It was a night of haunting, moving performances at the 9:30 Club. While so many artists have made their mark at this club by putting on some of the biggest, loudest, most vibrant shows of their careers, Tuesday was a refreshing reminder that stillness can be equally as deep and powerful.
Agnes Obel is not precisely a household name this side of the Atlantic, but the Danish-born and Berlin-based composer, pianist, and producer is extremely well-respected among the cognoscenti of contemporary and avant-garde classical music. Cutting a somewhat shy and soft-spoken figure, her music provided the emotional groundswell that her remarks between songs lacked. As the leader of an all female quartet of talented multi-instrumentalists, Obel and company performed songs that looped and layered and folded into themselves like intricate origami. The songs, driven by piano and augmented by dual cellos, were percussive and emotive, with a strange hypnotic quality – perhaps due to the frequent use of time signatures not often seen in a pop context, which gave many songs a circular feel. There was no use resisting – Obel’s music coiled itself around you and submerged you entirely – equal parts welcome and challenging.
Opening act Ethan Gruska, previously a half of the sibling duo The Belle Brigade (alongside his older sister Barb), played to a small but attentive audience. Gruska, who alternates between the piano – his principal instrument – and guitar, has a sweet voice and an impeccable sense of time, bending his singing to wrap around gorgeous melodies that evoke longing. He cuts an empathetic figure on stage, reminiscent of a depressed Ben Folds, and he held his own in front of an appreciative crowd in what amounted to his first ever solo show. Gruska’s vulnerability is a perfect foil for the more abstract emotional heft that Obel projects in her music, and his stripped down solo act amplifies the resonance.
While we welcome the magnificent, over the top performers who often grace the stage of the hallowed 9:30 Club, it’s wonderful to know that there’s still space to give voice to those who are going about their business quietly, without sacrificing any of the quality or impact.