AGNES OBEL in Manchester: Excellently sublime

Having been urged by many to go see Danish singer-songwriter AGNES OBEL live, I find myself at Manchester’s Royal Northern College of Music, a perfect venue for sinking into your chair and absorbing live music with minimal distraction.

Following her impressive Philharmonics debut, she’s been promoting her second and widely-acclaimed album Aventine, a project she’s said has been very personal to her – a record if you like of a period of her life when she felt things were falling apart. Accompanied as usual by phenomenally talented cellist Anne Müller and violinist Mika Posen (of Canada’s Timber Timbre), Obel has her grand piano at the ready and we’re all in for a treat tonight.

The simple standing lights dotted around the stage create an intimate and warm atmosphere. With hair up and looking serenely majestic at the keyboard, Obel brings us into her world, with beautiful sounds resounding around the room. The audience is in awe, acknowledged by the polite silence between tracks, bar impassioned applause. Understandably a little unnerved by the silence, Obel comments, “You’re a very unusual Manchester crowd. There are normally some hecklers out there…” She speaks too soon, as a fan screams out “AGNES!” after the next track and some wolf-whistles come her way.

Album title track Aventine is glorious, a reminder of how strong her second album is. We’re only halfway through the set and you can sense that nobody wants it to end. Introducing Wallflower, which she wrote at high school on a piano covered in graffiti, she humbly introduces it, saying, “It’s so old, it’s embarrassing…” A powerful, brooding track, this is certainly nothing to be remotely embarrassed about.

The sublime Riverside remains one of her most recognised tracks, and is wonderfully moody live. Words Are Dead she tells us is about love, and as she trails off in her introduction, we’re left with the impression that the memories that inspired the song are still more than a little raw. The set closes to The Curse, which is brilliantly performed with some handy looping, and was one of my favourites of the night. Bowing to the standing audience, the trio exit for a moment.

The encore sees Obel offering two songs after some shout-outs from the audience. Close Watch (John Cale cover) takes off but there’s a hitch, and Obel stops the song for a moment. “The magic foot!” she shouts across to cellist Müller who is fiddling around for a second to adjust. “You’re sacked!” shouts a fan to some giggles. Katie Cruel the traditional American folksong with Scottish roots follows, made most famous by Karen Dalton.

After a substantial set, the audience can now breathe as they make their way into the foyer to mob the merch stall which hosts the largest array of t-shirt designs I’ve seen in a while, and I’m satisfied to confirm for myself that Agnes Obel is indeed excellent live.