It’s 19:15 on the 5th of March, and I find myself shivering from the cold, starring at the big blue wooden doors of St George’s Church in Kemptown. The church should’ve opened its doors to greet us 15 minutes ago, but the sound check is running a bit late. Melting Vinyl, the concert organisers, reassure us on the Facebook event: “(…) it will be worth it”.
A Winged Victory For The Sullen (AWVFTS), a duo compromising of Dustin O’Halloran and Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie, are pioneers in a genre dubbed ‘ambient-neoclassical’. Their 2011 self-titled debut album was an impressive feat, quickly gaining them well-deserved praise. After several years of releasing miscellaneous works, including a commissioned score for a dance piece (Atomos (2014)), Wiltzie’s score for the documentary Salero (2016), and O’Halloran many movie scores (Breathe In (2013), Lion (2016), The Hate U Give (2018)), AWVFTS are back with a new album, The Undivided Five (2019). Having been provided an early access link to listen to the album pre-release, I was eager to discover their live renditions.
The opening act, Daniel Wohl, was a surprisingly positive addition to the bill. Alone at the grand piano, and accompanied by his backing tracks, he demonstrated his ability to blend genres by mixing acoustic instruments with electronic soundscapes. My excitement for the main act tends to decrease my patience for the opening acts, but checking my watch after what felt like under 10 minutes since he’d taken the stage, I was genuinely shocked to see that he’d been performing for almost half an hour! This may seem like a trivial anecdote to you, but being Swiss, I take my timekeeping very seriously. This lapse of time might be explained by Wohl’s uninterrupted flow, transitioning through his set as smoothly as his sound.
After a short interval, the lights went out and we cheered as AWVFTS made their way to their instruments. Their live set up consisted of three string players, two horn players, a synthist, as well as O’Halloran alternating between keyboards and the grand piano, and Wiltzie between guitars and keyboards. Similar to Wohl’s set, AWVFTS transitioned through their repertoire without any breaks, resulting in the audience’s first clapping opportunity just shy of hitting the hour mark. After catching up on the missed clapping, Wiltzie took hold of a microphone to address the audience. The church, with its narrow design, made this entire experience feel very intimate (sitting at the front row probably accentuated the feeling). He explained it had been a very long day, last night they were performing in Belfast and that tonight is their penultimate gig of the UK leg of the tour. After this, they’re headed to the US for a string of performances.
After this little aparté, the band went on to play for another half hour or so, once again with no breaks between the songs. For only the second time of the evening, the audience erupted into applause, and eventually shifted to a standing ovation. I turned around to see the entire audience, spread out on the ground floor and arched above us on the balcony, with smiles on their faces and I took a moment to appreciate this special moment of harmony. St George’s walls offered protection as A Winged Victory For The Sullen cradled us, escaping our daily turmoils for the evening.