Nils Frahm @ Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 19 Feb

Nils Frahm delivers a mesmerising show at Edinburgh's Usher Hall that never stops pushing the boundaries of what musical innovation can be

Live Review by Lewis Wade | 20 Feb 2019

With strict instructions about the show having no intervals, the 'five minutes to go' bell-ringer and the formidable array of vintage keyboards, synthesisers, amps and pedals littering the stage, one would be forgiven for thinking that a Nils Frahm show was a serious, mechanical affair. And it is, in terms of his meticulous attention to detail and obvious care for his music. But in every other respect it's a playful, affective and utterly human display of musical prowess and ingenuity.

Frahm immediately puts the audience at ease with his endearing banter, recalling his last Edinburgh show that apparently no one saw and talking us through his wildly complicated pre-song routine. However, once he gets into the music, there's not a wasted moment as he moves from electric piano to mellotron, kicking out at Moog pedals, dabbling in his manufactured grand piano and adjusting delay effects, all while keeping several loops in the air with sorcerous precision. Despite some songs approaching 15 minutes, a sense of restrained urgency is ever-present and it's hard to take your eyes off Frahm as he essentially becomes a one-man orchestra.

The change of pace between deliberate, piano-driven cuts like My Friend the Forest and Familiar provide a nice contrast to the complex, beat-heavy freakouts like All Melody and #2, while Hammers showcases a preternatural talent with keys that would be awe-inspiring in any context. Frahm takes a little breather before set-closing Says to explain his disdain for encores, insisting he'll be offstage for two seconds and that the show is clearly pre-planned so there's no need to stroke his ego.

True to his word, he does bound off and returns swiftly with a well-earned glass of white wine. He finishes with the manic Toilet Brushes (does what it says on the tin) that segues into More, a spine-tingling composition that splits the difference between madcap Lubomyr Melnyk speed-clacking and the gorgeous soundscapes of Yann Tiersen, all while maintaining a Steve Reich-esque metronomicity. It's a mesmerising end to a show that never stopped pushing the boundaries of what musical innovation can be.