Let’s say you’ve been up since seven in the morning and it’s been a rough day. Maybe you drag yourself to the Mercury Lounge anyway even though you feel like the sum total of the day’s dents and scratches – or a lifetime’s worth of dents and scratches. A little after midnight, you leave the club flying, glad to be alive, cool night air filling your lungs. Completely pain-free, and you haven’t even had a drink. Things like this happen after you’ve just seen violinist Hannah Thiem play for an hour.
Thiem is all about transcendence. For someone whose music tends to be dark and inward-looking, she smiles a lot onstage: last night, it was obvious that she was having a lot of fun, notwithstanding the somber, bracing, often wounded poignancy of her songs. When she wasn’t pairing off with one of the cellists (Isabel Castellvi and Rubin Kodheli), elegantly exchanging riffs or intertwining snaky harmonies with violinist Emily Holden or drummer Konrad Meissner, Thiem closed her eyes and swayed, lost in the groove. She likes minor keys, Nordic and Middle Eastern melodies, especially with her dancefloor art-rock instrumental ensemble Copal. This was the album release show for her solo debut album, Brym, and she treated the audience to most of it.
Thiem mixed up the instrumentation depending on the song. She opened with a long, pensive solo improvisation against an ambient electronic backing track, then the two-cello string quartet with drums delivered what might have been the most exhilarating song of the night, Meissner driving it with his dramatic cymbal splashes before it wound down with a fluttery unease. Thiem’s choice of cellists made for all kinds of sonically luscious contrasts, Castellvi’s mysterious juxtaposition of pitchblende lows and keening harmonics against Kodheli’s slithery, sometimes assaultively percussive attack, which took centerstage on the night’s next-to-last epic. Thiem stuck for the most part with a biting midrange, more like a violist than a violinist, choosing her spots as her wary, windswept vistas unwound.
She played the album’s title track, a stark but sweeping arrangement of a Norwegian folk song, solo over a backing track with the song’s new video playing on a screen behind her. A little later, she opened another with a spiky pizzicato intro before Meissner brought in a swooshy shimmer of cymbals, and the cinematics began. They wound up the night with a moodily swaying Copal trip-hop groove, the most night’s Middle Eastern-tinged number.
And where is Thiem taking her show on the road this summer? To yoga centers. Consider: every musician wants a captive audience, right? And other than the supermarket or your local pizza place (which might be a little iffy, actually), where else can you find a captive audience? Thiem actually has a background teaching yoga, so the synergy makes even more sense. Considering how boomy the sonics are at your typical gym, she won’t even have to use an amp.