For the second time this year, I found myself at another seemingly spontaneous Michelberger Music event. First of which was at Funkhaus Studios for Michelberger’s anti-festival which was honestly something really special (read our review of the Michelberger Funkhaus Festival here). On Monday evening I insisted that my worn friend George, who was visiting from Manchester, (he also agreed to contribute with words throughout this article) should accompany me to see a free show in a hotel lobby.
I knew it was a must see
I have been following the career of Colin Stetson since his days with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver and since then been hugely eager to see him perform his solo repertoire. Even after watching more than several of his mind blowing performances through my laptop screen I knew it would never completely blow me away until I saw him in the flesh, without the pixelated barrier. And when I heard he was doing a free show just 10 minute walk from my Friedrichshain apartment, I knew it was a must see.
Khruangbin were due to start at 8, arrivals at 7. However, due to my knowledge of their increasing popularity I was naturally worried that the place would be filling up quickly on the back of their previous two acclaimed Berlin shows. First was opening for the effervescent Father John Misty and second was last weeks sold out headline show.
Obviously overly keen
So after a long Sternburg fuelled day I dragged George with me at 5.30pm, which was obviously overly keen. We were gifted with the best (and cosiest) seats in the house resulting in George having a sneaky nap only to be woken by Colin’s literally eye opening soundcheck. It definitely perked us both up and we were ready for first act.
Three piece Khruangbin were up first, who combine warm bassey funk with Zappa/Marr inspired surf guitar and classic hip hop breakbeat drumming. And it works. They brought (what I imagine is) California warmth to a bitter Berlin night. Their attire and personas added to their dreamy, Thai influenced style which bizarrely suited the surroundings.
Most of the tunes in the set came from their newest album; ‘The Universe Smiles Upon You’ with a few older songs such as ‘The Infamous Bill’ and ‘A Calf Born in Winter’. Also in the set was a cover of the Yellow Magic Orchestra’s ‘Firecracker’, much to George’s excitement. However, he was a little disappointed with the outcome saying “Its hard to pull off a cover of such a behemoth tune”. Both the band and the one hundred-ish strong audience danced and smiled throughout creating a (self proclaimed) ‘vibey’ atmosphere.
From what I gathered, most of the crowd were there as devoted fans of Khruangbin so at the end of their set it appeared as though they were finishing off their Pumpkin Craft beers to leave. But as soon as Colin started with his track ‘Among The Sef’ most of them stopped in their tracks to see what on earth was going on and how this man was making all of this noise.
Luckily George and I had been sat, for what seems a lifetime, analysing his two saxophones and vaguely worked out that each sax had 3 contact mics on the body picking up vibrations made by Colins fingers on the keys.
The amazing sound engineer then EQ’d each mic to make the percussive sounds sound more like an electronic drum kit. On top of this, around his neck Colin wore a ‘dog collar’ which sensed his throat vibrations allowing him to sing as well as play. It’s as confusing as it sounds.
The music he made sent you into a trance like state where you can’t help but sway along with him. Everybody was completely enthralled and impressed by his sheer stamina, circulating one breath for at least ten minutes at a time. I could tell it was physically draining as after each song he would catch his breath back and get as much blood as he could back into his fingers.
Prior to his final piece he promoted his new album ‘Sorrow’ which is a reimagining of Gorecki’s 3rd Symphony and informed the crowd that the final track might run over his allocated set time because he gets regularly lost in it.
It could have gone on longer and no one would have minded and the crowd showed that by giving Colin a solid two minute standing ovation.
Written by Mike Featherstone feat. George Garside