One man. One woman. One electric guitar. One acoustic guitar. That was Slow Galo. The Melbourne duo who opened the show for Danish singer/songwriter Agnes Obel at the City Recital Hall in Sydney. As a patron the venue intimidated me – not used to venues quite this fancy – so I can only imagine how the duo from Melbourne must have felt standing on that stage. They sounded perhaps a little nervous as they introduced their songs, but their set never faltered.
Felicity Cripps took the stage armed with her acoustic guitar, while Liam Linley had his electric guitar equipped, as the duo brought their Melbourne infused indie/folk pop rock to life for Sydney. Their voices played beautifully off each other, and the interplay between acoustic and electric guitar was perfectly balanced, as neither instrument took over, sharing the spotlight evenly. Their music is not something I would normally seek out, and having never heard them before, their half hour set won me over. They set the scene for the night, embracing the less is more philosophy that we continued to see with Agnes Obel later in the night. They may have just been two people and two instruments on stage, but they sounded so much bigger than that. Their nerves may have shown a little, but that didn’t stop them from making the stage their own and showing they had what it takes to be there. Those who chose to miss Slow Galo, and only show up for Agnes Obel, missed out on a great performance.
The first time I heard Agnes Obel was only last year with the release of Aventine. The album was absolutely enchanting, and when an Australian tour was announced not long after that, I knew I had to be there. While the album is amazing, I just had this feeling that she would be even better in a live setting. I was not wrong. Agnes Obel’s Aventine was a lesson in subtlety, yet one of the biggest and most emotionally charged albums of 2013 for me. Obel takes that less is more attitude on tour with her and manages to enrapture the audience with herself, a grand piano, cello, violin and viola. Touring with Anne Müller (cello, backing vocals, live looping) and Mika Posen (violin, viola, backing vocals, live looping) the three of them together were a force to be reckoned with.
To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how to act at an Agnes Obel show. I’m used to lots of singing, screaming and general rowdiness, so I was a little tense. There seemed to be a collective feeling of tension in the air, leading me to believe that perhaps others felt the same. When Obel, Müller and Posen took the stage, there was no introduction, no preamble, they simply started playing “Louretta”. The tension may have made its way to the stage, as after the polite applause Obel reminded us that while they may be playing classical instruments, this was certainly not a classical show so we could be as loud as we wanted. And that of course was met with, not only perhaps a collective relaxing of the shoulders, but more rambunctious applause, and plenty of “yeahs” and “woos” from the audience. Much to the obvious delight of Obel.
There was nothing to fault in Obel’s almost two hour set. From the very first note played to the very last, I was just in awe of the talent I was witnessing. The cello and violin are probably two of my favourite instruments, and Müller and Posen were amazing artists to watch. As of course was Agnes Obel. While there may not have been much movement on stage, I still didn’t know where to focus my attention. At times I was enraptured by Obel’s voice and talent on the piano, at others I couldn’t draw my focus away from Müller and her cello, and often I was pulled towards Posen and her violin skills.
Throughout the set Obel treated us two covers – “Between The Bars” by Elliot Smith and “Close Watch” by John Cale – as well as a new song with the tentative title “Spinet Song”. Not only did Obel provide an unforgettable night of brilliant music, but I also learned that putting dust cloths on top of the strings in a piano will create a more percussive sound, that “Dorian” was written in the party area of Berlin and “Smoke and Mirrors” was actually meant to be on her first album, but they forgot to put it on, and is in fact the song they forget the most. Luckily, it was remembered for the second encore.
This was a night I certainly won’t soon forget. Obel’s flawless vocals. Müller and Posen’s ability to bring their instruments to life. The awe-inspiring talent I was privy to. I only hope that Agnes Obel finds her way to Australia again soon, so I can do it all again.