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LIVE REVIEW: Johnny Marr, Store Vega, 19.05.2018

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Johnny Marr live at Store Vega Copenhagen

Johnny Marr is one of the greatest guitarists of his generation, but he’s only come into his own as a solo artist in the last few years. His visit to Store Vega, however, suggests that he’s now at home in this role. Half of the set is songs from his forthcoming album, Call the Comet. You can stream a couple of the tracks now, but it’s mostly unavailable.

But Marr knows that you know him from a particular time and place (or maybe from one of the other dozen bands he’s played with in his career), and everyone in the audience seems keen just on being in his presence. They’re excited about the new material, they’re just as happy to rock out to “Easy Money” as any 80s classic.

Marr also has a very low-key personality that lends itself well to what feels more like a promotional exercise than your average tour. He has a few guitar god stances to pull, but seems to quickly become shy about them. He expresses his mixed feelings about streaming as he introduces his latest single, “Hi Hello,” asking the audience to buy it even if it’s only a bit of plastic. There is a jangle to his new songs that brings to mind his work with the Smiths, and an evident but not heavy-handed political bent that jives well with being the guy who told off David Cameron.

And there are unexpected moments such as“Getting Away With It” from his project Electronic. While he seems to reach for the notes that Bernard Sumner hits on his own, the focus on guitar compared with the atmospherics of the album version breathes a new energy into the song.

But in answer to the inevitable question,”Is he playing any Smiths songs?” the answer is yes. They are interspersed from “Big Mouth Strikes Again” as the second song to show closer “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” (sold to us as the weirdest singalong ever). It’s nice that they’re threaded throughout the set instead of presented as a block or a treat in the encore after listening to Marr’s solo work. And while his is not the voice we associate with the Smiths, he does a pretty good Morrissey impression; his voice takes on a throatier quality for those songs. And after watching Marr mess with his tuning pegs for effect while playing “How Soon Is Now,” there’s no point in ever watching any other performer fumble their way through that song again. So good news for all you Smiths fans who cringe every time Morrissey speaks: We definitely don’t need him anymore.

LIVE REVIEW: US Girls, Hotel Cecil, 06.05.2018

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US Girls live at Hotel Cecil in Copenhagen

US Girls’ Meg Remy styles herself as the creative force behind her project than a solo artist. There are no musicians credited on her most recent albums (this year’s In a Poem Unlimited and 2015’s Half Free), but rather producers are credited for building the tracks. So it’s a surprise when she takes the stage at Hotel Cecil that she’s backed by a seven-piece band, including a backing vocalist and a miniature saxophone.

The band is already playing “Velvet 4 Sale” when she and her backing vocalist join them. She jumps straight into the song. With her enormous, multi-piece band, the work translates very well. The references to funk and disco come through very clearly and sound more organic than the records — especially the saxophone — and the band have mastered the live fade out.

Remy never says anything to the audience the entire set, but she’s very present throughout the evening. The performance is full of dramatics, of Remy acting out the gender politics themes of her work, most memorably when her saxophonist menaces her and her backing singer with his tiny saxophone. The lighting choices, however, make it difficult see these details, and I’m not sure how much audience members even a few rows back pick up on. Considering the musical style and the fantastic costuming of the whole band (wide legged trousers, cheetah print jumpsuits, military style jackets), it would be fantastic to see the pageantry played out on a brightly-lit, full disco-style production.

It’s not the most straight forward evening and Remy doesn’t give us any signposts along the way, but she does make an impact. This is definitely a case where the components are all there and it’s only a matter of waiting for the staging to catch up.

LIVE REVIEW: Lawrence English, Alice, 19.04.2018

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Picture this: our intrepid photographer arrives late and sweaty (we must assume) to the venue, parks his bike, and approaches the entrance. The area outside is ill-lit and completely deserted. As his hand reaches for the door handle, the entire building starts to vibrate.  The windows and doors rattle, the bricks tremble and even the pavement outside murmurs underfoot. One intense tone wrenches through the building, and as he makes his way through the corridor, past the empty cloakroom, it intensifies.

Inside, the room is dark but for a set of neon red strips on the stage. Under their ghoulish glow the audience lies strewn across the floor, as if stunned by the aftershock. I am lying among them, but the shock, though real, is mostly metaphorical. The man at the centre of all this, Lawrence English, introduced the piece with a recommendation that we experience it lying on the floor. There is some initial awkwardness, but as soon as the first dark waves of bass come crashing through the floor, it is clear that he knows what he is talking about.

Of course his previous body of work proves this on its own. Through his work both as an artist and a thinker, Lawrence English has long been interested in developing ideas around the bodily experience and politics of listening. The piece he is presenting tonight is Cruel Optimism, which draws its inspiration from a book of the same title by the theoretician Lauren Berlant. This is English’s most collaborative piece, including contributions from, among others, Swans percussionist Thor Harris and Austrian artist Heinz Riegler.

From down here on the floor, the initial impression is of sheer violence, an intensity felt directly through every limb in contact with the hard surface. For the first minutes I am coming to terms with a feeling of helplessness, an awareness of another being affecting my body in such an un-ignorable, un-interpretable way. Maybe because there is nothing I can do but experience it, the music stops becoming a medium, and becomes a complete object.

The first passage feels like being stuck in the loudest and busiest of city intersections. Subway trains of unimaginable size barrel through the earth below, sirens phase in an out of each other. A high pitched buzz covers all of this, swarming here and there until the bass collapses away and the buzz becomes the frothing sound of a wave after it has crashed. At other points the sound is positively monolithic, an insistence that occupies each body until it is suddenly swept away and replaced by something which is almost choral in quality.

It is very hard not to sound utterly ridiculous in recounting this, but as I consult the track list afterwards they seem to bear out my own listening: “Hard Rain”, “The Quietest Shore”, “Pillar of Cloud”, “Exquisite Human Microphone”. Needless to say, I will be lying down at concerts more often now.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Carla Dal Forno, Alice, 13.04.2018

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Carla dal Forno live at Alice Copenhagen

There seems to be an odd reluctance to label anything ‘goth’ these days, but Carla Dal Forno’s You Know What It’s Like is pure goth: dark, minimalist, eerily nostalgic in sentiment but progressive in execution. All in black, she appears on the dark velvet stage of Alice as if it had been specially built for her.

Despite the austere trappings, there is also something very affable about Dal Forno, who early in the set apologises for having lost her voice this evening. But the result emphasises the ghostly quality of the vocals already present on the record. The lyrics are hidden away under synthesised drum patterns and a ghostly wash of ambient noise.

The ambient glitches and buzzes are a backdrop for the entire set, connecting all the songs. The effect then is of a continuous piece, interspersed with awkward moments when people in the audience look at each other wondering whether it’s appropriate to clap. The nordic reticence must but a little daunting at first for a performer, but Dal Forno soon twigs to this and pierces the veil by introducing the songs.

“Fast Moving Cars” and “What Are You Gonna Do Now” are delightfully antithetical to what you would expect songs with those titles to sound like, slow and silky. Performed live, they spread to fill the room as if consuming all oxygen.

LIVE REVIEW: Arto Lindsay and Zs, Alice, 07.04.2018

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Arto Lindsay live with Zs at Alice Copenhagen

Whatever fantasies people harbor about New York’s downtown avant garde scene are more or less brought to life in the collaboration between Arto Lindsay and Zs. Lindsay is a legend of the No Wave scene who has used his last couple of solo records to create accessible, bossa nova-inflected indie rock. Zs are the noise jazz collective (performing tonight as a trio featuring Greg Fox on drums) that came up at a time when New York’s music scene was associated with something a little more Strokesy.

The performance feels very in-the-moment and less one band backing an artist or one artist fronting a band. There is less of a focus on traditional song structures and more free moving forms, often dominated by extremely loud guitars — not that we’re complaining. Patrick Higgins’ guitar is fed through so many effects that it no longer resembles guitar at all while Lindsay swipes away at a 12 string that mostly produces crunching sounds. Tenor sax player Sam Hillmer alternately provides incongruous whines that sound like they’re trying to soothe some maniacal beast and being that beat himself, straining and blustering like a banshee. Our opinions of Fox are unchanged from last month.

Zs live with Arto Lindsay at Alice Copenhagen

The main set ends with a deafening cacophony of mid and high frequencies. Lindsay seems impishly pleased with the noise, even as people around us wince. Sometimes the thrill of experimental music — or the inaccessibility of it — is down to basic physical challenges. But the volume is memorable and the composition is memorable, and there is the very distinct impression that this set is a rare and special thing to witness. And even if it’s not rare or the opportunity comes again, it still feels damn special.

LIVE REVIEW: Fever Ray, Store Vega, 04.04.2018

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Fever Ray live at Store Vega Copenhagen

Anyone who has listened with the slightest attention can tell that Fever Ray is a feminist project, and this manifests itself from the minute you walk into Vega. There are signs posted everywhere asking people to put their phones away, for tall people to stand in the back, and for women to come to the front. It doesn’t really work out that way, but it seems like Karin Dreijer anticipated this.

The show is a spectacle unto itself; it’s bright colors and neon lights, and outrageous costumes. It’s an assemblage of women who look like a fierce girl gang sprung from a fantasy novel. Almost all of Dreijer’s vocals are echoed by two other singers, in the process replacing the metallic harshness of her recordings with something smooth and forceful. There is also menace and provocation to it — during “Falling,” Dreijer and her backing vocalists are grinding and groping each other while staring at the audience with a certain menace. They know you’re watching and they want you to know it, want you to feel like a voyeur.

Fever Ray live at Store Vega Copenhagen

There is also a very egalitarian quality to this performance that is maybe part feminist and part Scandinavian. Dreijer really shares the stage, not least with her backing singers, to the effect that if you don’t know what she looks like, it’s difficult to determine who the frontwoman of the project is. We are four songs in before the backing singers recede enough to clearly establish her as the ringleader. It’s hard to image many other artists allowing their backing band to wear more attention-grabbing costumes, to sing solos and take over the stage dancing, or to don a wing-inspired silver cape and twirl around during their own performance. It’s all part of the weird celebratory vibe that runs through the evening. For every direct threat to the male gaze, the feeling of female solidarity floats above to strengthen rather than just sneer.

Photos by James Hjertholm

LIVE REVIEW: Tune-Yards, Pumpehuset, 29.03.2018

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merrill garbus of tune-yards live at pumpehuset in copenhagen

Tune-Yards closed out a six-week tour on the smaller stage at Pumpehuset. The space is packed and the lights are low, and there’s faint aura on the stage from the glow of an uncountable number of pedals.

The energy in the room is good. In part, this is because Merrill Garbus is herself a high-energy performer. She bops and struts, leads her band in sun salutes, raises her arms as if in a rallying cry, and through the low lighting you can occasionally see how wide her eyes are opened and the exaggerated stretch of her facial features. But the energy also refracts back from the audience; the people here not only know Tune-Yards but clearly love Tune-Yards. They are dancing, they are shouting back lines from “Bizness” and “Gangsta.” Much of the set comes from this year’s I Can Feel You Creep Into My Private Life, and they know the songs well.

If …Private Life was a bit down-tempo as a recording, the live set is a swamp of loops and yelps, driven by drums that cut through the electronics with their sheer tangibleness. Garbus makes playing the ukulele look cool, which is an impressive feat in itself, but much of that may have to do with her skill in making a ukulele sound like anything other than a ukulele. She plays her pedals with her feet like a separate instrument, her looped voice tumbling over and colliding with itself, and it doesn’t take long before it becomes difficult to distinguish what is sampled and what is looped.

Garbus’ voice has real power behind it, and she knows how to wield it. She offers a soothing sweetness when her vocals are meant to serve as a backing track and punctuates lines with massive bellows. She does not scream, she does not have to. Whatever she’s projecting — a state of zen or a call to arms — people are dancing, are listening, are ready to follow.

LIVE REVIEW: Shirley Collins and the Lodestar Band, Alice, 25.03.2018

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Shirley Collins live at her first ever Danish concert at Kunsthal Charlottenborg for CPH:DOX

There is so much to say and discover about Shirley Collins that it is hard to see where to start. This is a problem that the documentary The Ballad of Shirley Collins needs to battle with, the mountains of material, but it is a problem easily solved by the presence of Shirley herself: warm, funny, and full of love the folk songs she has dedicated her entire life to. This night is a collaboration between CPH Dox and Alice, a double presentation of the film, followed by a concert. It is a strange experience to watch her on a big screen being fawned over by Stewart Lee and David Tibet, and before you know it the film is over and you are running to pee before the show starts and there is Shirley herself by the theatre entrance, beaming.

Accompanied by guitars, fiddle, banjo and shruti box, Shirley and her band work through a selection of material from Lodestar, as well as several of the songs featured in the film, which means that they are all imbued with a familiarity that allows the audience to focus on the details of the arrangements and the lyrics. During “Washed Ashore”, for example, I notice for the first time the detail that when the song’s protagonist finds her dead husband washed up on the sand, she recognises him by “the mark on his hand”. Implying that the rest of him is so bloated and disfigured as to be unrecognisable, which adds a certain dash of gruesome horror to the tenderness of her kissing him.

Shirley delights in these bloody details, particularly in songs like “Cruel Lincoln”, but can just as easily talk about the harsh realities she encountered in the pre-civil rights South. Several of her songs are American folk tunes that manage to surreally remember aspects of British culture long forgotten on the East side of the Atlantic. One of these she asks us to pay careful attention to, as one particular line is hilariously drawn out and requires a certain amount of temporal elasticity to perform. The odd misremembered line adds to the charm, as Shirley still recalls the content of the sections if not the full lyrics, and so amiably blusters a summary of them.

As the evening draws to a close the room is positively humming with goodwill. The complete lack of affectation in the performers, their dedication to music which they lay no claim towards, is incredibly refreshing, and must surely bring about our own private revival.

 

 

LIVE REVIEW: Lolina, Alice, 20.03.2018

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Inga Copeland live as Lolina for CPH:DOX at Alice in Copenhagen

Continuing a string of inspired bookings, Alice has brought Lolina–the latest moniker of London-based producer Inga Copeland– to Copenhagen a week after the release of her latest album, The Smoke. Both Copeland’s solo work and her collaborations with Dean Blunt are laced with a confrontational humour, and her latest effort is no exception.

But before we are plunged into the murky depths of Lolina, we spend some time with local producer Astrid Sonne. Accompanied by visuals of an abandoned waterpark somewhere in southern Europe, Sonne’s music mixes abstract electronics–always just on the verge of breaking into dance–with lush romanic stretches of viola playing. There is a curiosity to this, a mix of the cerebral and intuitive, that keeps you glued to the music and the screen.

When Copeland walk on stage in a trilby and pinstripe jacket, it is an indication of the jazz-teasing nightmares she is about to conjure up. The album and set opener, “Roulette”, features two atonally juxtaposed piano arpeggios that fly up and down the scale against each other until they are broken up by the mechanised blues of a bass and organ. “Whatever you’ve got lets light it / Whatever’s in my pocket lets spend it / If nothing left then fuck it…” she chants, as if to herself.

Copeland has a real sense for the uncanny, the way her bass lines lurch rather than groove, her drum sounds calculated to distress. This sounds like criticism but there is real artistry to it. Her only instruments are three digital turntables, a microphone and an effects unit, but she wields these with a light precision that belies the calculated broken quality of her music. Towards the second half of her set it seems she can’t help herself but throw in some of the grime that always lurks just beneath the surface of her work. And a filthy bassline is always welcome.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Greg Fox, Alice, 14.03.2018

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Greg Fox live at Alice in Copenhagen

In principle, watching a guy play drums for 45 minutes doesn’t sound like it would make for the most interesting concert. But in this case, the guy is Greg Fox, a drummer you could calibrate your metronome to. We’ve been repeatedly spellbound by Fox’s contributions to Liturgy, Guardian Alien, and Ex Eye, but how would his work hold up as a solo performer?

The premise of his most recent release, September’s Gradual Progression, is that Fox used Sensory Percussion — his kit feeding into modular synths via a MIDI — to create a fully-fledged ambient work. Woven with samples of saxophone and guitar, most of the sounds he’s working with are high pitched and mechanical, but the tenor of the set lacks much of the aggression of the other projects he’s involved with.

It’s difficult to tell if or how the sensors play into his live set; to the casual eye, he could just as easily be playing along to a backing track on the laptop set up next to him. But without other band members to distract or be physically set up in his path, this was the best opportunity to appreciate his skill. Fox seems to enter a trance when he plays — his eyes are rarely open — and it’s difficult not to feel meditative in his presence. If you couldn’t see the sweat flying from his face, it would all look completely effortless.

The intimacy of the evening isn’t underscored until the encore, when Fox returns to the stage to provide more insight into his latest work. Listening to him speak without a mic closes the space in and brings a human side back to the autopilot of his playing. He introduces an “experiment” — possibly to be found on his next album — which triggers a series of bird songs among the drumming. It’s whimsical and weirdly charming and guarantees that we’ll track down whatever he works on next.

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