Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark

LIVE REVIEW: serpentwithfeet, Lille Vega, 11.11.2018

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serpentwithfeet live at Lille Vega Copenhagen

Anyone who has spent time with serpentwithfeet’s album soil would not go to his concert at Lille Vega expecting to laugh, but there was an abundance of laughter throughout the performance, even amidst his self-declared grief songs.

In his live performance, Josiah Wise, the man behind serpentwithfeet, emerges as a story teller and raconteur, not just in his elastic facial expressions but in his ad libs (both subtle and not at all subtle). His performance is a mix of him hitting play on his laptop and singing along to a backing track and quiet moments behind his keyboard. It’s the latter of the two that feels most special, when all of the production has been stripped away and his restraint comes through. Even as he skips along the entirety of his tremendous vocal range, he refrains from blasting the audience away with volume. We know he can do it — he does during the songs with a backing track — but instead he gives us softness and intimacy.

It’s also these quiet portions for the set that have the most of Wise’s unexpected humor. “fragrance” is reframed as a support group of ex-boyfriends and “wrong tree” somehow spins off into him backing up his point that it’s difficult to listen the first time by asking any teachers in the audience to confirm this all while singing in his operatic range (he also takes the opportunity to affirm that, despite coming on stage in a backpack, he’s not going camping).

This light and disarmingly beautiful absurdity makes it possible for Wise to pull off a foot-stomping call and response. Riffing on “whisper,” he implores the audience to repeat “not all breaking here” back to him, loud enough for your boo in another country or your favorite aunt that you get drinks with who freezes up on certain topics to hear.

It’s a brief 45 minutes later that the set winds up and sends us heading home before 22:00 on a school night. It’s an abrupt on-with-the-lights-don’t-even-think-of-asking-for-an-encore. It’s an encore we would have asked for. And it leaves us wanting so much more, and imagining all the directions this show could possibly go in.

LIVE REVIEW: Courtney Barnett, Store Vega, 04.11.2018

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courtney barnett live at store vega copenhagen

It’s incredible that Courtney Barnett hasn’t played in Copenhagen before. With her songs a staple of P6 over the last few years, her set at Store Vega is over due. The room is packed and getting impatient by the time the lights go out in the main space.

Barnett builds the mood by coming out to a dimly lit stage strung with fairy lights and opens with “Hopefulness.” She powers through her set from there, scarcely pausing to catch her breath. You can’t fault her for energy, the endless tumbling stream of witticisms that she somehow never trips over, the swaying, stumbling way she plays her guitar when she’s not singing.

It seems unfair in that light that Barnett’s music is often branded as slacker rock, but having fleshed out her band to a four-piece again does something to refute that. The addition of Katie Harkin (previously of Sky Larkin and Barnett’s live band with Kurt Vile) on keyboards and second guitar is not just integral to playing the new songs but brings a different perspective to the older ones. Barnett cedes control of “Elevator Operator” to keys for the intro and gives the song a very different flavor.

Barnett is very selective about the songs she plays; older songs like “Avant Gardener” and “Lance Jr.” make the cut whereas single “No One Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party” is skipped in lieu of covers. The covers she chooses, however, feel notable as unique pieces of her set rather than just novelties. Opener Laura Jean comes out with her saxophone to help out with the Go-Betweens’ “Streets of Your Town,” and Barnett is solo for Gillian Welch’s “Everything is Free” (which fits lyrically very nicely beside her songs “Are You Looking After Yourself” and the strange sing-along “Depreston”).

“Anyone make a new friend tonight?” she asks towards then end of the evening. “Person next to you? No? Doesn’t always happen.”

If she wanted to spend more time in Northern Europe to learn about the personality quirks that stop people from talking to the person next to them, I’m sure the audience would turn out every time for her experiment.

LIVE REVIEW: Gaye Su Akyol, Alice, 02.11.2018

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After the opening salvo from her masked backing band, Gaye Su Akyol arrives on stage in an iridescent cape and a mission: “We have come from Istanbul to bring you peace, love and rock and roll!” A bold statement, but amply backed up by the mix of surf, garage punk and Turkish psychedelia that they produce. The first track from her latest album, both titled İstikrarlı Hayal Hakikattir, starts with a 50s horror themed synth riff, before deploying the signature guitar sound: a mix of Dick Dale and traditional Turkish bağlama, punching straight through each song.

Of course Gaye Su Akyol herself commands most of the attention, with the psychedelic theatrics that recall her earlier career as a painter, and of course her gravelly voice, equally sultry and defiant. The venue is packed out and the bilingual stage patter gets whoops of approval as Gaye introduces both her own songs and cover versions of Turkish hits from the 70s.

Beyond the capes, masks and fun, there is also a strong political element to Gaye Su Akyol, who talks about having to pay a visit to a police station because of one of her songs. In recent years classic Turkish psychedelic rock has begun to become more widely known in the world, thanks to its commanding combination of funk and hard rock infused rhythms with woozy synths and vocal melodrama, but tonight Gaye underlines the political and social context of these, drawing evident parallels with the present.

Its especially helpful to learn some of the context of her work, as otherwise the rather bewitching nature of this music can quickly have you imagining some abstract version of Turkey in which Anatolian shepherds have been playing Black Sabbath and Parliament Funkadelic on their saz since the stone age. It’s a fun thought, but it doesn’t do justice to the richness of the musical and cultural traditions from which Gaye Su Akyol draws her material.

Photos by Victor Yakimov

LIVE REVIEW: Neko Case, Bremen Teatre, 30.10.2018

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Neko Case

“My hair looks like shit today,” says Neko Case as she takes the stage at Bremen Teatre, “but I’m still going to play this show anyway.” It’s the sort of blunt determination you’d expect from a person promoting an album called Hell-On. Or someone who is coming up on 25 years in the music industry. Or maybe just someone certain enough in her ability to deliver that she can make demands of the audience to forget the photos and be present for an evening.

Neko Case is a presence, and what immediately stands out about her performance is the density of the sound. Nearly every song features three or four guitars and Case with two or three backing vocalists echoing her. This goes beyond being faithful to her albums and creates a richness that fills the entirety of the theatre. It can sometimes bury how powerful Case’s voice is, but her vocals come through full force when unleashed for “Maybe Sparrow” and after a slow build on “Halls of Sarah.” It’s to greater effect that her vocals are usually measured and she chooses to unleash them at particular moments. 

This density of sound also highlights just how talented her band is. The harmonies don’t blend so much as ricochet off of each other in a hall of mirrors effect. Of the seven people on the stage, only the drummer and bassist play the same instrument throughout the set, and it’s nothing short of impressive that the band is so tight with that many moving parts (related: credit due also to Case’s very hard working guitar tech). Being so well rehearsed, it perhaps isn’t much of a surprise that there is a real sense of camaraderie among band, who trade barbs ranging from joking about who’s getting fired that night to the drummer somehow being bullied into break dancing before beginning the encore.

Case herself is warm and primarily self-deprecating when she talks to the audience. It works, though, because her jokes are just silly enough that they’re always funny instead of uncomfortable. “After that good time,” she says when it’s been revealed that her drummer is quite adept at The Worm, “we’re going to bring you down with this bummer of a song.” That bummer is the title track of the new album. No one in the audience seems like they’ve been let down.

LIVE REVIEW: Grouper + Coby Sey, Alice, 24.10.2018

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Liz Harris, known to most as Grouper, inhabits a ghostly world somewhere between ambient and 4AD-influenced dream pop. With ten albums to her name and collaborations with everyone from Xiu Xiu, Lawrence English and the Bug, it is not so surprising that, for all her music’s understatement, it is able to command enough of a crowd for two back-to-back shows at Alice.

This is also partly due to the fact that the concert is a seated one, where the audience can lean back, eyes closed, letting the reverb wash over them. The evening is opened by Londoner Coby Sey, a shadowy producer in the vein of Dean Blunt, mixing noise, ambient and hiphop. He first came to my attention thanks to his entry in the Whities series, a minimalistic set of tracks full of references to London public transport. “All Change” tonight has a more confrontational air, underlined by the noisy end to his hour long set.

With eyes closed its easy to fall into the hypnotic spell of Grouper, but it is worth from time to time to observe her setup, surrounded as she is by a myriad of effects, samplers, guitar and piano. Her signature sound tends to fade the distinctions between these instruments. What does stand out is her ability to mix together plaintive choral chants from a sampler into her live playing, producing some spine-tingling moments.

In the wash of it all it can be hard to pick out specific tracks, although “Alien Observer” must by now be counted as an incredibly dreamy banger, with an incredibly simple but unforgettable cascading piano line.

LIVE REVIEW: The Coathangers, Stengade, 25.10.2018

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The Coathangers live at Stengade, Copenhagen

A good punk show is always just a little bit shambolic, and what makes Atlanta punk trio the Coathangers great performers is how neatly they work just the right amount of chaos into their set. There’s a damaged high hat and cymbal that gets intentionally knocked over mid song and a guitar strap that just gives out while Julia Kugel sings on with determination.

But the Coathangers have more than a decade under the belts of their coordinating, customized jumpsuits, and it shows. Because even though their set is a non-stop onslaught of garagy crunch, there is a subtle pacing to it all. It’s in the balance between the songs that Kugel sings lead on and what drummer Stephanie Luke sings — that is to say, between Kugel’s pliable yops, squeaks, and whispers, and Luke’s raspy growl.

Holding everything together in her own quiet way is bassist Meredith Franco, who sticks to a quiet corner of the stage, offering occasional backing vocals to her bandmates’ wails, shrieks, and head bangs.

To underscore the pacing of the chaos, the last few songs of the set mix things up with Franco and Kugel taking turns on drums and Luke trying out guitar and just being a vocalist. Things quickly get messy, with everyone falling all over each other, grabbing each other, and Franco getting lifted off her feet and twirled around as the trio collapse to the stage in a fit of laughter.

“Rock and roll is just for fun,” says Luke. “For 45 minutes we can forget about how shitty everything is.”

And we did.

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

LIVE REVIEW: David Eugene Edwards & Alexander Hacke, Bremen Teater, 24.10.2018

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Hacke-eugene-edwards

It is a quiet Wednesday evening in Copenhagen, but most people that has showed up for tonights venue at Bremen Teater seems to know that soon this venue will be anything but quiet. Much can be said about the difference in background and musical style of the two musical characters who are about to show, but they do have one thing in common: They play insistently, consistently and uncompromisingly loud and has done so for decades!

A bell rings, telling the audience that the show is about to begin and the audience, mainly consisting of people halfway through life, calmly get seated in the comfortable cinema chairs while a drone-like suspense music is playing. The two performers of the evening enters the stage. David Eugene Edwards dressed in his habitual western outfit while Alexander Hacke has chosen to wear a black hat, motorcycle jacket, shining red shirt and platform Doc Martens shoes. Both wearing shades of a considerable size.

Although Alexander Hacke, bass player, composer and leading member of legendary Einstürzende Neubauten is long established as one of the grand old men of loud intellectual noise, it is David Eugene Edwards, the preaching frontman of Sixteen Horsepower, who is given the primary focus this evening. Chanting, singing, shouting and gesturing through his mythical and shamanistic verses and rituals while leaving Hacke hoveringer over his chaos pad and midi controlled noise.

The collaboration with Hacke is a refreshing new approach to the intense world of pain, religion, faith and salvation that David Eugene Edwards is known to present on his vintage instruments without the slightest touch of irony.

At this night it almost seemed as if the duo introduced a bit of humor. Hacke’s outfit and operation of his electronic devices made him look like a strange mix of a German techno DJ and an old grumpy guy from The Muppet Show. David Eugene Edwards was clogging while playing and for a few seconds almost moon walking sideways towards Hacke, while also Hacke at the very end of the show was lifting his face towards the audience, presenting a few physical moves that resembled a sort of dance.

Edwards has used plenty of effects and samples in both Sixteen Horsepower and in Wovenhand, but the addition of Hacke’s analogue harsh synth sounds and techno beats was somewhat unexpected. Many before has combined spiritual and native music with modern electronic beats and sounds, Eno and Byrne’s ’My Life In The Bush of Ghosts’ from the same year as Hacke’s very first appearance with Einstürzende Neubauten comes to mind. But it is rare to experience this done with an intensity and feeling of authenticity such as in the hands of Edwards and Hacke.

Text: Ronald Laurits Jensen. Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh

 

 

LIVE REVIEW: The Necks, Christians Kirke (Alice), 19.10.18

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Photos by Victor Yakimov

Thirty years of playing together and 16 albums to their name, there are a few things you can comfortably expect from the Necks: each of their records will drastically differ from the previous one, they will elicit both fanatical devotion and uncomprehending boredom, and their live sets will always be magical. The Australian three-piece–consisting of Chris Abrahams (piano), Lloyd Swanton (double bass) and Tony Buck (drums)–on paper sounds like fairly traditional jazz trio, but they are further from this than any newcomer could imagine. Instead of solos, complicated time signatures or key changes, we have slowly developing repetitions that build on each other, closer to ambient or contemporary classical than to Coltrane.

After seeing the Necks play in the intimate Brorsons Kirke last year, Christians Kirke offers a markedly more theatrical setting, with its marble altarpiece, glass chandeliers and wooden galleries trimmed in gold.  The large bass amp sits immediately in front of the altar, but the spectacular quality of the setting belies the slow revelatory patience of the band. As Swanton tunes his bass the other two sit calmly in front of their instruments, eyes closed, waiting to find out who will make the first move tonight.

Once you know to expect it, the beginning and end of the Necks’ sets (they usually do two of around 45 minutes each, with an interval) become incredibly charged moments, and tonight it is Abrahams who stirs first, with some simple, searching piano chords. Swanton picks it up and distills this into a simple two chord repetition, a quiet but insistent hi hat dropping in from Buck.

The hypnotism that emerges from this makes the Necks a hard band to write about, the feeling lingers but the details are hard to pick out. This in fact is a quality that can emerge in the very moment of listening to them, and can in fact produce the opposite, sonic mirages. There are many times when, in the speed and intricacy of the piano arpeggios, I start to hear a single repeated note that sounds at first like the bass, only to see that Swanton is playing something completely different, or find myself hearing completely different instruments, saxophones or violins.

On this night the biggest surprise of that nature is produced by Buck, at the end of their second set. Just as the piano and bass begin to simmer down to a single repeated note, an astounding, monstrous chords emerges out of nothing: a small cymbal being dragged against the skin of the floor tom.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Spain, Loppen, 07.10.2018

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Josh Haden and Petra Handen playing live with Spain at Loppen, Copenhagen

It doesn’t seem to be the usual crowd at Loppen this Sunday night. It’s true that LA band Spain, led by Josh Haden, are hardly a raucous act, and it’s clear that the audience know exactly what they’ve come for; people have dragged chairs into neat rows in the middle of the floor and are comfortably settled in by the time the opening act has ended.

From the first notes of opener “Ten Nights” — well almost; some feedback disrupts Haden mid verse and causes him to chuckle — it’s obvious that getting comfortable is a good idea. With as many downtempo, gentle songs as Spain have, a very calm, relaxed atmosphere descends on the room.

There is also a strong element of the audience wanting to live out a jazz club fantasy. Local jazz musicians have joined in, enriching the songs with brass instruments. And while a song like “Tangerine” teeters on the verge of becoming a jam session (with the audience readily applauding after every solo, no matter how understated), things stay organized and civilized.

Civilized does go out the window when the little conversation Haden has for the audience is about the US Supreme Court pick: “That Kavanaugh sure is an asshole,” he stated. This led to him working through his feelings about not feeling American given current events — which might have only been relatable to the two American at a table near the coat check but was appreciated all the same — and introducing “I’m Still Free,” a song he wrote nine years ago with the same sentiment.

Its impassioned delivery makes it a highlight of the evening, matched only for the encore “Spiritual.” And though repeatedly singing “Jesus, I don’t want to die alone” might be considered a bit of a downer, the brass players have returned to add more weight to the closing songs and Petra  Haden’s wordless vocals bring the actual spiritual heft. Grim lyrics or no, the arrangements have made this evening an especially soothing end to the weekend, regardless of any personal turmoil Haden himself might be feeling.

LIVE REVIEW: Bombino, Alice, 31.08.2018

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Bombino

Bombino is the Jimi Hendrix of the desert. That’s what the Roskilde Festival programme said in 2013, that’s what he proved that year on the Odeon stage and that’s what he is proving once again in a sold out Alice.
Bombino, or Oumara Moctar, was born sometime around 1980 in Tidene close to Agadez, Niger. He belongs to the Ifoghas, one of the nomadic tribes of the Sahara known as the Tuaregs. As a young boy he picked up a guitar and taught himself to play play by listening to cassettes with Jimi Hendrix and Dire Straits – much like Jimi Hendrix learned to master his instrument by listening to blues on the radio.
Bombino starts his set at Alice with three songs on an acoustic guitar. For the fourth song he changes for an electric guitar, and the drummer, who until then has been playing a traditional African (I guess) drum, takes his place behind the drum kit. And from then on there is no way back. For the next hour and half Bombino and his brilliant band blow Alice away, and even though Bombino doesn’t really say much – the bassist is quite talkative, thbombinoough – the band even manages to get the audience to sing a long. Since its unlikely that anybody in the crowd have any idea about what they are singing it turns out as a rather bizarre, but uplifting choir that interprets his lyrics song in Tamasheq to something like “uhmm-mæh-uhmm”. Its seems like everyone in the room are enjoying themselves.
Something has to be said about the way Bombino plays his guitar. His style is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. He picks mainly with his thumb and index finger, much like many folk guitarists, but there is something about the way he touches it. To me it looks like he has the gain turned all the way up, so that that the slightest touch can be heard, which makes the guitar harder to play, every mistake will be blown out of proportions, but also opens up for a lot of additional notes and sounds. Whatever he does it is endlessly fascinating to watch his long fingers move up and the fretboard of the Cort G280DX JSS guitar (which is worth mentioning because it is not at all a fancy guitar).
In 1976 Sex Pistols played a gig in Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester. There were not a lot of people, but many of those who were there went a did something incredible, and the gig acted as a catalyst for the formation of bands like the Smiths and Joy Division. If a few young musicians were to be found among the audience as Bombino brought the desert to Alice, they would likely go home and try to figure out how he could play the way he did, do something amazing and name the show at Alice as a turning point in their approach to their instrument.

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