Music review: Agnes Obel, Academy, Glasgow

The seeming simplicity of Agnes Obel’s Glasgow performance masked a highly sophisticated live set-up with a lot going on under the surface, writes Fiona Shepherd

Agnes Obel
Agnes Obel

Agnes Obel, Academy, Glasgow ****

Agnes Obel’s ethereal pop songs with neo-classical arrangements are a natural go-to for film, TV and video game music programmers and her immaculate, atmospheric sound has seeped into living rooms through use in shows such as Big Little Lies, Grey’s Anatomy and Vigil.

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Over four albums, the Danish songwriter, now based in Berlin, has progressed from Satie-influenced chamber pop minimalism to a more electronica-infused canvas.

For this Glasgow performance, she alternated between keyboard and piano, augmented by a band comprising a percussionist and two cellists covering everything from bass rhythm to pizzicato textures, deep sonorous notes, lead melodies and foreboding force. Between them the musicians also triggered samples, looped their playing and added soothing siren harmonies to Obel’s pure, hypnotic vocals which she occasionally pitch-shifted to create a more unsettling tone.

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Meanwhile, cameras set up around the stage and room captured images of the musicians refracted through rotating prisms to create a shimmering, kaleidoscopic haze on the big screen behind the band, alongside moody, grainy waveforms and multi-coloured geometric patterns.

The audience hung hushed on every note but the familiar Familiar and the gauche Riverside, dating from her more conventional singer-songwriter roots, were rapturously received. Obel felt the pressure of the warm response, highlighting the difficulty in setting the right rhythm for one song.

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It was a reminder that this organic sound enveloping the venue was a live recreation of beautifully balanced parts which would have been meticulously layered in the studio. Much like Obel’s music, the seeming simplicity of the delivery masked a highly sophisticated live set-up with a lot going on under the surface.