There are a few things you don’t expect to see at a Kings Of Convenience gig. In amongst ‘flame-throwing’, ‘stage-diving’ and ‘naked hoola-hooping’ in such a list would be the sight of Erlend Øye clambering about on the tops of the Barbican Hall’s seats.
At one point he starts dancing amongst the small throng of fans that have congregated at the front. It’s an amazing spectacle as gangly limbs flail uncontrollably around the mildly shocked audience members lucky enough to cut some rug with one half of Norway’s answer to Simon & Garfunkel.
But, we’re getting ahead of ourselves. For the first 45 minutes, Kings Of Convenience are exactly how you’d expect them to be. Dressed in autumnal colours, carrying an acoustic guitar each and occasionally settling down on stools, the duo look like Librarians, or organic coffee shop owners. Thankfully, they’re neither of these things, and set about playing their delicately beautiful acoustic folk songs, utilising deft harmonies and intricate guitar melodies to spellbinding effect.
The first five songs are all taken from their soon to be released third album, Declaration Of Dependence. Each one is typical Kings Of Convenience; fragile, hauntingly beautiful and almost vaporous in the way they drift out over the vast space above the seated crowd. In fact, as good as the songs are, it all feels slightly disjointed and oddly reserved, a fact the band notice almost immediately. Erik Glambek Bøe – the dry wit in relation to Øye’s exuberance – thinks he might know why when he realises the UK is the only country on their European tour that hasn’t heard the album yet.
So, it’s no surprise that the atmosphere changes as soon as the intro to I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From kicks in. Faster than the studio version, it becomes a kind of acoustic dance song, with the repetitive riff causing a mild outbreak of chair dancing. By this point the duo are more relaxed, sharing banter with the crowd, and during Singing Softy To Me a guitar-less Øye indulges in some play-acting, cupping his hands over his ears as he sings “I couldn’t hear you” and his eyes for “I couldn’t see you”. It’s goofy, endearing and perfect for keeping everyone’s attention in a vast hall that feels a little too big to house a gig this intimate.
Next on the agenda is a massive singalong during Know-How. Only problem is Øye isn’t happy with our efforts. So, the music is lowered, the lights go up and they make us repeat the lines “Oh, what is there to know? / Oh, this is what it is / Oh, you and me alone/ Sheer simplicity”. It’s a brilliant moment, our choir of voices reverberating around as Øye and Bøe beam smiles back at us. It’s the first song to receive a truly rapturous response and sets the tone for the rest of the night.
For the final handful of songs the duo are joined by a violinist and a double-bass player. New song Mrs Cold is augmented by a jaunty plucked violin riff, whilst the brilliant Misread sees Øye switch to piano. The lovely Boat Behind, also from the new album, is extended out into a six-minute epic, all sweeping strings and perfect harmonies. By this point parts of the audience have made their way to the front to join Øye in a spot of dancing during I’d Rather Dance With You, whilst the rest of us are on our feet. Things finally settle down during the second encore, the fragile Cayman Islands ending the night as it started.
As unexpected as the humour, singalongs, dancing and general bonhomie is, it never feels forced or cringeworthy. Though their songs are fragile tales of relationships on the brink, they’re delivered in a way that makes them strangely life affirming. As the audience files out, there’s a smile on every single face; that was surely the point.