Online music magazine based in Copenhagen, Denmark

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October 2017

LIVE REVIEW: Thurston Moore, Jazzhouse, 05.10.17

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Thurston Moore live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

It may have gotten slightly lost in the noise of Sonic Youth, but Thurston Moore is, when it comes down to it, a bit of a hippie. Of course even in the heyday of Sonic Youth you had the Manson references and Carpenters covers, but it’s in his latter day solo work that the twelve-string has really come out in force. If you’re anything like me, an acoustic solo set is only marginally more desirable than an unnecessary tracheotomy, but the great advantage of being such a curmudgeon is that I get to be pleasantly surprised.

Rather than being a watered-down version of the full band versions, these acoustic renditions of tracks from his latest Rock n Roll Consciousness benefit from being stripped down to a metallic simplicity. Thurston strides onto the stage with a goofy grin and the air of someone playing to friends at a dinner party, but his affability quickly transmutes as he gets stuck into playing.

Although its main association is with 60s folk-rock, the 12-string guitar can sound positively evil if played with sufficient force. Leadbelly, of course, had already proved this in 1935 with his Dead Letter Blues, the first 20 seconds or so of which sound like Sonic Youth half a century before Kim and Co had even cast an eye on a guitar. Not only do the doubled-up strings produce a considerably higher volume than a normal six-string, the slight differences in the tunings create phasing and resonance effects that can sound at turns like a sitar or a sack full of bells.

Not one to turn down an opportunity to create interesting noise, Thurston exploits this to its full potential in his playing, and it is the instrumental sections, culminating in a 10 minute feedback jam, that are the most interesting to me. Clearly though, I myself am a little out of phase with the audience.

Jazzhouse is sold out, the audience composed of die-hard fans who lap up every Thurston witticism and frequently shout out requests. To his credit, he rolls with these, indulging them to the degree that even though it is clear he has forgotten half the words to Psychic Hearts, the woman who keeps requesting it is earnest enough that he finishes the set by fishing out his laptop and looking up the lyrics.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Shabazz Palaces, Jazzhouse, 06.10.2017

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Shabazz Palaces live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

With all the whispers that Shabazz Palaces were something akin to hip-hop meets Sun Ra, the expectations for what they were going to bring to Jazzhouse were high. Indeed as we waited for the set to begin, the individual stations, with their drums and electronics sitting neatly on draped colorful fabrics, suggested something vibrant or just more dynamic than what their albums bring.

The reality is about half true. The set starts off in total darkness and the lighting only improves to dim. There are hints of how wonderful their early 90s outfits must be, but it’s too dark to see the details. But what is immediately clear is that Shabazz Palaces sell themselves short on their recordings. The muted dub quality of the albums dampens everything from the vocals to the broad-ranging references, all of which come to life in their live set. Vocalist Ishmael Butler’s delivery has a lot more attitude and personality live, and the nuances of the percussion that are lost on the alums are laid out in a dazzling array: Drum machines, samplers, congas, snares, and a giant mbira among others. Percussionist Tendai Maraire quickly proves himself to be a multi-tasking monster.

Shabazz Palaces live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen
Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh

With this apparent attention to detail, it seems likely that it was a conscious decision rather than an accident of the sound system that the sub bass creeps and in squashes the vocals flat. Those moments are frustrating, because Butler’s style, and the duo’s occasionally synchronized movements in the darkness literally pull the audience in (though the opening to “Welcome to Quazarz,” insisting, “I’m from the United States of America/We talk with guns/Guns keep us safe” is feeling particularly grim the week of a mass shooting).

If Shabazz Palaces are Sun Ra levels of insane on stage, they are at the very least an energetic duo; Butler would probably rocket around the stage if he didn’t have to keep reining himself in to go back to his synths and samplers. Maraire has more the approach of a marathon runner and clearly understands the need to pace himself if he’s going to get through the set.

The set itself does drag out for nearly two hours and it feels it. Because while Shabazz Palaces have an undeniably strong sound, the focuses on the sound often surpasses the focus on songs. And as there are peaks and valleys in dancing, maybe it’s question of location — if the duo continue to go for lengthy performances, then visuals might be helpful, or at least a seated venue.

LIVE REVIEW: Slowdive, DR Studie 2, 30.09.2017

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Slowdive live at DR Studie 2 in Copenhagen

Slowdive have played in Denmark since reforming three years ago, but their set in DR’s Studie 2 is their first in a venue rather than a festival since the ‘90s. The setting is perfect for the evening:  It’s intimate, it has just the right amount of polish, and it just barely contains the expansiveness of the music.

Blanck Mass proves to be a highly appropriate opener. Though he performs in almost total darkness compared to Slowdive’s dizzying light displays, he is a kindred spirit of the post-ambient derivation of electronic music. His pedals may be hooked up to synthesizers rather than guitars, and he may lean more towards harshness than delicacy, but there is a familiar dynamic range in the bright chimes he uses to counter his often aggressive songs.

There is a bit more consistency in the sonic range of Slowdive’s set. About half of the songs come from either this year’s self-titled album or Souvlaki, and they seem cherry-picked to match that evenly metered chiming and chugging. Songs that have been reimagined from their album cuts — for example, “Crazy for You” being pulled back from its looping electronica or “Dagger” being filled out from its soul-destroying minimalism — are now fashioned into something that fits neatly in a setlist. It’s a demonstration of the band’s maturity as musicians as well as their understanding of what exactly was successful for them.

It is also interesting to see how the audience have embraced the new album; songs like “Slomo” and “Sugar for the Pill” garner a bigger response than older songs like “Avalyn” or “Blue Skied an’ Clear.” The new album has clearly given Slowdive a new focus. With the addition of synthesizers to their live arrangement, it’s also given them a new shape. This subtle change adds a new and different density to their songs (and given us Rachel Goswell’s small, inflatable flamingo ring that she balances on her keyboard and keeps her egg shaker in).

Not every band that reunites after extended periods away is quite so committed to their current or future incarnation. Though Slowdive are still treading familiar territory, and indeed may now have played Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair” live more than he ever did, they’re clearly back as a living band and not just for nostalgia.

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