Last-minute band changes left Lerche scrambling, but he and his new band put together a frenetic and joyful performance.
“I know this is supposed to be the synth album, but I don’t have a keyboard player,” opined Sondre Lerche in his first comment from the Sinclair stage on the first night of his North American tour behind his newest album, Pleasure. “The stage is the happiest place to be and the safest place to be, and I’ve been longing to be up on stage,” he also declared.
After perfecting his show for ten-weeks in Norway, half of Lerche’s four-man band were denied visas. Enter Jordan Baker, the “silent, but handsome” bassist cum superhero who jumped in the day before. So, although it was the first show in the US supporting the new album, with half of the original band missing, only a few songs of the new album were played. It was a survey of Lerche’s older and well-loved jazz-tinged pop rock, with a handful of new tunes from the “synth album” played with a guitar, bass, and drums. Or, as Lerche put it, “the power trio that rises from the ashes.” When first listening to Pleasure, it sounds as though much has changed, but Lerche’s Sinclair show suggested that, quixotically, little really has.
The result was a study in Lerche’s songwriting and his multifaceted layering and song construction. Stripped of the electronics that mark Pleasure’s sound, the album’s songs are analogous to earlier songs. The recorded version of “Soft Feelings,” opens with metallic, staccato percussion and gives way to bright, twinkling, eighties pop synth. Live, the track became more contemplative guitar number. “Reminisce,” a heartsick Europop dance number on record, was stripped to its bare bones, making it indistinguishable from the whimsical and wistful Sondre Lerche of ten years ago. The decadent eighties pop sound of “I’m Always Watching” creates what is arguably Pleasure’s crowning dance tune, but with that dance floor synth tiptoes the line of creepiness with lyrics such as “I’m always watching / If I can’t be with you / I’m always watching / Call it voyeurism or masochism / I’m always watching.” Lerche performed “I’m Always Watching You” with just a guitar as part of a solo encore, which he admitted he was trying without synth “to see if it survives.” The song not only survived, but was entirely transformed into a heartfelt ballad about someone tortured by dating in the age of the Internet.
For all of his longing to get back on stage, Lerche and longtime drummer David Heilman certainly played as if united with a lost love. And they were, in a sense, pulling out songs from as far back as Lerche’s first album, such as “No One’s Gonna Come.” Lerche and Heilman, both showmen on their own, have an engrossing rapport on stage. Heilman has been a part of Lerche’s supporting band for years, and watching the two together is like watching old friends jamming in their basement. Heilman took several lengthy and well-executed solos, while Lerche did the same on guitar, falling to his knees and dancing about the stage.
But what is a show without some variety, and sure enough, these moment of comedy and display gave way to some quieter, more intimate ones. Midway through the show, Lerche took the stage solo and played “My Hands Are Shaking,” to which the entire audience sang along. It was a rare moment of real and palpable connection between artist and audience. Lerche admitted that the moment felt intimate enough that he nearly spoke to the crowd in his native Norwegian.
Sondre Lerche at the Sinclair did not quite deliver the Pleasure that was advertised, but was undoubtedly pleasing. Lerche’s “power trio” played their hearts out and delivered all the charm anticipated from a Sondre Lerche show.