Gig Review: Agnes Obel at the Barbican

Gig Review: Agnes Obel at the Barbican

So occasionally I take a step away from the thrilling throngs of reporting on entertainment media and pop culture (and I use ‘reporting’ in the loosest possible sense) to go see a gig.

Agnes Obel at The Barbican

{Above: This is Agnes live at Au Grand Rex, Paris}

Agnes Obel, best known for her appearances on soundtracks for the likes of Grey’s Anatomy and Revenge to extra-European markets, is considered one of the most exciting and respected new artists of the past ten years. Seeing her for the first time in the magnificent Barbican was a feast for the senses.

Support Act: Melanie de Biasio

melanie de biasio

I always feel a bit rough for the supporting act.

Belgian import Melanie de Biasio was probably the best fit for Obel at a supporting level she was going to find. She’s talented and lyrically mature enough to warrant her spot on the Barbican stage, and with an enchanting voice  – things seemed positive early in the set. But a few songs deep, her weaknesses begun to peak through a t0o-long set based on repetitive percussion for an audience keen to see the main event.

De Biasio can be best described as an older man’s Lana Del Ray with stronger lyrical chops, but suffering from the same problem in similarities of delivery and content. Huge growth potential is on the table from this talented artist, but whether she can seize her zeitgeist remains to be seen.

Agnes & Co.


When the lead act arrived on stage, she was received with an ovation worthy of a rock star.

Obel’s music grows and swells around the audience, ensnaring with a delicate yet haunting voice masked with a compliment of thumping strings. The lyrics are never heavy handed and the imagery never comes close to lazy metaphors. Everything is an unraveling series of layers, arranged with her band peers who are experts in the art of subtlety and restraint.

With a three-piece of cello, violin and piano, Obel and her band produced volume and intricacy you might expect from a band triple the size. Shy and softly spoken, she forewent canned stage banter to instead deliver music in heavy doses along with  German Anne Müller on Cello and Canadian Mika Posen on Violin.

At one stage Obel plays an ’embarrassing diary song from my high school time’ which sounds like a piece any classical or pop music performer would happily call their crowning glory. Such is the strength of the material in her set, where throughout the evening there was never a weak link, nor a boring moment. Unlike her supporting act – Obel has a recognizable sound, but songs that vary enough to keep the audience hooked.

Everything about the setting, lighting and presentation spoke of the same level of precision and restraint that goes into her music.

Most importantly, Obel delivered an absolute one two punch in the field of live vocals.  I entered the concert almost certain that some sort of digital effects must be at work to make her voice sound so  affecting and ethereal. Alas, aside from some basic echo and layering effects, her voice is essentially ‘as is’.

Cuts from her initial recording ‘Philharmonics’ are represented in the set, but given the ‘Aventine’ treatment, that is to say a darker, more textural sound than their initial incarnation. The presentation of songs is almost Einaudi-esque in Obel’s careful composition.

Many were visibly welling up throughout the near 90 minute set and her highlights included her most famous song ‘Riverside’ and the ground-shaking outro from ‘On Powdered Ground’ and the beautiful ‘Words are Dead’. The cello constantly tugging at heartstrings throughout, and the violin occasionally breaking into uplifting interludes.

Obel returned for an encore of course, with plenty on their feet as she walked off stage from the final bow.


The Barbican is a grandiose icon of London’s dedication to renovating ugly concrete mistakes of 70s and 80s architecture into vital, relevant art spaces inside. Where The Barbican fails in critics eyes is that it produces a relatively dry audio quality in it’s concert spaces, meaning sound is often not enjoying the reverberation it aims for.

No such problem afflicted Obel  who’s music often focused on three very distinct layers of sounds, which almost are designed to fizzle into the dark abyss around the performers. When an aching echo was required, the performers suitably produced it. Deep bass shook the hall to it’s core from the cello with the huge lights behind her flaring up on the number ‘On Powdered Ground’ to incredible effect and rapturous applause.

In Agnes Obel The Barbican probably hit the bullseye on the perfect kind of act this space should accommodate. More than a one woman show, but not large enough to encounter the orchestral sound problems that have been publicized, the beautiful hall is entrancing when light is projected against it’s layered acoustic walls – and this was one audience member who was entranced from start to finish.

Well Played, Ms. Obel.

Gig Review: Agnes Obel at the Barbican Deli Llama
Live Ability
Wine Tears

Summary: In all, one of the finest performances you'll find a concert hall worldwide. If Agnes Obel comes to town in the future, make sure you buy tickets now.



User Rating: 5 (1 votes)
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