Norwegian singer-songwriter Sondre Lerche has been a musical chameleon throughout his career, going where his whims take him. Past dalliances have included rocking out, acoustic ballads, jazz quartets, and Brazilian Tropicália, but his latest album (his eighth proper studio album) Pleasure sees him wandering in the direction of the dance clubs, with synth sounds coming straight out of the 80s. The opening track to the album, “Soft Feelings,” begins with a driving synth that’s a direct homage to New Order’s “Bizarre Love Triangle,” setting the tone for Lerche’s most consistently upbeat (musically, if not lyrically) record yet.
The US tour for the album almost didn’t happen, as two members of Lerche’s band, keyboardist Alexander von Mehren and bassist Chris Holm, had their US work visas denied. Fortunately some last minute recruits – Alan Markley (who records as Plastic Cannons) and Jordan Brooks (of Brooklyn duo Ex-Poets and Albert Hammond Jr.’s band) – were able to step in, and along with long-time drummer Dave Heilman, Lerche was able to hit road including a stop in DC at U Street Music Hall.
Lerche opened the set with “Soft Feelings,” leaving the guitar behind to dance around the stage, microphone in hand. Lerche then looked back in his catalog, to 2014’s Please for “Legends” and 2007’s Phantom Punch for the album’s title track, before returning to the new album with “I Know Something That’s Gonna Break Your Heart.” “Minor Detail,” one of his jazz quartet songs off of 2006’s Duper Sessions, received a new arrangement to fit the current instrumental line-up, and the band left the stage briefly for Lerche to play a solo guitar rendition of the normally synth-heavy “I’m Always Watching You.” Lerche and his band played two more new tracks, “Reminisce” and “Violent Game,” but spent much of the rest of the set dipping into the back catalog with the title tracks from 2004’s Two Way Monologue and 2015’s Despite the Night EP, along with “Sentimentalist” and “Bad Law” from Please. For the latter, Lerche jumped down into the audience and ran around dancing with various audience members, creating an impromptu dance party as the band played an extended instrumental break. The band returned to the stage for a single encore song, “Private Caller” from Lerche’s self-titled 2011 album.
The show was opened by Dedekind Cut, the instrumental solo project of Brooklyn experimental artist, producer, and DJ Fred Warmsley. With a sound that touched on dark ambient, industrial, and electronica, he was an odd opening choice for the much more conventional pop music of Lerche, but he created an intense set of soundscapes that won many in the audience over.