Ólafur Arnalds Enchants the Town Hall, 20.03.19

“I saw the sun for the first time in a long time today,” Ólafur Arnalds tells the Town Hall audience. It may just be coincidence, but it’s no less fitting that a rare sunny day in the north of England coincides with the arrival of Arnalds’ “re:member” tour in Leeds: the sheer, unbridled beauty of the Icelandic musician’s work is equally uncommon and precious.

Supported by Lisa Morgenstern, whose haunting falsetto and intricate instrumental textures serve as the perfect warm-up, the Arnalds ensemble quietly but assuredly ease into a set consisting primarily of material from his most recent album, re:member. The tour has been on the road since last summer, and the practice afforded by this is evident: each musician on stage executes even the most complex and energetic tracks from the record with a stunning precision. But it’s the more subdued moments of Ólafur alone at the piano – ‘nyepi’, ‘saman’, and ‘Lag Fyrir Ömmu’ – which truly shine.

These moments are further enhanced by the superb lighting rig; minimalist though it may be, the setup is perfectly suited to the show’s mood and casts light on each of the musicians as they fall in and out of the performance. Beams of light illuminate the Town Hall in an almost ecclesiastical splendour in some moments, whilst in others a softer glow isolates the stage as if it were removed from space and time entirely.

Throughout the evening, Ólafur takes a moment after every few songs to tell his audience about the events that have shaped his writing: an extended period of writer’s block; the passing of his grandmother; experiencing the tranquility of New Year’s Day in Bali. It’s through these anecdotes that Arnalds not only introduces the audience to the larger concepts within his music, but also unwittingly stakes his claim as one of the most thoughtful and humble artists working today.

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