With S. Casey
Presented by the Rhythm Foundation
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Better than: Just a Wednesday night soundtrack.
With his first three albums -- 1995's La Valse Des Monstres (The Monster's Waltz), 1996's Rue des Cascades (Road of Waterfalls), 1998's Le Phare (The Skyscraper) -- and the soundtrack for Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Amélie, Yann Tiersen cemented his status as a master of sweet, sad, and supremely lush orchestral songcraft.
If he'd wanted, Tiersen could've continued draining that same vein for years, tossing off film scores and studio collections for an audience of cinephiles, Francophiles, and sophisticates.
But recently, the 40 year old's decided to give himself a mid-career makeover. He's added electric guitar and a whole arsenal of synths to his once exclusively acoustic gear list. He's shifted his sound into a certain corner of the pop universe, swirling together strains of new wave and noisy indie rock. And he's joined the roster of Epitaph Records' sister label Anti-, releasing his first all-English album, 2010's Dust Lane.
His current U.S. tour is part of this makeover too. And last night's Miami show, like other recent stops in Los Angeles, Austin, and New Orleans, focused almost entirely on Tiersen's newest material. In fact, the setlists have remained pretty much identical from one city to the next, featuring every single track off Dust Lane, alongside a few deep cuts from earlier efforts like Le Phare, Amélie, and 2005's Les Retrouvailles.
At 10:03 p.m., dressed in a blue plaid shirt, black tee, and jeans, Tiersen was the last member of his six-piece band to shuffle out. He hung an electric guitar around his wiry torso while the rest of his crew took their places, cramming Grand Central's midsized stage with bodies and gear. The drummer settled behind his kit under a giant black-and-white Dust Lane banner. Off to the right, a guitarist slouched in a quiet corner beside his buddy manning a table piled with keyboards, synths, and other electronics. Meanwhile, the other flank was basically a mirror image with a bassist and a second electronics expert.
Opening with a twinkling, minute and a half guitar prelude, the sextet surged into "Count Down," a soaring, anthemic song that's become Tiersen's regular leadoff. With his guitar slung behind his back, he played a deep, dreamy violin part that served as the gravitational center for meditative beats, cinematic keys, and buried bass lines.
A couple of Dust Lane cuts came next. As a computerized voice ominously intoned things like "Too many people are talking," the band wound through the album's moody, mandolin-laced title track before bleeding into "Dark Stuff," a spooky soundscape that eventually erupts into a sort of clanging chug. And then, negotiating a series of carefully scripted segues, Tiersen and crew slipped from an electronica rock version of Les Retrouvailles' "Kala" to another two off Dust Lane, dreamy love song "Amy" and distorted ambient dirge "Till the End."
To mark the middle of the show, Tiersen played a reworked, retitled ("The Wire") version of "Sur Le Fil," a contentedly melancholy instrumental that appeared on both Le Phare and the Amélie soundtrack. Live, the piece became an intense violin solo. It was the one moment all night that sounded most like the Yann Tiersen that's etched into the average listener's mind -- minimal, intimate, hyperdramatic. And so it was no surprise when "The Wire" got the loudest cheer of the night.
Reaching into an even more remote part of his discography, Tiersen pulled out "Le Train," a non-album extra from Les Retrouvailles. It galloped, meditated, repeated, and then gave way to a set-ending threesome of last-half Dust Lane tracks: "Ashes," "Chapter Nineteen," and "Palestine."
The closer, "Fuck Me," came quietly. (The song is also the eighth and final cut on Tiersen's new record.) A natural nightcap with its synth-poppy balladeering, whispery vocals, and fresh-from-sex lyrics like "Fuck me, fuck me/Make me come again," it wasn't quite the same without the album version's male-female dynamic. Two mumbly men singing those words in unison was a little less wistful and charming. But still, it was a perfect, pretty, and simple goodnight.
Of course, it wasn't actually the end. As a standard rule, Tiersen comes equipped with a pre-plotted encore. And only a few minutes after leaving the stage at exactly 11:05 p.m., he and the band had picked up their instruments again and relaunched their set for a 20-minute prologue. There was his collaboration, "Best of Times," with Anti- label mate Sage Francis followed by Le Phare's "Quartier." And finally, Tiersen offered up something for every one of his fans, old and new: a completely re-orchestrated, shoegaze-y take on "La Valse d'Amélie" from that famously cute slice of French art cinema.
The Crowd: A mature, multilingual, spectacles- and sweater-sporting cohort, not unlike the population of the Miami Main Library's film studies section multiplied by 100.
Random Detail: In the 30-minute lull between the end of S. Carey's set and the moment Tiersen took the stage, several entirely independent groups of people amused themselves by watching unremarkable videos of their cats and dogs ... Repeatedly. People are strange.
Yann Tiersen's Setlist:
-"Till the End"
-"The Wire/Sur Le Fil"
-"Best of Times"
-"La Valse d'Amélie"