Obel’s 2013 LP ‘Aventine’ has a remarkable feeling of closeness. Having recorded it all in her home city of Berlin and mixing and arranging the record herself, it is an isolated album with sounds reverberating around four walls to seriously dramatic effect. This solitary sensation allowed the sentiments of the record to linger and stopped any one part of the album taking a forefront. The voice is called when it’s needed, as are the strings and the keys. Agnes Obel created an album of templates that she decorated sparingly and brilliantly. When the lights dim at Bristol’s St. Georges Hall and Obel and her supporting musicians take to the stage, that all-surrounding sombreness and tonality is captured almost without us noticing. Obel’s world invites you in and before you know if you’ve been there for hours.
The way her glassy voice manages to rest beneath the arpeggiating piano part on ‘Fuel to Fire’ seems to come as quickly as it starts. The instrumentation to all of Obel’s work is so paramount that her vocals become just another facet to a bigger sound. There is no less power in the instrumental bliss of ‘Louretta’ live as there is in the hopeful voice work on ‘Dorian’. The classic music hall atmosphere of the venue suited Obel’s more hymnal numbers perfectly. Even the more tangible melodies of cuts like ‘The Curse’ benefited from the cinematic surroundings.
Her backing troop had a unique ability of making fairly intricate playing seem simple. They’d lure you in to the security of a meandering melody before launching in to strong, powerful crescendos that appeared to come from nowhere. By immersing herself so fully into her work, Agnes Obel creates a live experience that is unhurried but perfectly calculated. Even when some audience members appeared slightly restless, they’d be locked back in by a biting climax that would tear through the ethereal stillness.
In the run up to ‘Aventine’ coming out, Obel commented on how she likes the Autumn. She spoke about “reddened leaves being illuminated by the sun”. She went on to capture this kind of earthly phenomena on record and her ability to bring the abstract to life is one that translates to the stage. She created an album that wanders round the Aventine Hill in Rome with equal amounts of aimlessness and intent. The same disorientating familiarity is projected through the shows that have followed the album- for someone who doesn’t know where she’s headed, Agnes Obel does an astonishing job of taking you there.
Words: Duncan Harrison