There has been an ongoing movement in NME magazine advocating the importance of independent venues to combat the rash of tiny bars with seven foot squared stages. Bands such as Mumford & Sons write blurbs tugging on the reader’s heartstrings with tales of how they got started at some pub with a cult like following – a pub that has recently closed down, and isn’t that sad? A theme present throughout this series is how these venues are important because they prepare bands for larger crowds and stages. NME and Mumford & Sons make a good point, you do have to learn how to crawl before you can learn how to run, and you’re not going to play Wembley Stadium before you garner a few million fans. However, this tact can obscure a much more salient point: small, independent venues can, and often do, provide amazing concert experiences that could never be duplicated in a setting with thousands of people. With that in mind, expectations were pretty high coming into the Variety Playhouse’s Sondre Lerche concert June 11.
Before the official start of the concert, an unannounced local band, a truncated version of Little Tybee began a set of their own. They have a great sound that could be described as a mix of 80s pop energy with the soulfulness of the mainstream revival of folk music but mostly should just be experienced.
Second and third in the line-up were side projects for various members of Sondre Lerche’s band. The first of which Kishi Bashi, keyboardist to Sondre Lerche, leapt onstage to slay us with a six song set. Using a layering pedal to record samples and play them back, he insisted after the concert that it was to approximate an analogous sound to his EP. To be perfectly honest though, he seemed to enjoy the challenge of creating a full band’s sound out of what he could create with his violin, vocalizing and his little electronic drum pads, and his occasional technical difficulties added a humanizing layer that made us all want to root for his success. And third was Nightlands. Their overall chill sound and vibe made for a great lead-in for the night’s main event, Sondre Lerche.
For those of you unfamiliar, Lerche is a Norwegian born singer and songwriter whose sixth and most recent album dropped just four days before his Atlanta concert. Previous credits include the music for the 2007 film Dan in Real Life.
From the beginning of his set, he brought an uncompromising energy to the stage, jumping around, using not totally correct English colloquialisms, and getting cheap, but not undeserved, applause by pointing out how sexy he and everyone else thought his amazing drummer was. Beginning his set with his first single Ricochet off of his newest, self-titled album and propping up the middle of his set with his enthusiasm and some of his most well-known songs, at no point was the audience’s enthusiasm flagging. He chatted with the crowd, and seemed to enjoy every second he spent making music and jokes. By far, though, the best part of the night was the last encore song, his most famous duet, Modern Nature. Lerche paired down the instrumentation, took it at a slower tempo, and somehow, without even mentioning his plans, guided the audience into singing the lady part as a group.
Looking back, it almost seems as if the concert was a mini festival, with each of the act bringing enough to the table that their sets could have been twice as long, and no one would have complained. As it was, however, the total time spent that night on music was close to, if not more than, four hours of gifted songwriting, passionate music making, and an intimate setting that allowed for an overall emotional connection between the artists and the crowd that felt like it went both ways.
And the real story here is not that these four acts are really great live, which they are, but that the Variety Playhouse time and again crafts gigs that keep Atlanta coming back for more. Do I imagine that Sondre Lerche and Co. would be worth a seventy dollar ticket at the “Buy-n-Large” Amphiteatre? Maybe. But their gig at the Variety Playhouse was worth much more.