6/1/14 – The Sinclair

Yann Tiersen fanatics buzzed as a single techie tested and retested, tuned and retuned, the plethora of instruments on stage. Violin. Guitars. Drums. Melodica. Toy piano. Synths. Repeat. Minutes dripped away and no progress was being made. Meanwhile, the ominous and morose voice of a lone, French speaking girl –presumably Tiersen’s idiosyncratic “pump up” music–added to the nervous energy. The Sinclair in Harvard Square ticked. Then, as Tiersen finally graced the stage with his four-piece band, it erupted.

The enthusiasm of Tiersen’s fan base – of which I’m a part, beware – was loud and celebratory, though it really wasn’t that sort of show. Opting for melancholic and introspective sounds over catchy and rhythmic melodies –though those were present, too–Tiersen performed songs almost exclusively from his newest album, Infinity. This was expected, of course, but maybe bittersweet for a portion of the audience who seemed to appreciate Tiersen’s older music. Yes, Amélie is brilliant, but it’s not the entire picture. Cries of recognition as Tiersen played familiar motifs, “La Dispute” and “Rue De Cascades” in particular, suggested otherwise.

If one could break from those sorts of expectations, however, the concert’s setlist offered entrancing escapes into a new world. Infinity was conceived in Iceland, inspired by the rocks, and it showed… and believe it or not that’s a compliment. The songs ebbed and flowed, woven together in such a way that made applause breaks nearly unnecessary. Natural noises of rain, mist and wind tied beginnings to endings. Organic sounds mixed with inorganic synths to produce a soundtrack-esque vibe. But Tiersen didn’t need any supplementary visuals. It sounded like a concept album, with cohesive and vivid storytelling, but also sparser lyrics than most. The lyrics, both sung and prerecorded, were in four languages: English, Breton, Faroese, and Icelandic.

The music may be Tiersen’s own, but he conceptualized it to share it. It was for everyone and it was mesmerizing. “Chapter 19” pulled the crowd in with impassioned vocals and crescendoing, darting violin licks. “La Crise” carried a single yet powerful melody. It crescendoed similarly, repetition and growth acting in parallel. The first single from the album, “A Midsummer Evening,” was one of the few songs that had an almost discernible form. If it hadn’t been for the snappy melodies and grounding drum kit playing, much of Tiersen’s work might even have appeared freeform– nebulous, but not inaccessible.

As an encore, Tiersen treated his audience with the classic “Sur La Fil.” The crowd stood breathless as the solo-violin piece began, Tiersen in near silhouette. The intensity grew until the hair of Tiersen’s bow frayed and snapped, hoedown style clapping now filling the venue. At the end there sounded a fierce and reverberating chord. Another eruption. Though I was at a loss for words, luckily one man wasn’t. “Holy fucking shit,” he cried.

The show was not done. One last song, a new track, reminded the audience why Tiersen was here at all: Infinity. His past is unquestionably good, but his present can be too. You just have to take the time to engage with it.

A New Scene: Yann Tiersen
Pros
  • Captivating music
  • Passionate and inspired musicians
  • Dedicated audience
Cons
  • Required (didn’t give) energy at times
  • Would rather have been sitting down
7.6Overall Score

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