By Sal Hassanpour
In 2007 I praised Parades, from the Danish dream-pop collective Efterklang, as being the best album of the year. When I say that seeing the band live was the best concert experience so far for 2008, therefore, understand that I had a positive bias from the outset. Nevertheless, the band overcame even my high expectations.
The inherent problems with trying to translate into a live context a sonically dense, impeccably produced album that features more than forty musicians, vocalists, choirs, and string and brass sections is fairly obvious (unless the band is in the Björk big leagues). Most of the time bands will cross the Atlantic with half their core members, who get stuck playing along with pre-recorded material and have no room for fresh arrangements nor even solos. So it was a great delight to not only see eight Efterklang band members on stage, but to see them with all their gear as well. To put that last bit in perspective, there were more FX pedals on the El Mo stage than at a My Bloody Valentine gig and more brass and woodwinds than you’d find with The High Llamas.
Opening band Slaraffenland (who are with Efterklang’s label Rumraket in Europe) took advantage of all those musical toys in their impressive opening set, augmenting their big three-part harmonies with the clarinet, saxophone, and trombone and with samplers. They’ve earned comparisons to Animal Collective in the past (because of their harmonizing and “tribal” drum sounds), but it was only with a new untitled track (performed live for only the second time, they said) that the comparison is most deserved. With throbbing bass, cavernous drums, and echoing guitar stabs that were not unlike those of Joshua Tree-era U2, it was clear that the wide, open roads of North America have left their mark.
As this was Efterklang’s first major tour of our continent, their setlist cherry-picked four years’ worth of music from their three EPs and two LPs. The men were decked out in early 20th century twill breeches (the kind that blossom out in the pockets-region and taper severely in the lower half) held up by suspenders. Also (and this applies to Slaraffenland as well), nearly all the men sported perfectly-trimmed moustaches. This kind of anachronistic get-up compliments the band’s music, which is caught somewhere between traditional continental European music, post-rock, glitch, and anthemic indie-rock.
Tthe band relied far more on analog and acoustic sound sources than I would have suspected. This is appropriate for a live performance and was amazingly executed. The non-musical aspects of Efterklang’s performance, however, were what sealed the deal.
An image that stuck was that of band members with drumsticks battering beat-up kits hard enough to break them and even battering the El Mo’s brick wall. Another was that of gifted lead vocalist Casper Clausen interrupting an earnest all-group a cappella in order to get the whole band to dance along to the intrusive sounds of the live funk bands upstairs (I later found out it was the Footprints monthly dance night), to rapturous applause. Other memorable moments include the band’s playing of a new song that involved the trumpet and trombone to a level almost akin to Calexico, and the encore, which ended with a Slaraffenland augmented, eleven member samba line that snaked its way through the audience and halted around and on top of the tables in the back. It was not what Efterklang played nor how they played it (in terms of instruments and arrangements) that made this a staggering concert, but rather the energy and enthusiasm with which they prepared and performed their live act.
The word “efterklang” translates as either “remembrance” or “reverberation,” and after this concert I was left with a surfeit of both. Though I suspect the band won’t need more trumpeting in the future, I will nevertheless repeat that Efterklang is one of a handful of current bands that are worth all the time and passion their music demands, and from as big an audience as is imaginable.