Soap&Skin (18/03/2010, AB, Brussels)

It’s not often you leave a concert hall with the question: “Did I just watch a concert or an exorcism?” Still, one day later no newspaper felt the urge to print the headline “Labile girl exorcises herself on stage”, so let’s opt for ‘concert’ then. For now.

Soap&Skin is the stage name used by Anja Plaschg, an Austrian girl only two weeks away from her 20th birthday. Her track “Spiracle” made it all the way to n°3 in this site’s Top 99 of 2009 and her October concert was rescheduled – due to Anja’s illness – to March 18. Soap&Skin promised to make it up to us by bringing an ensemble. And she also arranged for support act Nils Frahm, a 25-year-old guy from Berlin who played a couple of instrumentals on his piano. It was like listening to soundtracks with your eyes open.

Unlike Soap&Skin then. Theatre was never far away, from the beginning (Anja’s ensemble walked on the dark stage carrying fleshlights, stopping near their instruments to shine the light in their face) to the murkiest songs of the concert. During “Spiracle” the stage was dark, but the lights shone on the public, allowing the band to see the audience for once. In the meantime, Soap&Skin performed “Spiracle” as if it was something that needed to be broken. If ever there was a haunted song, this live version must’ve been it. Soap&Skin hit the piano as if force would make a bad thing good, as if something evil was dwelling inside the piano or inside the performer.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom, some tracks were lighter too. Still, you’re bound to remember a Clint Mansell cover (Meltdown) if the stage is lit up all red and a singer starts walking around the stage before returning to the piano and – indeed – facing a meltdown. “Marche Funèbre” over, Soap&Skin ran off stage, her hands hiding her face. The ensemble was left on stage, accepted the applause and walked off as well. Then they returned, only as a set piece, because Soap&Skin re-appeared too, listened to the applause, nearly in tears and stammered: “It wasn’t very good. I hope you give me another chance.” Then she sang Sog Nit Keynol, a Yiddish partisan song, a-capella and hurried off the stage again.

After a concert that seemed like the bastard grandchild of Weill, Brecht and several expressionist movies, some wondered whether Soap&Skin had been sincere when asking for our forgiveness for a mediocre concert (though it seems she was the only one who found it mediocre) or whether it was all an act. Others suggested counselling. The truth will never be known. Whether is was an art piece in the shape of a concert (by the way, the Soap&Skin site has three art videos by Anja) or a homemade therapy sessions, most of the songs were very good. Though it wouldn’t hurt to bring some levity into 70 minutes of music if you don’t want to make it too heavy-hearted. And, because of Anja’s reluctance to accept applause, never before did applause sound so much as positive encouragement: “No, you’re wrong, it’s good. Do go on!”

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