Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Gig Review: Jóhann Jóhannsson @ Howard Assembly Rooms

So I went out to a gig. Or should I say concert? Either way it was certainly a bit posher than one of my usual excursions. Introductions required first. Jóhann Jóhannsson is an Icelandic composer of no little repute. The Howard Assembly Rooms are an addendum to the Leeds Grand, the local opera house. Together they combine, not to form an awesome robot fighting machine, but instead a quite pleasant evening out.

Opening for Mr Jóhannsson in these luxurious surroundings were local sadcore heroes Glissando, who I particularly enjoyed. I've seen them a couple of times before but for some reason on this occasion they were a step above their usual performance, which was pretty damn good already. Maybe the surroundings? Irrelevant really. They ply a fair trade in elegantly composed post-something or other, weaving together minimalist piano, guitar noise and the yearning vocals of Elly May Irving to form melancholy spiderwebs of faded desire. Excellent stuff. Some newer material was on display, which to these ears contained a little bit of influence from fellow Loiner miserabilists I Like Trains – definitely no bad thing. And the latest single is none too shabby either.

And so time for Jóhann Jóhannsson, who was joined on stage by a string quartet. The man himself clicked buttons and twiddled with knobs for electronic elements, as well as dabbling on the piano now and then. The whole thing was accompanied by grainy, jumpy slow-motion footage of various random things. A political protest, an unidentified man walking in what looked to be an industrial wasteland, children playing in a garden. While a nice touch, I found it a little distracting when I hit the halfway mark. If nothing else, the effect used to make the visuals disorientating worked a little bit too well. It didn't help that the chairs we were sat on were precisely the right shape to set off my sore, damaged back (from that whole hit-and-run fiasco last year, continuity fans).

The music itself was beautiful and haunting, however. I'm not too good at describing orchestral-style pieces, largely because I simply don't have the background knowledge I usually rely on to show off. I am reliably informed that what Jóhann Jóhannsson writes and performs is not classical music, nor neo-classical. Whatever it is, it's great stuff and sounds like the score to a lonely post-apocalyptic character study. Soaring strings and rumbling electronic drone, telling stories just out of range of your ears. And if nothing else, if was great to dress up semi-respectable and act like I was a real human being with cultured interests.

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