Seeing Yann Tiersen take to The Fonda Theatre stage on a Friday night is kind of a disorienting experience. After all, Tiersen is not really known as a performer or as a singer-songwriter, but more as a composer and arranger. Specifically, it is his work on films such as Amelie and Goodbye Lenin! for which he is most beloved, so to see him playing three- or four-minute songs with his band is kind of trippy. Nevertheless, Tiersen has a host of solo albums under his belt, the latest of which, ∞ (Infinity), was released this year, and so it was that we got to see the other side to the man’s prolific career.
The first thing to note about Tiersen as a performer is perhaps the most obvious: he is a virtuoso musician. Whether on piano, violin, synthesizer, or even flute at one point, he is a consummate professional whose diverse career makes sense in light of his talents. The songs he played with his multi-instrumental band were, almost inevitably, less interesting for the melodies themselves and more for the way in which Tiersen puts them together. His skills as an arranger are evident in these moments, as songs ebbed and flowed with a surprising economy or built to crescendos that had one reaching for that most obvious of adjectives: “cinematic.”
The other thing about Tiersen on stage is his lack of ego. For several of the songs, he drifted towards the back of the stage, a silent conductor allowing other members of his band to take the lead. He may well be the conductor behind this strange mix of short pop songs and elaborate instrumental pieces, but his insistence on giving equal time to his assembled group of musicians was to his credit and helped with the fluid and shape-shifting nature of the set. There is also the fact that a lot of the music Tiersen makes is very pretty indeed and a pleasure to indulge in, particularly in the quieter moments.
Unfortunately, it was during those quieter spots that the show’s greatest weakness came through, and this flaw had nothing to do with Tiersen or his musicians. The Friday night Fonda crowd was particularly distracting, and wherever we stood in the venue, my photographer and I seemed to have delicate moments of music drowned out by loud drunken conversation and our view partially blocked by what seemed like an incessant amount of filming on the assembled smart phones.
It ruined what should have been a really lovely show at a venue that is usually, in my experience, one of LA’s best for drawing a great audience. It also seemed like a woefully disrespectful way to treat a musician that does not come to these shores very often, especially in such an intimate environment. The musicians, and the show, deserved much better.
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