It was smiles all around at London’s Heaven. Not just from the tightly-packed crowd enjoying the final UK date of the Piramida tour from Danish band Efterklang, but from the band themselves – especially the avuncular lead singer Casper Clausen. Sporting a snazzy bow tie and dark blue suit jacket, the towering Clausen appeared a perfect cross between Doctor Who’s Matt Smith and a primary school teacher as he grinned, bobbed his head to the music, sipped his little drink and generally looked pleased about the proceedings. But then wouldn’t you be chuffed when your bandmates sounded this good?
On a night where their hotly-tipped 4AD labelmates Daughter were playing across town at the Shepherds Bush Empire, it was Efterklang’s chance to outshine them all with an intoxicating set of expansive, commanding and beguilingly dark pop drawn from their recent masterpiece of an album. Kicking things off with the Piramida’s opener Hollow Mountain, the six-strong band immediately fell in behind bass player Rasmus Stolberg’s muscular riffs as they developed a head of steam with a stately groove. “Do it, do it, do it… Come up so hard,” Casper implored the audience while their sparsely-lit stage glowed with activity as Martyn Heyne stroked his guitar with a drum stick and Mads Brauer got to grips with his mountain of electronic gadgets.
It was followed by I Was Playing Drums, its big melody vibrating the arches of the club as Tatu Rönkkö fittingly got busy behind his kit with a series of tasty fills. But the best was yet to come as the band effortlessly segued from an epic psychedelic romp of The Living Layer – complete with an attack of brainwracking strobes – to the pastoral pop majesty of Sedna. The bridge was an intense and fiery drum passage by Brauer, which somehow fused Clausen’s percussive assault on a section of expanding metal fencing procured from backstage. By this point, the group were in full flow, casually swapping instruments, vocal duties and even smiles as they threatened to turn the catacomb into a truly heavenly experience as Clausen diagnosed: “Your ways, tipping me over.”
And then they took a breath. It gave time for Clausen to show off some trinkets to the crowd he found on Brighton Beach as he handed them to the front row. In return, he asked for something to give the next crowd in Augsburg, Germany. He accepted a flat cap. Donning it, he smiled broadly again, and launched into the gentle Look Up. As the song was melting away, the electronic tinkling and gurgling of Between The Walls rose up with its funky tropical drums kicking in. This is the closest the band gets to sounding like one of their major influences – Arthur Russell – and it doesn’t disappoint in sounding both meditative and joyous. And its strange power was only enhanced by the lyrical detour Clausen made as he began to recite the Pixies’ lyric: “In heaven, everything is fine…”
In Heaven, everything certainly was fine. Clausen finally unbuttoned his blazer and introduced their final song of Over It, describing their journey under armed guard to a disused Russian coal mine in the Arctic Circle to capture some of the sounds heard on Piramida – including an abandoned grand piano. It makes sense in the bewitching context of the gig but would sound absurd just about anywhere else. And ultimately, that’s the power of the Danish musicians as they heighten their profound music to captivating levels of intensity.
But before the curfew forced them to abandon the stage, Clausen – now bedecked in a cream suit jacket with a red pocket square – led the band through a huge rendition of Black Summer featuring a tricky little break that saw the band pause, with the lights full on, motionless for a good 20 seconds before effortlessly resuming the tune. With time running out, Brauer squeezed in a fine lesson in power drumming on The Ghost which saw the band build up the raucous layers and let rip with some impassioned hollering.
This was a gig from a band operating at the height of their powers. Considering the Piramida tour has also spawned a live album with legendary drummer Budgie (of Siouxsie & The Banshees fame) and the Copenhagen Philharmonic, their Heaven date has capped an impressive year for the band. And that is clearly worth a smile or two.