droll and witty raconteur. Like most visiting musicians, he praised Portland for its quality of life and made jokes about the crowd not worrying, that he would play his “hits” towards the end of the show. Sometimes his banter veered into the technical when he broke down exactly how he was going to pull off “Says” (his most popular track according to the “internet”) just before he played it. Lastly, Frahm gave a lengthy treatise about the significance of an encore and how he would cut down the suspense by walking off stage for five seconds and then returning. Good to his word, Frahm briefly left and returned to play a stunning version of “For – Peter – Toilet Brushes – More.”
The entire show passed by in a dizzying two hours, Frahm’s hypnotic music making the duration seem much shorter. The musician took a moment to soak up a rapturous standing ovation, mopping his brow with a towel. Then he flashed us his winning smile, bowed and vanished from the stage.