Live albums tend to be the preserve of the completist, or at the very least the more inquisitive fan. Occasionally, however, they retain a wider appeal as a document of a band at their ferocious best as is the case with The Who’s ‘Live at Leeds’. At other times, they can highlight details of a band’s work not seen through studio albums, as with Nirvana’s ‘MTV Unplugged’. Very few live albums succeed as a standalone piece, barely discernible in quality from the acts studio albums, though some like Talking Head’s ‘Stop Making Sense’ get close. Even fewer still manage to be the finest thing a band ever record, though the magnificent ‘Stupidity’ by Dr Feelgood is a notable exception.
With ‘Spaces’, which has been in the pipeline for two years, Nils Frahm succeeds in taking elements of each of the most important aspects of live albums, and combining them in a manner that not only captivates, but at times inspires awe.
Using a Juno synthesiser, Fender Rhodes electric and full-on Grand pianos, as well as tape delay and the natural acoustics of his surroundings, Frahm’s live sets are reasonably simple affairs. ‘Spaces’ takes an assortment of live recordings, some taken from reel-to-reel or cassette recordings, and arranges them into a work that feels both intimate and all encompassing. Frahm has referred to this as a ‘collage of field recordings rather than a live album’ and each track does have an aura of its own, marking it out from all the others in its subtleties. Indeed, in many ways this is a document of individual instances and the focus of tracks such as An Aborted Beginning and Improvisation for Piano, Laughs, Coughs and A Cell Phone attest to this in their capturing of unique moments of audience interaction that here become punctuation marks to the vagaries of the music. For-Peter-Toilet Brushes-More, the longest track here at 16 minutes in an album an hour and 15 long, captivates as much with the use of the pounding of a toilet brush on piano innards as with the unexpected roar of audience adulation at track end.
‘Spaces’ is an apt title for an album that takes Frahm’s already emotive and affecting music and places it in a context that, when taken together, is nothing short of breathtaking. Through its reverberations, ‘Spaces’ displays a prescient sense of nostalgia that transports the listener to places they have never been before. Whilst all live albums capture moments and act as time capsules, no other live album has captured the feeling of meditative harmony that comes with the uncanny quite like this.