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Sondre Lerche

(16 Jun 2003: Bowery Ballroom — New York)

Sondre Lerche is a tease. He’ll pause dramatically in the midst of a song to give the audience a mischievous wink, inciting us to squeal with a mixture of agitation and glee. His facial expressions wax precociously between degrees of wide-eyed innocence, but he knows exactly what he’s doing. Lerche—songs, soul, and all—is wielding a big, fluttery feather, and we, his listeners, are being tickled pink.

Sondre Lerche’s music is effervescent. It fizzes with energy, crackles with warmth, sparks delight in whomever might hear it. The bubbles surge through us, all the way to our toes, and we dance. All of us. The couple beside me, archetypes of severe haircuts and no-pain, no-gain fashion, have caught the bug—he’s patting her rear playfully and tapping his pointy, probably never-been-tapped shoes; she’s snapping her French-manicured fingers and bopping her coif in time. Friends are arm-in-arm and revelling, like a campfire jamboree, like a choreographed prom scene in a movie. Or a family reunion, where he’s the jovial grandpap and we are giddy, impossibly elated progeny.

He’s packed us in. Lerche is just the opening act tonight, but this 19-year-old Norwegian has his own cult following—replete with hipsters forsaking their ironic cool, over 50-ers recapturing their fading youth, and curious non-believers who, slowly but surely, are overtaken by his spell. Did I mention he’s charming? Pleases and thank you fall from his lips, resulting in knee-jerk coos from the crowd, in unison. His English is good, but not perfect—which he reveals by calling his guitar “out-tuned,” and speaking in sentences a little too grammatical. He makes self-conscious, overt yet not repellant, commercial pleas: repeating the name of his 2002 debut album, Faces Down, making sure we know there’s a merchandise table, reminding us of his name, over and over. Sondre Lerche is a great salesman.

And this music should be advertisement enough. “You Know So Well”, the set opener, is a practiced, glossy pearl. His voice bounces and skips through notes, splashes around them like a baby in a kiddy pool. “No One’s Gonna Come”, multidimensional and peacefully fierce, explodes like a display of fireworks—colorful, loud, shimmery-pretty. The guitar—acoustic and whimsical - is a loyal sidekick, never failing its hero. For all his fey charm, Lerche is a monster when it comes to playing, buckling down to drill at the notes, the ease of his melodic lines unmasked by the devilish intricacies involved in executing them in real time. Pop and simplicity, too often synonyms, are shown to be distant cousins here; catchiness, it seems, does not require facility. Sondre Lerche brews a wickedly elaborate concoction that swallows like the sweetest pill.

This candied stuff is punctuated by theatre, which Lerche unleashes, relentlessly, until we are bashful, and bewildered, and overstuffed with the joy of him. A new song, featuring piano accompaniment by Ed Harcourt, ends in deafening applause. He tells the crowd he appreciates us and someone calls out, “no, we appreciate you!” He smiles, says he’s glad the feeling is mutual. By george, we’ve developed a relationship with this guy. Either that, or he’s a terrible flirt.

The set is short, too short—after all, he’s just the opener. There are more amusements to come later, and Lerche is humble: if this show is a feast, he’s the appetizer, not the main course. But the experience of devouring him does not satisfy us, it only makes us hungrier. He’s given us his all, and we still want more. Sondre Lerche is a tasty, tasty addiction.

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