History will be made, today is written boldly on his face

Benjamin Clementine – Konzerthaus, Dortmund; May 10th, 2019

I think it was 2017 when Benjamin Clementine played Iceland Airwaves. I had never heard of him before, but whatever songs I checked out made me curious enough to want to see him. Also L. recommend him. Sadly, I made the mistake of wanting to see The Anatomy of Frank first and by the time I got to the venue where Benjamin played it was already packed, so I did not get in. Forgot all about it until a few weeks ago when I discovered he was playing in Dortmund. Despite having no recollection of his music I decided to check him out. It turned out to be a great decision. I thoroughly enjoyed his concert.

It was a seated concert so I arrived late, but still early compared to everyone else. People were standing around sipping drinks in the foyer and the main doors were not even open yet. Soon I got to take my seat and while I waited I read the leaflet I had received at the door. So Benjamin Clementine usually plays alone and just has a piano, but this time he had brought a string ensemble. Strings? Always a good thing. I noticed that two of the players (stand up bass and violin) were named Guillaume and took that as another good sign. 🙂

As far as I know the concert wasn’t sold out, but it still surprised me how late much of the audience arrived. With concert halls like this one it often is a rule that they won’t let you in as soon as the performance has started. Not the case here as I learned when people continued to arrive well into the support act’s set. It was really distracting and kept me from fully enjoying Bevan Waller’s music. I liked the way he played, but his songs failed to grab me, even though I tried hard to concentrate. It wasn’t bad, but didn’t have any elements that struck me as special either. Nice music, fitting to introduce the main act, but nothing more. When it was over I really hoped I would actually like Benjamin Clementine.

Just before 9 the audience got restless and some were even clapping for the show to start. Just as I inwardly rolled my eyes and thought to myself “Like that’s gonna help…” the lights went down and the string players walked out. The moment they started playing I knew everything was going to be alright, because the music immediately drew me in. Soon Benjamin walked out and started singing. All I could think was “Wow! What a voice!” It was rich and beautiful. He kept walking around, close to the audience, only moving to the piano from time to time to strike a few keys. For a moment I regretted buying the cheap ticket, because I could not always see him.

With the second song he sat down at the piano though and I got a better view. Then I noticed he was barefoot. 🙂 For a while I got lost in the music, letting his voice carry me, not even really listening to the words just admiring how he went high and low, soft and loud. At times it was like chanting and I even closed my eyes, because it felt like a soothing lullaby. Some songs were rather long and at times the audience wasn’t sure when the were over yet, because some included breaks as well. Mostly we got it right though and clapped when it was over. 😉  The music was fascinating, I would not know how to categorize it and it doesn’t matter. The music spoke to me and carried me for a while. I remember ‘God save the Jungle’ ending in a part from ‘God save the queen’. 😀

Unexpectedly he stood up and motioned for us to sing along during ‘Condolence’. I was not prepared for this, much less did I know what words he wanted me to sing. “I send my condolences, I send my condolences to..” …what exactly? A few people reluctantly tried, but they didn’t seem to be sure either. He explained it then, but did so in German saying “Angst”, when he expected us to sing “fear”. I found it confusing rather than helpful. Still, eventually we caught on and everyone sang. It actually sounded very nice. However, I still could not figure out what we were supposed to sing the third time around. To insecurities? That is what most people sang anyway, some just shut up. It was kinda funny. Of course if I were actually a fan I would have probably known the song by heart. He asked only the women to sing, who did it softly, then the men, who did it loudly. He singled out someone who had sung quite high and asked him to stand up and sing alone. I felt sorry for the guy and was suddenly happy to sit so far back. He did alright though and got lots of cheers from us in return.

For most of the show I just admired Benjamin’s singing and the range of his voice. That alone would have captured me, but the music was also tearing at m heartstrings with all its beauty. Strings never fail me and his piano playing was gorgeous as well. I was in awe for most of the concert. From time to time he talked to us, saying a few words of introduction to the songs. At one point he asked if we were all from Dortmund and talked to someone from Colombia for a little bit. after ‘Gone’ he apologized for most of his songs being sad. I don’t mind at all, I love the melancholia and the dramatic parts too. it is difficult for me to describe the music, but every song was different and each of them managed to captivate me in one way or another. For ‘Adios’ we had another sing along going in the end with Benjamin going down from loud to a whisper and the audience following. There was something really powerful about it, making me feel connected to everyone else in the room.

We clapped and cheered for minutes while Benjamin introduced the string players: Barbara Le Liepvre (cello), Guillaume Roger (violin), Raphael Cooblin (violin), Julien Gaben (viola) and Guillaume Girma (bass). At that point he asked us to imagine they had all walked out and come back in so the next part was going to be the encore. 🙂 They played three more songs and during one of them he got up and kept walking around the string section in circled. It made me smile and I could not help but wonder if he had not done his 10000 steps for the day yet. 😉 In the end the ygot standing ovations and Benjamin received flowers that he passed onto his cellist. After they walked out, we would not stop clapping and cheering so Barbara and Benjamin came back one last time. They played ‘I won’t complain’ for us and it was glorious. A wonderful song to send us home with. 🙂

I loved the concert from beginning to end and I’m glad I went, even though I can’t quite put it all into words. It is the type of music I would most probably not listen to at home, but that works wonderfully when experienced live. I can’t categorize or even describe it well, but for 90 minutes it took me away from this world and that is all that matters. It was a concert well worth seeing.

Setlist

Winston Churchill’s Boy
God save the Jungle
Condolence
London
Cornerstone
Gone
Adios

The People and I
Phantom of Aleppoville
Farewell Sonata

I won’t complain

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