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Review: Efterklang and Northern Sinfonia, with support from John Grant, The Sage Gateshead

THIS felt like an occasion, a big deal, one of the reasons this venue was built and one of the events we always imagined it would host.

Efterklang and Northern Sinfonia rehearsals at the Sage Gateshead
Efterklang and Northern Sinfonia rehearsals at the Sage Gateshead

THIS felt like an occasion, a big deal, one of the reasons this venue was built and one of the events we always imagined it would host.

Danish indie darlings Efterklang joining forces with the Northern Sinfonia in a gorgeous collision of worlds as The Sage’s house band plays pop in its own back yard.

A home game, so to speak, via Copenhagen and an abandoned Russian base near the North Pole. More of which later. First John Grant.

Formerly lead singer of The Czars (you really must look up their cover of Abba’s Angel Eyes), the critics hung out the bunting for his Queen of Denmark LP in 2010, a stunning solo debut produced from apparent retirement following battles with depression, booze and drugs.

An inauthentic warm-up act – Grant’s songs are too show-stopping, too grandiose – he comes armed with trademark beard and black Steinway, airing some new songs that carry on where he left off.

Full of minor key melodrama (Where Dreams Go To Die) and witty confessionals, a new song sums up his charm. Apparently indulgent sixth-form poetry about reading Jane Eyre and wondering which character he would be, it turns into a joke.

His friends and family are worried about him, you see. At least I think it’s supposed to be funny. It’s certainly full of love. It is self-aware and self-effacing yet oozes downbeat panache. This is the real miracle of John Grant. And so to the real Danes.

Efterklang, a Berlin-based three-piece from Copenhagen, have produced a number of lauded albums and have just released their most fascinating after travelling to make recordings in Piramida, an abandoned Russian settlement on the archipelago of Svalbard. The Northern Sinfonia, symbol of the North East’s new and beautiful creativity, is an integral part of this performance; collaborators, not backing band. They head out on tour with the band after this.

With arrangements written for the orchestra, their performance is pivotal to the show, capturing our attention every bit as much as the these stylish Scandinavians.

The album, named for Piramida, is full of texture and intricate melody but tonight the partnership releases these lovely songs into their natural habitat that is both complex and luscious, away from the polar region cold. The effect is sometimes indulgent, but always full of joy.

As Casper Clausen flirts with his singers, and the front few rows of his audience, he smiles at the wonder of this, these gorgeous sounds made from those noises born north of Greenland. He taps on his mic stand to show us how they started out.

The album is played largely intact, starting with Hollow Mountain and followed by a glorious Apples.

There are occasional forays into gospel music, the celestial voice of first soprano Katinka Fogh Vindelev makes this inevitable, really. Her fellow singers, Hannah Reynolds and Belinda Voshtina, help turn one segment into a choral pleasure.

But mainly it’s effortless yet intelligent indie pop, sometimes feeling like hard work, but mainly it rewards concentration and an appreciation of the dramatic.

The Ghost, Black Summer and Monument stand out before a closing Modern Drift gets us onto our feet and Casper stands singing on the seats in row two, a first recorded case of orchestral concert crowd-surfing.

It’s impeccable, like much of the night.


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