Live Review: Kings Of Convenience, Magic Steven, Banjo Lucia @ Forum Melbourne

23 February 2024 | 3:19 pm | Andy Hazel

The duo's delicately plucked guitars blend together so mellifluously that it makes you wonder whether the contribution of electricity to popular music might have been overrated.

Kings Of Convenience

Kings Of Convenience (Source: Supplied)

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"I am wearing a boob tube and... fuck. I mean, I have never worn one before, and it is freezing up here." Fremantle singer-songwriter and pianist Banjo Lucia laughs and takes a sip from a sippy cup that, like her clothing, also becomes the subject of extremely personable chit-chat. Lucia has been steadily building a career as a sassy and insightful performer who, much like an ocker Joanna Newsom or Fiona Apple, has a penchant for songs that have few chords, a lot of lyrics and fluid vocal melodies. What really stands out from her brief set is her personality.

“I had to walk in the rain before, and I have bangs, so you can imagine how traumatising that was,” she deadpans before breaking into a smile. "Anyway, this next song is a cover of a song by Cher. It's a very obscure, low-key track you've probably never heard before uhh... it's called Believe." There is a talent and a personality here that could fuel a record label for years. It’s an odd thing to write about a singer-songwriter who writes such deeply personal songs, but Lucia is so funny and engaging and such brilliant company that you wish she would put more of herself into the songs or, at the very least, announce a stand-up show. 

Unusually, tonight's second support act, Magic Steven, is not a musician. Steven, a middle-aged man in a cap pulled down over his handsome face, reads to us from a notebook. Over the course of the next 25 minutes, we are told detailed and compelling descriptions of a personal search for meaning in day-to-day life.

Beginning with a forensic linguistic analysis of bookmarks, Steven progresses to reading a book about creativity that inspires him to "look for clues". Tricking his body into changing his mind's relationship with caffeine, his darkly comic journey gradually becomes more focused and curiously profound. However, a reading this drily humorous and well-constructed rewards attention, and few in the room have the patience for Steven's odd mix of philosophy and humour.

He loses the crowd, yet this only gives his performance more meaning. That he is reading a story about paying closer attention to the world around him as the world goes on without him adds a layer of pathos. By the time he is describing the surprisingly profound impact of the abysmally reviewed Christmas film Holly And The Hot Chocolate, he shares its message, "When something out of the ordinary happens, you should pay attention,” something out of the ordinary is happening. That almost no one seems to be paying attention is oddly perfect. Magic Steven is an inspired choice for an opening act. Seek him out.

By the time Kings Of Convenience arrive, the Forum is full of chattering couples and groups of friends who are rapidly turned into excited versions of their younger selves as the duo of Erlend Øye and Eirik Glambek Bøe wait for the cheering to die down before speaking. 

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"Hello, we are Kings Of Convenience," says Bøe with his appealingly strong Norwegian accent. Opening with a stunning version of Comb My Hair, the duo's delicately plucked guitars – one nylon string, the other steel string – blend together so mellifluously that it makes you wonder whether the contribution of electricity to popular music might have been overrated.

The voices of the two men and their close harmony style of singing is breathtakingly simple and effective. The following songs, their 2021 single Rocky Trail and an immaculately succinct version of one of their best-known songs, Cayman Islands, follow.

While their music is so gentle and intimate, it is essentially a cashmere cardigan rendered as a series of three-minute acoustic ballads, Kings Of Convenience are eager to let us know their shows are not a place for maudlin introspection. "Can you snap your fingers?" asks Erlend Øye. We snap our fingers. “Yes, you can,” he nods. As we follow the rhythm of his nod, our clicking becomes an introduction to their song, Angel.

Once the belletristic chime of his melodic refrain dies down and our cheering fades, Bøe gives us some history behind their next song. “We come from the city of Bergen, Norway," he says, "When you grow up there, you feel like there is not very much going on. Or you feel there is something going on, but it’s elsewhere." The song inspired by the first book to take place in Bergen, Agnar Mykle's The Song Of The Red Ruby, is the stunning Love Is A Lonely Thing.

Catholic Country and Homesick follow all impeccably written paeans to quiet living and huge emotions that grow exponentially with entwining guitar parts and Simon & Garfunkel harmonies that are so beautifully arranged that they sound so simple you know they must have been hewn with great care. For their song Know-how, the women of the audience take the part recorded by Feist, with the men joining later to create a surprisingly impactful choir. 

Throughout the concert, Øye and Bøe have shared the stage with a bass amplifier and drum kit. Finally, they are employed by what the duo refers to as their "Mexican backing band". Øye introduced the members, but his accent was so strong and their names so Mexican that I hesitate to transcribe them. Regardless, once their skills are employed, we are dancing.

Again, the simplicity and care of the arrangements of these songs feels almost miraculous. Who knew you needed so few sounds to make a song this full? Fever, Boat Behind, Rule My World, and I'd Rather Dance With You seem to invent a new genre. "Acoustic disco" sounds awful, but Kings Of Convenience manage to make two acoustic guitars, bass and drums sound as epic as anything Giorgio Moroder cooked up.

As soon as they leave, we decide we would like much more of this, so cheer them back. Øye and Bøe return for a hushed encore of 24-25, and the full band join them for a finale of Scars On Land, the closing song from their 2012 album Declaration Of Dependence. For a band who manage to somehow sound better with age, it's a safe bet no one filing out of the Forum tonight wants to wait another 11 years for a show like this.