[15 June 2010]
Touring on their newest full length album, 2009’s Declaration of Dependence, Kings of Convenience returned to Chicago after a long hiatus to fans who held baited breath. Especially during their main full length set when Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe played without the help of openers and backing band Franklin For Short. One didn’t dare breathe too loud to disturb the hush beauty of the acoustic songs. It wasn’t until about 90 minutes into the set when the band transformed the occasion from one of respectful silence to an all-out dance party, showing how versatile the band could be, particularly Øye.
In many ways, it seems fitting to think of indie folk duo Kings of Convenience as Norway’s modern answer to Simon and Garfunkel. Except, the lack of discrepancy in terms of vocal ranges keeps the pair from fulfilling this comparison completely. Both Øye and Bøe have a gentleness to their vocals but they stay within a soothing tenor most of the time, unlike Art Garfunkel’s tendency towards a higher falsetto, for example. Instead, their vocals seem more synchronized to create the effect of two rich and tender layers coming together. The dramatic tones in Kings of Convenience’s songs are usually a little more subtle and are weighted heavily within the lyrics and the way their guitars interact with the sensitivity and character that their own voices are so capable of. Øye also played piano for short stints, but insignificant compared to the amount of time spent on the guitar.
One thing common to both duos is their ability to captivate an audience with nostalgia from the very beginning. In many ways, it is almost as if the songs take on the notion of familiarity even when you put on a new album for the first time. It’s a unique quality for music to possess, and one that speaks to the human memory of chord progressions. Though none of their songs have managed to be mainstream hits in the United States, they have become anthemic to a cult following of devotees who can’t bare to listen to anything else after a long day.
Declaration of Dependence is a remarkable third album and one that is consistent with their earlier releases. Yet, the band embraced their back catalog as a whole and played their most well loved songs, despite how long ago they were initially composed. In some ways, it felt like they were delicately weaving together a near decade full of time and music. Of the new songs, “Me in You” and “Rule My World” were certainly a stand out. The crowd also loved singing along to the woahs in “Boat Behind”. Old favorites were far from ignored as songs like “I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From” appeared close to the beginning of the set, and “Cayman Islands”, “Singing Softly to Me”, and “Know-How” felt lush as ever. “Misread” was enchanting and “Homesick” was absolute perfection.
One would be remiss in failing to mention the sense of ease and comfort the band had with the audience as well, which was especially apparent during the banter between songs. It wasn’t just the sense of accomplished musicianship that made the night a success, but the band’s ability to be engaging when talking about songs and the tour. Though there were a few songs in the latter half where Franklin For Short joined them, it felt a great deal more special and intimate when it was just the two of them on stage. Perhaps the most insightful moment was when they answered an audience member’s question about why they sing in English instead of Norwegian. Bøe explained that although both of them are from Norway, they speak very different dialects and that it wouldn’t be possible to harmonize their voices while singing in Norwegian as it is to sing in English.
Surprisingly, the duo was able to transform their serious nature with a boisterous energy. “I’d Rather Dance With You” was the start of something exciting, when Øye really picked up the pace with his on-stage dancing. The ultimate moment, however, was when he joined the crowd during their triumphant cover of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al” and danced with several elated audience members. It’s always tremendously difficult to wait so many years for a band of Kings of Convenience’s caliber to return to one’s city. Hopefully, the pair won’t wait so long next time!