It’s a certain type of show that’s tailored to East London’s Cafe Oto, and a narrow wedge of the concert-going public that attends – indeed, half of the audience you suspect goes to the majority of the events held here, and rarely ventures beyond. But it’s a musical niche that certainly demands a home of its own, and German composer and multi-instrumentalist Nils Frahm represents that as well as anyone Oto will host all year.
It’s a sellout, yet there’s a deathly hush from a crowd so attentive it makes you scared to move; one suspects that the fizz-free wheat beer is also stocked by design for those very reasons. Remaining motionless and silent for over an hour in a packed venue with the doors closed ain’t easy, mind.
Frahm’s softly spoken and endearingly wry introduction suggests he’s less pompous than many of the rollneck/cravat-sporting ponces present – even the graffiti in the toilets is painfully self-aware and shamefully lacking in crudity – yet he’s instantly in the zone, transformed from the affable young man into an animated, fully-absorbed fruitcake.
His immediate peers in contemporary classical circles would be Dustin O’Halloran or Heinali, rather than the epic string-laden works of Max Richter or Johann Johannsson, but while they focus on sweeping orchestral compositions swathed in emotional extremes, Frahm’s output is altogether more sinister, more suited at times to horror movies than a moving Crimewatch montage with footage of an old lady prior to her tragic demise at the hands of a ne’er do well.
The tempo is therefore rather more varied, equally barely audible and frenetic at different times, and there’s even room for a track in the latter stages that veers towards Zombie Zombie-style prog, while another exhibits Krautrock leanings. Never less than compelling and captivating, it’s an unflinchingly terrific performance, displaying depth and detail that reflect his growing mastery of the art, and there’s no shortage of love for him in this room, evidently.
Perhaps the highlight, however, is the climax, whereby a doppelganger sneaks blindside onto the stage – we assume Nils is in on it, mind – and sets about the second keyboard, initiating a bout of duelling pianos which somehow complement one another perfectly, rather than sounding like a piano falling down a spiral staircase. And while it’s hard to think of another venue where you’ll exit alongside a bloke carefully clasping a handful of pressed leaves (we’re not making this shit up, seriously) Nils Frahm’s performance is deserving of the adulation and adoration that this audience affords him, no question.