It’s not uncommon, in fact it’s becoming a standard career path, for established or successful (maybe even unsuccessful) rock artists to lend their hand to classical compositions by way of film score: Nick Cave, Warren Ellis (The Bad Seeds), Clint Mansell (PWEI), Jonny Greenwood (Radiohead) and Johnny Marr (The Smiths, Modest Mouse, The Cribs) to name but a recent few that have created some staggering soundscapes and mood-pieces. To go in reverse then, it’s altogether less common for a classical composer to write rock music. Can a film score musician write songs in a more traditional rock mould? Well yes it would seem – at least eight, and pretty great ones at that, as Yann Tiersen proved with his latest album, the sumptuous Red Dust. How a classical composer fares performing in a traditional rock setting, well that’s another matter.
First of all The Village is a very different venue for a man used to playing amphitheatres and concert halls. The stage will only hold so much meaning string sections and brass ensembles are replaced with samplers, synthesisers and pedals, lots of pedals (without any exaggeration there were at least 40, maybe even 50). Tiersen’s backing band are 4 strong; a drummer, guitarist, keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist/bass player – as conventional a rock band as any and exactly what Yann seems to be going for.
To further blow away any classical associations, rolling drums are ever present from the get go, the first of a few rudimentary rock traits Tiersen relies on. However it’s difficult to shake off these associations completely, particularly when Tiersen’s music is a series of repeating and expanding motifs (also wholly engrossing it must be added) but mostly because each musician seems to be playing autonomously, as if reading sheets. There’s no question of their excellent musicianship but their acknowledgment of each other was minimal, save some interactive looks shared by the rhythm section. Tiersen’s personal interaction with the audience was also minimal but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an engaging performance.
The building distorted guitar and reverbed keyboards on ‘Fuck Me’ were as gripping as it was lyrically direct. ‘Forgive Me’ used the quiet, loud, quiet, loud model of the late 80s / early 90s to great effect, ‘Dark Stuff’ was spacey and cinematic while ‘Dust Lane’ was pure post-rock, grandiose touching on turgid. Enthralling stuff, but due to each tune being so epic it was also a mite exhausting. There were reprieves though, in the form of the odd viola or guitar solo, but it was the marvellously ornate ‘Amy’ that found the perfect balance between bombastic and fanciful, and incidentally the one tune that remained closest to the recorded version.
Throughout Yann Tiersen’s musical greatness is clearly apparent, moving between percussive (keyboard, xylophone), strings (guitar, mandolin, viola) and wind (melodica, clarinet) instruments without a thought. Technical prowess aside, it would be true to say that many in attendance weren’t aware of Yann Tiersen’s rock yearnings and were coming expecting recitals from Goodbye, Lenin or Amelie – certainly the reaction to the final encore, a reconstructed piece from the latter OST would imply so – but that’s not to say they didn’t lap up his indulgence.