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LIVE REVIEW: Moon Duo, Pumpehuset, 29.03.17

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Moon Duo live at Pumpehuset

Photos by Johannes Leszinski

 The key to Moon Duo is their simplicity: three instruments, three chords, one drum beat and 5 to 10 minutes to explore their every nuance. That sounds like an exaggeration, but it really isn’t. Moon Duo have two modes, on and off. Fans of crescendos and dynamic juxtapositions had better look elsewhere.

It’s two years since the last time I saw the Duo, and the roominess of Pumpehuset is a marked difference from the sweaty shoebox that they played previously. The reason for a larger venue, quite apart from having perhaps gained greater notoriety in recent years, is made apparent as soon as the band take to the stage. A large white semicircle at the back acts as a screen for some major psychedelic eyewash, as a thick weave of multicoloured beams reaches out into the audience.

Moon Duo live at Pumpehuset

It’s one of the best combinations of light and sound I’ve caught in a while, to the extent that for long periods of the set I have absolutely no clue what song they are playing. Nodding my head, banging a long-empty bottle of water on my leg. This isn’t exactly a new experience for me, but perhaps unusual for a sober Wednesday night.

The distinctive and ridiculously massive headstock of Ripley Johnson’s signature ’59 Airline waves in time with a solo barely hovering above Sanae Yamada’s keyboards. The real unsung hero, though, has to be John Jeffries and his unerring metronomic beat. No frills, no fills. After a very tight 60 minute set, the band’s encore is an appropriately thumping version of the Stooges “No Fun”. A banger, but very far from the truth.

Moon Duo live at Pumpehuset

 

LIVE REVIEW: Hamilton Leithauser, VEGA, 01.03.2017

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Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen live solo Vega Copenhagen

It is a confessedly jet-lagged Hamilton Leithauser and band that take the stage at Lille Vega, but as a performer who seems to revel in a certain rootsy journeyman-musician persona, this could turn out to be an asset for him. His latest album, I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, a collaborative effort with ex-Vampire Weekender Rostam Batmanglij (present tonight in spirit only), reached a fair few ‘Best of’ lists last year, confirming Leithauser as more than simply the frontman of The Walkmen.

Judging by the impassioned singalongs in the front rows this evening, a good portion of the audience is here on the strengths of the solo work alone, and might not even be familiar with the band that gave us the perennial indie club night banger “The Rat”. The wiry texture of those Walkmen records is softened in Leithauser’s later work, which replaces their ironised distancing with more direct romanticism.

The energy this evening comes mostly from that voice, the pained howl that somehow manages to modulate into a croon or a Dylanesque sneer. The tension generated by that upwards strain can be thrilling, although perhaps an hour is just about the limit at which it can sustained. In fact my earlier characterisation is incorrect: you don’t, in fact can’t, really sing along with Hamilton Leithauser, even if you know all the words, at most you sing beneath him.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Lambchop, Lille Vega, 27.02.17

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lambchop live copenhagen lille vega

Lambchop’s FLOTUS has been acclaimed as a daring reinvention, and indeed few of us would have expected Kurt Wagner’s outfit to stray from their left-field brand of Americana into a world of autotuned vocals and, yes, even the odd trap beat. But this narrative of a reinvented band misses the fact that the band have always traced a unique and at times bizarre path. Find me another alt-country band that would, say, choose to release a concept album centred around the Nixon presidency.

The iciness of these new electronic elements lend an air of fragility, a tension that is very evident in the room as the band remain remote and quiet at the back of the stage. The vocal effects act as a mask that might allow Wagner to both indulge and play with a set of lyrics more private than usual. Slowly the thaw sets in, and soon enough the piano player is cracking ever more weird and confusing jokes. It occurs to me that Kurt Wagner may have just decided to stay silent in order to coax out of him ever more awkward sex stories.

Drummer Andy Stack, of Wye Oak, looks on in amused confusion, and though his contributions are limited, they are the most notable instance of Lambchop’s “new sound” beyond Wagner’s vocals. “Directions to the Can” in particular stands out as one of the grooviest tracks Lambchop have produced in a while, aided by a subtly filthy hip-hop-inspired bass line.

By the end of the night if Wagner is getting close to talkative, and his use of the vocal effects switches from understated to enthusiastically experimental. They announce their last song as a cover, and as people whoop at the first couple of chords Wagner laughs out loud and calls them out: “this could be any song.” In fact it is a very Lambchop-ified cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine”.

LIVE REVIEW: Future Islands, Jazzhouse, 26.02.17

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Future Islands

Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

It has been over a year since Future Islands last played a gig in Europe, which, together with a shortly to be released album and the last-minute announcement of this show, adds a heightened layer of excitement to the four-piece’s re-emergence in Copenhagen. This gap makes itself felt in the initial hiccups with the keyboards, but this ends up providing frontman Sam Herring the opportunity to begin his intense love-in with the audience.

There are few performers who are quite as obviously thrilled to be onstage as Herring. Arguably it was his idiosyncratic dance moves during their Letterman performance that attracted enough consistent attention onto the band to propel them into wide recognition, but there is more to it than an amusing dad dance. Seemingly every moment on stage is an opportunity for him to stare intensely into the eyes of every single audience member in the first three rows, point and grab for emphasis, usher them in.

Future Islands

Last time I saw them, Future Islands were vague specks on a stage a football field away from me. With that level of distance it’s easy to be dismissive of their more mawkish lyrical tendencies, but when the man is sweating, crying and singing a foot away from your face, it’s hard not to get swept up in the drama.

The new material shows that, even when inevitably many of Future Islands’ songs end up being about “the road”, they haven’t lost any of their intense, campy, melodramatic joyfulness. Until the album comes out in a few weeks’ time I won’t be able to say exactly which song made me laugh out loud, but be prepared for an instance of rather wonderful pseudo-reggae synth hilarity.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Genesis P-Orridge & Aaron Dilloway, Jazzhouse, 09.02.17

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genesis p-orridge live jazzhouse copenhagen

If there is one predictable thing about Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, it is the crowd s/he attracts: the goths, punks, noise connoisseurs, art musos, drag queens, crusties and techno-obsessives. Each one these stands for a moment in the career that transmuted little Neil Megson into the Pandrogyne h/erself. And although some of the elements of tonight borrow from the past, most notably Psychic TV’s “This is the Final War”, it is not to the industrial of Throbbing Gristle that we look to, nor Psychic TV’s mix of psychedelia and acid house, but to capital-N Noise.

With one of the genre’s masters, Aaron Dilloway, on stage with Genesis, and local Puce Mary giving providing the initial pummelling, this is not a night for just smugly basking among a hip underground. In the first minutes of the opening act, no sooner have I perfected my “arms folded, head tilted, thoughtfully appreciating abstract music” pose that the monitor begins to emit a frequency that makes the lighting rig tremble and my stomach tie itself into a Windsor knot.

puce mary live jazzhouse copenhagen

Genesis and Aaron Dilloway switch the direct savagery of Puce Mary for a more diversified approach: Genesis providing the spoken–or, more precisely, incantatory–word, Dilloway the uncanny sonic abstractions, and a screen doings its best to out-freak the other two.

Two people sat down at tables with some equipment doesn’t sound very visually exciting, but between Genesis’s wizard staff and golden trainers, a screen full of dayglo skulls melting into Psychick crosses, and, all the way to the right, Aaron Dilloway convulsion at his desk with what appear to be contact mics shoved into his mouth, there is arguably too much to look at.

Although Genesis P-Orridge’s sometimes lilting, sometimes declamatory voice is the anchor that propels the evening forward, it is Dilloway that really steals the show. Compared to some, his setup is minimal, little more than a few tape loops, a drum and some microphones, but out of these he is able to conjure what sound like rough field recordings in Soviet-occupied Dantean hell. Or something like that.

Visit From a Blackstar – David Bowie’s Final Works One Year Later

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David Bowie

David Bowie died a year ago today. This was the first of several mornings in 2016 that began in complete disbelief. At the heart of each one of those shocks was the richness of detail with which one could visualise each successive failed future: defeated Brixiteers loudly priding themselves on the fact that almost half of Britain dislike the EU, clamouring for a second referendum; Trump supporters denouncing the presidency as satanic; op-eds everywhere detailing just how close we got to Armageddon.

With Blackstar, Bowie had proved the efficacy and productivity of his late self-imposed obscurity. How many more of his albums would have suddenly revealed themselves over the coming years?

He would have been 70 on Sunday, but he won’t need the conveniences of calendars to be remembered. Blackstar managed to survive a year of thinkpieces, in part because its connection to the loss that immediately followed it meant that every mention of that album is a veiled or overt act of mourning and memorialising. It was without any doubt the album that defined that year for us, and each time we hear it, it reenacts the surprise of first hearing it, and the surprise of waking up two days later.

It’s an album of great conviction, that still baffles. We will analyze and over-analyze it for a generation, and every time we think we’ll have reached a conclusion, some new Easter egg in the artwork will be discovered and we’ll begin again.

The newly-released No Plan EP is little more than a teasing of what might have been. There was obviously no time to create something as fully realized as his final complete album. Will we search these final few songs for answers the way we scraped Blackstar? No, we’ll just happily accept any scraps that try to piece together what we lost. We’ll force ourselves to be content with Blackstar as the perfect farewell it has become, whether or not it was intended to be.

LIVE REVIEW: Jackie Lynn, Jazzhouse, 8.11.16

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Jackie Lynn

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

Behind iridescent projections of cityscapes stands a still figure with a guitar and cowboy hat. Dressed in gear that could have been purloined from Gram Parsons’ wardrobe, Jackie Lynn might be looking out into the candle-lit tables of Jazzhouse with a slight nod of approval. Hers is very intentionally loner, dive-bar music, a hybrid of lumpen proletariat country and Suicide-esque electronic minimalism.

We should be more precise: Jackie Lynn is in fact the avatar of singer-songwriter Haley Fohr, until recently best known for her doom-laden folk act, Circuits des Yeux. There is still plenty of darkness to Jackie Lynn, and Fohr’s distinctive low vibrato cannot be masked, but there is also an unmistakable playfulness to the very concept of this project. Accompanied by a carpet of lofi drum machines and bleepy synths, provided by members of the gloriously-named Bitchin Bajas, Jackie Lynn strums her guitar and tells her tale of love, coke dealing, and “jocks and their tiny cocks.”

For what sounds like a conceptually overwrought mix of country and electronics, the Jackie Lynn project manages to sound perfectly natural, a glimpse of an alternate world, a micro-culture just barely out of reach of the internet. The briefness of the album, under half an hour, adds to the mystery, but the real power of Fohr’s persona is felt when she is there before you, almost, but not quite, accessible.

Jackie Lynn live at Jazzhouse
Jackie Lynn live at Jazzhouse

LIVE REVIEW: Tim Hecker / Tyondai Braxton, Jazzhouse, 01.11.16

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Not too long ago, ‘being a fan of ambient music’ would be classified at around 7.8 on the Social Dysfunction scale, just below ‘owning seven cats and two human skulls’, or ‘commenting on news websites’. But these days ambient is rougher, darker, and louder than its predecessors. If it looks to Brian Eno at all, it is the twisted Eno that makes up much of Adam Curtis’s soundtracks, rather than the one who composes lullabies for air passengers. Ambient is also, it would appear, much more popular now. At least enough that one of its main ambassadors, Tim Hecker, can quickly sell out a medium-sized venue like Jazzhouse.

Not that this is all Hecker’s doing. The evening is a double bill with an altogether more eclectic character, Tyondai Braxton. Formerly of Battles, Braxton is the cerebral experimenter to Hecker’s romanticism. The difference is as much visual as it is audible: the projections behind Braxton glitch and fragment, the everyday nightmare visions of garbled technologies; Tim Hecker is instead surrounded by rather ecclesiastical rows of pastel-coloured LEDs.

But for all their care in creating compelling visuals to reflect their music, both acts appear to inherently question the need for us as an audience to be standing like this, all facing the stage as if expecting interaction or entertainment. The intermingling tracks from Hecker’s latest LP, Love Streams, positively pour from the speakers, reverberating through bodies and rattling the fillings of teeth. You’d do as well to swim through this than absorb it standing. It is the much-discussed vocal elements of Hecker’s recent work that add a little light to what would otherwise be an unremitting textural piece, and perhaps he is aware enough of the side effects to cut things short: after a pedantically-precise 60 minutes, the lights go up, and those of us who forgot our earplugs began to regret our life choices.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Eartheater, Loppen, 21.09.2016

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Photos by Victor Yakimov

On record, Eartheater is an eclectic mix of everything from spacey electronica to lo-fi freak folk. But live, Alexandra Drewchin’s solo persona is that of an uncompromising, confrontational noise artist. It starts with her reaching the stage by wading through the audience, towering above us in her 8″ Converse platforms. Some swift tapping on her laptop triggers an insistent low-frequency rumble, over which Drewchin performs a spoken-word piece, her voice drastically lowered by her trademark vocal effects.

Loppen is by no means packed out tonight, but if anything, this seems to work to Drewchin’s advantage. A significant proportion of her set is instrumental, aided by guitar retrofitted with a midi controller that triggers everything from pure white noise to the sounds of thunder, barking dogs and rainfall. Throughout this Drewchin wanders among the audience, staring them down one at a time, before drifting towards the bar, draping herself over it as if her spine were elastic. You sometimes hear of music being characterized as exploratory (typically standing for pot-induced jam sessions), but in this case the whole point of Eartheater is to test the space on a tactile level.

Eartheater 3

This sounds a little too facetious, the fault is mine. Drewchin is more than happy to cut the intensity of her set with moments of levity and self-effacement, and her physical contortions are as much joyful as they are pained. And as the set draws to a close, even the most bemused members of the audience look buoyed by the experience, or at the very least inspired to take up yoga.

LIVE REVIEW: Deerhoof, Jazzhouse, 13.09.16

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Deerhoof live Jazzhouse Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

It’s hard to think of a band as fun, weird and childlike as Deerhoof as, well, old, but 20 years in the business is a pretty significant amount of time. With around sixteen albums crowding their discography, the San Franciscan quartet’s unique brand of ultra-hyphenated, off-kilter art-rock has undergone endless refinements. If any band deserves to share that famous trope of the Fall, “always different, always the same”, it’s Deerhoof, a band that could record an album using nothing more than kazoos and still be immediately recognizable.

Case in point: towards the end of their set, I am puzzled by an familiar, but unusually riff-heavy song. After a couple of choruses, straining my ears, I eventually untangle the words: “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” I defy you to go out tonight and find me another band worth their salt playing Def Leppard covers, but more importantly, to incorporate them into a set without it sounding completely bonkers.

Deerhoof live Jazzhouse Copenhagen

It helps of course that Deerhoof’s latest album, The Magic, comes closer to standard rock tropes than most of their recent records. But for every Ramones-channeling “That Ain’t No Life For Me”, there is still a piece of their patented balance of unhinged and deadly precise, a la “Kafe Mania!”. Unhinged is a fairly apposite descriptor of the set as a whole, with John Dietrich’s guitar losing strings every other song.

In these technical pauses, drummer Greg Saunier comes to the rescue. Channeling Crispin Glover and Steven Wright simultaneously, Saunier embarks on tortuous meditations on the heat in Denmark and how it might be affecting both the tuning and the life-span of guitar strings. A good portion of the audience is baffled, but I would be the first to buy Saunier’s HBO special should he decide to ditch the drums for a stand-up career.

For all their fun, there is a challenging element to Deerhoof, a wry art to their playfulness that can sometimes be at the casual listener’s expense. Returning to stage for an encore, flushed by a blistering set, singer Satomi Matsuzaki spends a good ten minutes teaching the audience a rhythmically-challenging call-and-response. Satisfied that we’ve got the gist, the band get going. The song lasts a minute. The band leave. Best ending to a set I’ve witnessed in a while.

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