Kings of Convenience, Barbican, London
Easy pickings from lo-fi royalty
Monday 19 October 2009
Well, he didn't dance. Much. One thing united the chisel-jawed Norwegians, the nu-geeks, the actual geeks, the Hoxton trendies, the Mexicans, the Scots, the Italians and the Brazilians here to sample the first new songs in five years from this cherished Norwegian pop-folk duo: their marginal trepidation (or anticipation) that one of its members, Erlend Øye, would do his Napoleon Dynamite impression.
But that came later: most of the gig was focused on the release of their forthcoming album, Declaration of Dependence, which in some quarters has been labelled as the pair's love letter to each other: whatever its motivation, it is some of their darkest work. Tracks from that to get an airing tonight included "Mrs Cold", "24-25", "Me in You", "Rule My World", "Power of Not Knowing" and "Freedom and its Owner"; many of its tracks were written by one of the pair (the other being Eirik Glambek Bøe) before the song was introduced to their partner.
That mutual dependence is highlighted tonight, as the pair swap guitars between songs, trading blows with the kind of love-hate banter that would make Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau blush. They're genuinely funny, especially Øye; he walks a line between Scandinavian sweetness and a more knowing edge; Bøe is very much just the former.
While this is all very much a hoot for the audience, it emphasises the deeper "band of two halves" nature of this outfit: Øye is the outgoing, sometime electro-pop originator and side-project moonlighter, Bøe more rooted in Norway (he has a partner and son). The friction only adds dynamism to their work, thankfully: there is no question that they are each other's musical equal, certainly tonight. Øye's nomadic qualities come through his choice of violinist for certain tracks: a guy he met at a party in Berlin, matched only in talent by a member of Bergen's Italian expat community on double bass.
They play some of the older tracks, what Bøe calls "The Hit Parade": "I Don't Know What I Can Save You From" lifted from 2001's optimistic first album, Quiet is the New Loud; the quite brilliant "Homesick" from their second album, Riot on an Empty Street. They polish the night off with Øye forcing everyone to their feet for "Boat Behind", the first single from the new album, the English people embarrassed, looking on at the odd Scandinavian beauty twirling in the aisles.
Then, the encore, a pared down version of "I'd Rather Dance With You" (Øye manages to dance across the first two rows of the audience) before it's just the duo polishing off their final number, "Cayman Islands". By this point, most of the people who had stood up for the earlier numbers are seated, but they rise again to give the pair a standing ovation. Bøe seems thrilled; he smiles and looks over to Øye, who doesn't look back. Instead, he seems lost in a reverie, a smile stretched to mirror his portion of that assembly's praise.
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