Strange Things: Agnes Obel @ Akvárium

I tend to take pride in the fact that I’m good at picking concerts. There was of course a period when hardly any noteworthy acts graced Budapest with their presence, so it was not so much a matter of choosing something, but of being there when anything happened. These days, however, the club scene is picking up pace (the fact that we still do not have a decent mid-size venue is thus next in my litany of sorrows), so you get the opportunity to juggle acts and decide which are worth your effort and which are not.

I had therefore decided that Agnes Obel, whose most recent album Citizen of Glass was one of my favourites in 2016 should be a blast- well, as much of a blast as someone whose first record was called Philharmonics can get. It was therefore a bit of a letdown when things turned out rather different.

Firstly, there was the conflicting venue. It’s almost odd that Obel would attract so many people in good old Hungary, but attract them she did, for the concert, organized by the A38 team in Akvárium’s Main Hall, sold out one day before the event. While the venue can accommodate more people than the boat, it also has a decidedly party with DJs and turntables vibe, which perhaps also led to the fact that the sound engineers seemed at odds with what to do with the classical instruments on stage, and either cranked them up to painful levels, or drowned them out completely.

Add to this the increasing amount of people who figured out they were in the wrong place at the wrong time and started to fidget, chat and increase the rounds to the bar. This is of course not something a performer can do anything about- it can very well happen that a decent or even good gig is turned sour by the vandal brigade in the audience. It would perhaps be high time to advertise concerting responsibly alongside drinking responsibly- figure out what the heck you’re going to and make an educated decision. If, for any reason, the concert still does not prove up your alley, be graceful enough to allow others to enjoy it nevertheless.

Case in point- somewhere around the third song I felt that there was an error in the matrix. Songs which I often listen to, as statistically proven by Agnes Obel being ranked on last.fm as my 12th overall artist for the last year, simply seemed off. Lacklustre is one word for it, plus an eerie feeling that there is a discrepancy between how the song is supposed to sound, and how it actually turns out. Things were becoming curiouser and curiouser, as every now and then the instrumental sequences would sound nice and polished, especially so on Stone, which is one of my overall favourites and was probably the high point of the concert- actually, I would say it was the only time when expectation and reality fully met.

Delving deeper into what might have been the issue (yes, we are bordering on the metaphysical here), I concluded that it was the way the strings took over the songs- of course, I knew Obel’s music is not of the typical guitar and drum led variety, but on the record the intensity of the more classical strings and piano are kept in check, while live they became overwhelming- at the end of the evening I felt a level of tiredness and sonic saturation that I usually achieve around the end of a fifth concert on Sziget.

Should you think that this would discourage me from attending Agnes Obel concerts in the future- think again. Right now I am looking back on the experience as somewhat of an enigma box and while I might take a short break from listening to her albums, I’ll probably be back to my old ways pretty soon, and looking forward to the concert when things fall into place.

PS: I must mention the opening act this time as well, because I am teaching myself to take time and check them out, a lady going by the name of Musica Moralia. There seem to be great intentions there, and I wish to offend no one, but something tells me in her case things will simply never fall into place, at least not from my point of view. But perhaps it’s just my mind stuck in a box of what music should sound like. Thing is, I like it here.

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