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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.

LIVE REVIEW: Tori Amos, DR Koncerthuset, 23.09.2017

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Tori Amos live DR Koncerthuset Copenhagen

People who come to see Tori Amos play in 2017 know her well. It is not only the type of environment where you hear people talking about how many times they’ve seen her before, but one where you hear talk of what time their flight got into Copenhagen that morning so that they could be at the show.

Concerts by veteran artists in venues the scale of DR’s Koncertsalen give the impression that it isn’t possible to be a casual fan. The people there don’t just want to hear the new album and the early stuff; it’s a space where the person shouting for the obscure B-side from the ‘90s has a good chance of being indulged.

Amos understands her role. She scurries to the front of the stage in sky-high heels to greet people before taking her place sandwiched between her grand piano and three keyboards neatly stacked on top of each other. It’s a rare occasion to see a pop concert in this room in the round, and Amos does her best to look to the audience at the back of the stage throughout the evening (though as she shifts between her instruments — often mid song — they always see her back).

It is not an especially young crowd; it’s clear that most of the audience was introduced to Amos in their teens and have continued to see her over the years. Some are now bringing their own children with them. They are reverentially quiet through almost every song, to the effect that the man next to us goes to great lengths to hold in a sneeze.

Tori Amos live DR Koncerthuset Copenhagen

This quiet is appreciated as Amos is alone on stage. Though the occasional backing track comes in, it’s mostly just her and her pianos. This means that her set is flexible, adjusted according to reported requests that came in earlier. It also means that songs often take on a completely different feeling from their recordings, whether it’s a different arrangement or a non-linear rendition. Lyrics are reorganized, repeated, changed completely. It doesn’t make for any easy singalong, but this isn’t a singalong kind of crowd; they’re more likely to be pleased to hear something different in a song they’ve heard played before.

As the tour is meant to promote her new album, Native Invaders, the single “Reindeer King” makes an appearance, but the set is an unpredictable mix of songs from throughout her career, including non-album tracks “Ruby Through the Looking Glass” and “Garlands” that everyone still seems to know.

Amos has always been one to include covers in her set. This tradition has taken on the form an interlude which features “Fake Muse” projected onto the organ in Koncertsalen, looking suspiciously like the Fox News logo. This evening’s selections are “Let It Be” and, following an electronica reinterpretation of the intro to her song “God,” “Running Up That Hill” (Amos was surely tipped off to its frequent radio play here). These are received with the same enthusiasm as the now decades-old “Crucify” and “Winter.”

The quiet reverence comes to an end with the encore, when those in the orchestra seats squash themselves up against the stage and clap along to the backing track of “Sorta Fairytale.”

They stay put through new single, “Cloud Riders,” which, with an oblique reference to “raisin girls,” sees Amos shifting her body towards the grand piano and playing “Cornflake Girl,” picking it up from its bridge. It’s impressively timed considering the backing tracks, but the pre-recorded backing vocals are a little too loud. While Amos’ live vocals leave something to be desired for the first time this evening, the energy and borderline violence with which she plays is exhilarating. It’s a strange note to end the night on, but the sentiment in the room is that everyone is satisfied with their Strange Little Girl.

Photos by James Hjertholm

LIVE REVIEW: EMA, Ideal Bar, 17.09.2017

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EMA live at Ideal Bar Copenhagen

If American music is meant to reflect American life, and there is something inherently fatalist about the latter, then EMA is an exemplary specimen of the former. The eponymous Erika M. Anderson opened her latest tour to a small but clearly dedicated crowd at Ideal Bar, working overtime to contextualize her music for an audience that may not understand the American condition in 2017 beyond the eye roll-inducing headlines about the President.

Anderson is accompanied by a drummer and a multi-instrumentalist who plays bass, synths, and violin, as well as having built his rig which includes a touchscreen that he’s using to live-manipulate her voice. It’s a set heavy on her new album, Exile in the Outer Ring, as well as 2011’s Past Life Martyred Saints, two albums wrapped up in political and feminine angst. Anderson’s frayed post-punk is delivered with a force that suggests she could destroy worlds, even as she makes flippant quips between songs. “Do you guys have big malls?” she asks when introducing “Breathylizer.” “No? You have Ikea and shit, right?”

She’s all over the map performance-wise: “Blood and Chalk” proves that she could sing ballads if she wanted to, while the acid-fried “Fire Water Air LSD” and “33 Nihilistic and Female” prove that she really doesn’t want to. Her presence is strong but not threatening, even if she sometimes swings her ponytail like a weapon.

The house music has come up but people are still applauding and the band returns. There is some debate about what to perform, before “7 Years” is begun with the caveat that they might fuck it up (they don’t). Anderson then launches into “Butterfly Knife,” stopping two lines in to turn up her guitar. She apologizes to her soundwoman over cheers from the crowd. In truth, without some massive wash of noise or feedback to soundtrack Anderson’s exit, the end of the set does feel a little abrupt. It’s about the only criticism you can come up with, though, for the artist who’s providing the realist soundtrack to whatever dystopia we’re currently living in.

LIVE REVIEW: Julie Byrne, Jazzhouse, 12.09.2017

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Julie Byrne live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

No one expected a flashy set from Julie Byrne. It was anticipated from the beginning that the singer-songwriter would likely be alone on stage at Jazzhouse with her guitar. That she is joined by Taryn Miller of Your Friend on synths is already more activity than could be anticipated.

And yet Byrne is totally captivating. It’s not only that Jazzhouse is the perfect room for her voice; that it resonates over the packed audience is the most immediate selling point. It’s that Byrne herself is a striking presence. She’s swamped in a white robe that pools around her as she remains seated through her performance. She holds herself with a composure that emanates out from her being. Even while she’s singing, the room is quiet enough that you can clearly hear every time Miller hits a pedal.

The addition of Miller and their Korg synthesizer can’t be undervalued. There are a few moments of loud electronic noise washing over the room, but mostly the additional instrumentation is very understated, mimicking flutes or pedal steel in an intuitive, complementary way. Even just watching Miller as they shake their head enthusiastically while Bryne sings is such an endearing display of their rapport.

Miller helps to bring out a goofiness in Byrne that offsets some of her earnest New Age-y vibes. Bryne talks a lot about energies in the room and offering songs as prayers — if this had been a seated performance for the audience, I would have happily sat through a guided meditation with her. But then Byrne follows up the explanation that “Melting Grid” is about taking a risk at leaving a job for the sake of your spirit with a mad little “la la la” before singing the song. It’s a charming, off-script unpredictability that draws you in every bit as much as the songs.

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh

LIVE REVIEW: LCD Soundsystem, Store Vega, 08.09.17

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LCD Soundsystem live in Copenhagen

It has been a topic of conversation for weeks, even months. LCD Soundsystem’s three night affair at Vega finally puts an end to one of the dullest summers in recent memory with an explosion of colour and disco-balls. Half an hour before the beginning of their Friday night set, those who attended the previous night’s concert are being eagerly quizzed about what songs to expect. The response is always the same: no matter what they play, expect one of the most fun shows you’ll see all year.

There’s a lot of fake outrage when a band reunites, a sense that they are desecrating their own past in order to satisfy their ego, wallet, or rapidly eroding sense of self. In the case of James Murphy and co, these concerns were laid to rest during their reunion tour last year, and the acclaim around their fourth album, American Dream, further cements the notion that they must just be physiologically incapable of producing anything bad.

You can see their painstaking attention to detail in almost any aspect of the evening. From the fact they begin at a chronometrically-precise 9pm, with drummer Pat Mahoney taking the beat from the end of Shit Robot’s DJ set, to the perfect oldies/newies balanced structure of setlist, the dedication LCD Soundsystem demonstrate in their live shows cannot fail but to engender fanatical devotion in the audience.

The enthusiasm starts on stage, in the way Murphy interacts with Mahoney during their percussion sessions, the general wine-swilling bonhomie of friends who have honed their enjoyment over two decades. With the kind of empathy for the audience that only comes from years of fandom, Murphy is almost apologetic for playing newer material, but he needn’t be, as a fair number are singing along word-for-word to new singles like Tonite and Call the Police. And realistically, any band who can dispense with their most well-known song ten minutes into their set has to be confident in the quantity and quality of their output.

Towards the end of the evening, the Friday after-work booze-up is starting to make its boisterous presence felt, with beer flying around the room during the breakdown of Dance Yrself Clean (the irony is not lost on me or my Tuborg-drenched shirt). But there is also some time for subtlety, a much appreciated addition being the presence of Gavin Russom at the centre of the stage, producing some fantastic drones from the middle of her fort of modular synths.

“We will now play three songs. Then we will go downstairs, come back, and play four more songs.” It sounds parodic but this is more or less how James Murphy speaks, with a refreshing absence of any bullshit. Sentimentality is something you’ll have to inject into the songs yourself, but as the boards creek under the weight of All My Friends, it looks like most people here don’t have much trouble with that.

LIVE REVIEW: Dylan LeBlanc, Ideal Bar, 31.08.2017

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Dylan LeBlanc live in Copenhagen

Everything about Dylan LeBlanc’s show at Ideal Bar feels crowded. The small room is sold out. His backing band — a second guitarist, bassist, drummer, plus keyboardist and cellist — barely fit on the stage. The endless push to the bar suggests a queue that never ends.

But the mood is light. It’s the first night of the tour and LeBlanc’s first time in Europe in five years. His repeated expressions of gratitude to the audience are so earnest they almost sound insincere (but the room is full of Americans, so they know he’s sincere). It’s an air that likely grew out of his early work, based mostly on acoustic guitars and a singer-songwriter aesthetic. While there is an interlude of LeBland alone on stage with just a guitar, the heart of the set is a bluesy Americana.

The songs often begin composed and measured, revealing complex and layered arrangements. At these points, it’s LeBlanc’s cellist who really stands out as the fact that alters the songs beyond a specific genre. Often the songs devolve into squalls of thrilling but increasingly predictable guitar feedback. At these points, you can feel how tight the space is; their movements are restricted beyond a point of natural inclination and on more than one occasion I fear Leblanc will get a guitar neck to the face. Songs’ endings stretch out beyond a sense of efficiency. It does reveal how tightly rehearsed the band is, but it also seems strange after a while that any one of those songs is not the end of the set.

At some point towards the end of the set, LeBlanc spills off of the low stage and plays in the protective ring the audience has formed around the stage for their bags. Leblanc is still clearly aware of the potential of hitting other people while he plays, though given a little more freedom. In a clearly well-rehearsed set, this still feels like a genuine expression of his energy, the way his constant thanks seem like a genuine expression of gratitude. And given the audience’s response,

it seems likely that when LeBlanc and his band eventually return to Copenhagen, it will be to a bigger stage.

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh

LIVE REVIEW: Haven Festival, 11-12.08.17

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Iggy Pop live at Haven Festival Copenhagen

With the disappearance of Trailer Park and Vanguard, Copenhagen has been missing a localised music festival that caters to more than just electronic music. On the face of it, this year’s Haven Festival is here to fill that void. Located in the post-industrial landscape of Refshaleøen on the outer edges of Copenhagen harbour, the festival is spread over a field (or Meadow, as they would have it) and former docks. The fetishised grittiness of the crumbling warehouses is juxtaposed by the view across the water, of the cruise ships at Langelinie, the Little Mermaid, and the custard-coloured Royal Yacht moored nearby.

The food and drink has been as much a part of the conversation in anticipation of the festival as the music, if not more so. Provided by mostly by Mikkeller and Meyers bakery, you can get all the microbrewed beer and organic barbecue you want, provided you are willing to cough up, queue for an hour and get lectured on the evils of supermarket bacon by a man in a leather apron. With a lineup including The National, Bon Iver, Feist and Iggy Pop, Haven is very consciously catering to an older, more moneyed crowd than most other Danish festivals.

Feist live at Haven Festival Copenhagen

With a unique and visually interesting setting, some of the most talked-about food in town and some big names, the worst you would expect to say about Haven is that it is expensive and a little on the dull, safe side. Unfortunately it ended up being a victim both of the weather and its own success. Funnelling crowds through a single bridge that connects the main field with the food court is hardly great crowd management, and failing to provide any shelter from the rain on Sunday hardly helped matters. This will get chalked down to inexperience, and is unlikely to do much to damage their ticket sales next year.

Friday’s lineup starts on a relatively mellow note, with folk-tinged indie from Conor Oberst and Lisa Hannigan, but in fairness all pales when compared to the main course of the entire festival, our main reason for being here at all: Iggy Pop. I have genuinely never witnessed a human being spread quite as much joy to a crowd as Professor Ignatius Pop himself, who very literally runs on stage, does a few odd pirouettes and hollers as mangled series of “fuckfuckffuckmotherfuckeerrrr” before launching into I Wanna Be Your Dog. It’s a ballsy move to have the Passenger within the first four songs of your set, but then again it’s ballsy to have not worn a shirt in about half a century. Everyone around me is sporting a perma-grin for the entire set.

Perfume Genius live at Haven Festival Copenhagen

The next day feels like a comedown from Iggy, and is certainly not improved by the rain that peppers Feist (light drizzle), Perfume Genius (moderate), and Liss (absolute fucking downpour). Feist makes the most effort to repel the weather, sometimes by claiming to see sun (sheer optimism) but mostly via her infectious good nature. Changing lyrics to celebrate three girls in the front row who are singing along to every line, or to recommend that people don’t take her words too literally (at the line “I would leave any party for you”), she almost succeeds in making us forget the rain. Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius has increased both his profile and the size of his backing band since we last saw him at Roskilde Festival, and Liss are sounding smoother than ever.

Sets at the two main stages are staggered in such a way that every hour and a half the entire festival decamps across the bridge in one direction or the other, and our only change to eat is by missing Bon Iver entirely. The shiitake okonomiyaki is worth that omission. Unsurprisingly, the National’s closing set is all bells and whistles and guest appearances. The band’s musical core, brothers Aaron and Bryce Dessner, are the cofounders of the festival alongside Claus Meyer and Mikkel Borg Bergsø, so naturally theirs is meant to be the crowning set of the festival. Joined on stage by Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, This is the Kit and Kwami Liv on “I Need My Girl”, the National manage to sum up the day with the blessed absence of rain.

The National live at Haven Festival Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

Roskilde Festival 2017: Day 4, 01.07.2017

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Circuit des Yeux’s only Danish shows before today were in Copenhagen and have only been at Jazzhouse (she gives them a nod of gratitude toward the end of the set). So it’s pleasantly surprising to see how many people have turned up for her set at Gloria, given that the rain has stopped as well. We’ve been taken with her tenor-range alto since the first time we saw her, but it was exciting to see her performing with a band instead of solo. She is bolstered by a drummer and violist (and a bit of programming), turning her sinister folk somewhere between rocking and terrifyingly demonic. She closed the set with a new song, so we hope this means she’ll be back again soon.

It doesn’t matter how many times we see Jenny Hval, if she’s playing live we’ll be there. The main reason is that we know that no matter how recently we’ve seen her, the performance itself is going to be different from the last time. A festival stage is a very different setting from a small club, but she compensated with her own take on volume, namely billowing sheets of plastic.

In addition to her usual person behind the control panel, she had another synth player/vocalist and a tuba player, both whom were occasionally called upon to abandon their instruments and leap around the stage while Jenny sang as though none of it was happening around her. It takes tremendous commitment to an idea to jump to the rhythm of an odd ball song while swinging around a big fuck off sheet of plastic like it’s a normal activity.

Slowdive have played Roskilde fairly recently, but not surprisingly their 2014 set at 02:30 wasn’t very highly attended. Not the case at their set at Avalon at what they refer to as a more reasonable hour of 18:00. Then they were riding on reunion buzz, but now they’re supporting a new album. They’ve balanced their set well, weaving in new songs with their back catalogue and still seemingly genuinely excited that they’re performing. Whether it’s Avalon’s sound system or the band’s own mixing choice, there’s a lot of bass in this performance, and it’s melodic and driving enough that we don’t mind that it matches the guitars in volume at all. Interestingly, it’s the new singles “Star Roving” and “Sugar for the Pill” that elicit the biggest cheers. It seems Slowdive have succeeded in introducing themselves to a completely new audience.

Some bands appear to have been specially designed and cultivated in a B-movie laboratory in order to headline a festival, and Arcade Fire are without a doubt one of the prime examples of this. The massive hooks and singalongs that sound more than a little bombastic on record make perfect sense in this massive muddy field. Opening with “Wake Up”, the band do just that, warming up the audience in record time, to the degree that it’s only a few minutes into the set that Win Butler has managed to jump on top of our very own Morten Aagard Krogh in the photo pit. New material from their soon-to-be-released fifth album, Everything Now, is carefully sandwiched between some of their more dance and electronica-leaning work, with the transition between “The Sprawl II” and “Reflektor” being particularly pleasing in its smoothness. Having whipped themselves up with an obvious closer like “Rebellion (Lies)”, Win insists on returning to the stage for one last goodbye, with “Neon Bible”.

It feels like a natural quiet ending, but ance outfit Moderat  – a hybrid of Berlin electronica acts Apparat (Sasha Ring) and dance duo Modeselektor (Gernot Bronsert and Sebastian Szary) – have other plans. The after-midnight gig lasted three hours (at the tail-end of a rainy festival, even our hardiest reviewer only lasted one) and cemented why the outfit has been much-hyped as the ultimate electronica live act. Pounding beats were accompanied by a visually-intricate light show, oscillating from pulsating singles with frenetic drums before moving into mid-tempo ambient tracks. The festival setting meant the volume was higher than any club, leaving a lasting impression of a powerful show for festival-goers to trudge home to.

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