Yann Tiersen played 2 nights @ Highline Ballroom (pics)
night 2 opener Breathe Owl Breathe @ Highline Ballroom
Yann Tiersen is on tour and headlined two shows at NYC’s Highline Ballroom over the weekend – February 18th was “unplugged with orchestra” and February 19th was just billed as “regular band.” Though we have pictures here from both nights, I was just there on the second…
Great Lake trio Breathe Owl Breathe wasted no time at the top of their opening set. Singer/guitarist Micah Middaugh offered a quick hello, and they launched into “Dog Walkers of the New Age” from their most recent album, Magic Central. Much of the crowd may have been unfamiliar with the music, but that didn’t seem to get Middaugh down – he smiled when people began to prematurely applaud during “Own Stunt,” and continued to sing.
Breathe Owl Breathe has a knack for melding lovely Bowerbirds-esque melodies with charming storytelling. Middaugh and singer/violinist Andréa Moreno-Beals often incorporated sound effects to make the subjects of their songs (say, a hang gliding expedition gone haywire or a swimming trip) more visceral. The light-hearted (but surprisingly poignant) song “Dragon” was particularly memorable. To get into character, Middaugh put on something resembling the head piece of a wet suit that obscured his hair and beard and gave him a more scaley appearance. “Now the dragon and the princess, they were pen pals,” Middaugh began by way of introducing the song. “But the princess had no idea the dragon was a dragon… because the dragon had really good penmanship… So the dragon and the princess, they’re in love, but it’s complicated times.” As he began to sing, Middaugh pantomimed the lyrics – jumping up and down and breathing fire when necessary, to the sheer delight of the crowd. Mid song, he and Moreno-Beals lead the crowd (or should I say “cave”) in a lively two-part clap-along. At the song’s conclusion, Middaugh tapped the mic. “That’s the sound of the dragon’s heart.”
Heart-meltingly cute antics aside (Middaugh could make a killing doing Raffi cover songs for kids), the band isn’t afraid to delve into more complex emotions. In the midst of “Dragon,” for instance, Moreno-Beals poses the open-ended question, “How do you stop loving someone?”
Breathe Owl Breathe concluded their set with a rousing number that required yet another prop – this time, a plush wolf hat, complete with a gaping mouth and teeth, which Moreno-Beals proudly wore. “This is a story about a werewolf,” Middaugh began. “Every time he gets excited, he starts to grow hair… but one day, he decides to shave to try to fit in, and his mom doesn’t know who he is because he’s all smooth now.” As Middaugh spun his forlorn tale, Morenos-Beals (playing the part of the wolf mother) leaned into the mic to bark and wail with mounting intensity as the song played out.
Yann Tiersen @ Highline Ballroom
By the time Yann Tiersen and his five-man band began to play, both the tables and the floor were packed. Though an orchestra certainly would have been a welcome addition, the performance was still cinematic in scope. (This is of course the man who scored Amelie we’re talking about.) Gentle instrumental interludes on mandolin or violin were suddenly punctuated with tempestuous bursts on percussion and guitar.
The music was the focal point of the evening and rightfully so. The renowned French composer didn’t interrupt the flow of the songs much to talk, and the lyrics (and enigmatic, propaganda-like voice overs) were sparse. Tiersen has a gift for blending his classical influences with more contemporary elements and effects. One song even featured a duet on the melodica.
With the lights streaming gracefully through the lightly fogged room, music pumping from all corners of the stage, and sudden switches in tempo and instrumentation, Tiersen’s performance was truly desiring of the (sadly over-used) word ‘epic.’ Midway through the set, the stage suddenly cleared out, leaving just Tiersen to show off his virtuosic skill on the violin. His frenzied playing sent both his hair and the broken strands of his bow flying.
After the full band returned to play another handful of songs, Tiersen abruptly announced the performance’s conclusion with a quick thanks, but luckily, the show wasn’t over yet. After a pregnant pause, the musicians returned, bearing drinks to conclude the evening with a much appreciated three-song encore.
Pictures from both NYC nights (with the first night’s setlist) continue below…
Breathe Owl Breathe