Live review: Yann Tiersen at The Barbican, London, 7.5.

8.5/10

Playing the first of two nights at London's Barbican, Yann Tiersen gave the sold-out concert hall a performance of frenzy and intimacy.

More stripped back than his usual performances, composer and multi-instrumentalist Tiersen was the only person to appear on stage all night, and apart from a few “thank you”s, didn't interact with the audience verbally – the only vocals heard were of a female voice reciting poetry by Anjela Duval at the very beginning of the set and again at the end of the first half of the night. Nonetheless, each song was played with such closeness, emotional input and delicacy that they appeared to be much like musical poems in themselves: minimalistic and accessible with simple structures, the changes in dynamics ensured their novelty and intrigue as Tiersen delivered the songs with care.

The set was divided into two distinct sections, with the first half showcasing his upcoming album Eusa. Comprising pieces that have been inspired by specific locations on Ushant (Eusa), the island off the coast of Brittany where Tiersen lives, the album is set to be released in September. With an understated setup, there was nothing else on stage but Tiersen, his instruments and five small lanterns, as he performed piano songs with taped bird sounds and gentle ocean roars in the background.

The combination of these elements made the collection of songs seem like a study exploring the relationship between humanity and nature – where the natural ends and a separate human experience starts. Played with skill and emotion, the set seemed to overwhelm the audience into a state of amazement. As captivating as a film, even with such minimal visual elements, the atmosphere – complete with white noise coming from the reels of the tape recorder in the background – was calming and comforting. The sound of crashing waves created a settling ambience, as if to prepare the audience for whatever was to come.

What came next was still somehow unexpected, despite the trademark Yann Tiersen instruments: violin, piano and toy piano. Tiersen mastered the bare versions of some of his most loved tracks, such as 'La Valse des Monstres' (or 'The Waltz of the Monsters') and 'La Dispute', and it was their music box -like charm that made the greatest impact.

However, it wasn't just childlike sweetness, but there was also a sense of vigour and ferocity in the way he performed his set. Even this didn't divert from the intimacy though – in fact, with Tiersen dressed in casual jeans and a t-shirt, enjoying his beer straight from a bottle, sat on the floor playing two toy pianos, the atmosphere was so intimate across the entire audience of thousands, that it almost transported you from being in the role of a listener to the role of a pryer. There was a sense of privacy, as if you were looking into Tiersen's living room, making you wonder if this is something you are allowed to be part of.

It was impossible not to listen though: everything in Tiersen's set demanded to be heard, even if it was his violin pieces that got the wildest applause from the audience. The highlight came with the last song of the night, 'Sur le fil', which was played with such intensity and passion the crowds were left in complete awe. Yann Tiersen demonstrated that he truly masters his art, and delivered nothing less than a hypnotising show, completely deserving of the standing ovation he received from the satisfied audience.

 

Article image: Gaelle Evellin