The Triple Door was the place to be last night if you’re a fan of Decibel Festival and need something to tide you over until September. The venue featured two identical back to back shows of Erased Tapes artists Nils Frahm and Douglas Dare. The two pianists made for an impressive showcase of everything from classical, singer-songwriter piano ballads to moody, guttural drum machine compositions with heavy distortion.
Nils Frahm has performed at multiple Optical showcases during Decibel 2012 and 2013. These performances usually take place earlier in the evening in the small recital theater at Benaroya, and feature artists whose work melds well with visual collaboration. While other artists worked with video jockeys or slideshows, Frahm served as his own visual accompaniment. His intense stage presence is an experience all its own, as he juggles two or three keyboards, a grand piano, and a drum machine. The keyboards are set up at an angle around him, giving the impression of Frahm as some kind of mad organist racing from one set of keys to another.
It’s a powerfully moving experience watching him create all manner of sounds with his fingertips. One moment he might be concocting some deep, undulating beat with the drum machine, throwing in melodic pangs here and there from his piano, and the next he might be dancing across the keys, a mile a minute, tapping out some unfathomable solo. And even though the work is obviously exhausting, sweat at his brow, arms tense, his hands seem to glide, unfettered. At one point, they seemed like effortless jellyfish, the way they skated back and forth, jumping high and skimming low, no longer made of bone and muscle. Frahm closed with the oddly titled, “For – Peter – Toilet Brushes – More,” a 16 minute masterpiece, leaving the audience in a stunned silence, until they erupted with admiration.
Not only is Frahm a brilliant composer and improviser, but he’s also a talented crowd pleaser. With his hard German pronunciation of the diphthong “th,” he is funny and charming. Many of the crowd’s cheers seemed as much about his music as his charisma. At one point, a crowd member yelled out in German, “I like your socks,” and Frahm responded, surprised. He told the crowd what the person had said, and continued to speak to him in German. After a few exchanges, the unseen voice let out an audible “Um…..” and the crowd laughed. He had outed himself as a beginner. Frahm typically removes one shoe, presumably to play the floor pedals of the piano better, and he told a story about a time when he’d accidentally left his shoe on stage after his performance. When he returned, the shoe had been replace by another shoe. Unable to locate the culprit, he’d traveled home to Berlin wearing the odd pair of shoes. Frahm looked out skeptically at the audience and said, “I’ll put my shoe back on… just in case.”
It was the first trip to America for London’s Douglas Dare. However, due to the earlier show that night, he joked that it was not his first show in America. His body language was incredibly expressive, hanging his head over the keys and leaning back to face skyward on long, lamenting notes. Dare’s vocals lend a haunting, delicate melody to his piano compositions. He explained that he usually writes the lyrics and melody first, building the piano around them. He performed a track named “Caroline” a cappella for the first verse, slowly adding the piano as the crowd watched in awe. He said that after the earlier show, about five women came up to him saying their name was Caroline. He asked if there were any Carolines in the audience of the second show. When no one responded he said, “Ah, Carolines must be early birds. You’re all the late-comers.”
Frahm also joked that while the sold out early show felt like it was full of the people who raced out to buy tickets, the second show felt like all the people who just thought, “Eh, it might be nice.” But nothing could be more untrue, and audience members left last night awestruck and humbled at the great talent they’d witnessed.
See more photos from the set here.