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LIVE REVIEW: Peter Murphy – 40 years of Bauhaus, Store Vega, 11.12.2018

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Bauhaus

As the title of this show tells, this Tuesday night at Store Vega is all about nostalgia.
A look around while listening to the opening act Desert Mountain Tribe, shows an audience that has at least one thing in common:
They prefer to wear darker colors.
The supporting duo’s set of energetic, monotone and dark psych-rock culminating in an exhaustive and repetitive performance by the drummer is well received by the mature crowd. And after only a short moment, the main acts are entering the stage.
Peter Murphy, peacocking in a full beard, full make up and a dark, shiny jacket has teamed up with bass player David J, as one half of the original Bauhaus. As stand ins for the absent members is The Mission guitarist, Mark Gemini Thwaite and drummer Marc Slutsky.
As the show opens with the disturbing guitar riff of “Double Dare”, the opening song from the band’s 1980 debut album In the Flat Field. Most people in the audience is immediately drawn into the the atmosphere of what is by many considered the first goth records recorded. Adding the drums, functioning as both rhythm section as well as a backing melody, transcends the whole room within seconds, even before Murphy opens his mouth.

peter murphy bauhaus

While 61 year old Peter Murphy’s voice may have turned darker during the years he still masters his unique and dramatic vocal that has been his trademark in four decades, always combined with a theatrical mime show, highly influenced by a young David Bowie’s and early European dada avantgarde.
Thwaite’s guitar playing was an impressive imitation of Daniel Ash’ original work, yet still leaving room for his personal interpretations. And in combination with Peter Murphy’s beard and sufi dance, inspired by his years spend in Turkey, made most of the songs seem fresh and relevant.
As the concert developed, Peter Murphy was less tight in his performance and showed a bit more of a traditional rock’n’roll attitude, reaching out to the audience and even during “Nerves” promoting the audience to do hand claps.
This made the second half of the show loose a bit of momentum while at the same time the band also suffered a bit from a few sound issues.
As the band played their big hit “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” Murphy posed as Count Dracula on stage but even though the audience applauded it was perhaps the weakest part of the show. Fortunately the band managed to get back on track, playing “Kick in the Eye”, “Passion of Lovers”, “Dark Entries” and other classic songs a lot more convincing and after several extra songs ending the whole show with a perfect praise to David Bowie with another hit from the Bauhaus catalogue: “Ziggy Stardust”.

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

LIVE REVIEW: Vashti Bunyan, Nørrebro Teater, 06.12.2018

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vashti bunyan live at nørrebro teatre copenhagen

In a genre of soothing singer-songwriters, folk legend Vashti Bunyan is particularly soothing. But if an evening at home with her records is a gentle way to ease your mind, then seeing her play live fills you with warmth and comfort in a way paralleled only by receiving a letter (yes letter, not email) from a friend when you need it most.

Part of this is down to the fact that, aside from being stripped back to just herself and her long time backing guitarist/vocalist Gareth Dickson, her performance is very faithful to her recordings. That unique timbre that makes her voice sound like falling through a cloud carries us through the evening. It’s familiar and consistent and still so unlike any of her contemporaries or imitators.

But part of what makes the evening so relaxing is that Bunyan is as much a storyteller between songs as she is in her lyrics. There are anecdotes to accompany each song, whether it’s a tale from the 60s or reflections that inspired her more recent work, all filled with laughter. Some of these stories bring unique insight to her music; it’s hard not to hear the Beach Boys reference in “I’d Like to Take a Walk Through Your Mind” after learning that she wrote it when Andrew Loog Oldham told her to write a song combining Tim Hardin, the Mamas and the Papas, and Pet Sounds. And there’s also triumph of the spirit as Bunyan recounts her long road to recognition.

“Nobody took much notice at the time. I was told my songs were quite uncommercial,” she says. “And in the last few years, [‘Train Song’ has] been used in commercials.”

It’s quite special that Bunyan is willing to play the old songs, willing to tell the stories behind them, but also willing to look at what she dreamed about in her 20s with clear-eyed experience of someone in her 70s. Bunyan is kind to her younger self and gives us all an opportunity to be kind to the idealistic versions of ourselves that we might keep out of sight. It’s this generosity that has the crowd on their feet cheering at the end of her set, and that we can use to counter a harsher reality.

LIVE REVIEW: Vinicio Capossela, Alice, 25.11.2018

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Photos by Victor Yakimov

Vinicio Capossela has been a mainstay and an oddity in the Italian music scene since his first record, All’una e trentacinque circa, in the year of my birth, 1990. Borrowing from traditions as disparate as the troubadours, the folk music of southern Italy, Greek rebetiko and dixieland jazz, Capossela’s work fluctuates between the theatrical and the antiquarian, digging up old songs and embodying them in his performances.

Tonight, sitting by the piano in his captain’s hat (the first of many headwear choices) and dusty black suit with shell finishings, he looks halfway between Desire-era Dylan and an extra in a Visconti film. He’s accompanied by his “banda della Cupa”, named after his most recent release, Canzoni della cupa. 

But this evening is far from limited to these songs, with a selection spanning most of the highlights of Capossela’s career. Conscious of finding himself in the land of H.C. Andersen, Capossela picks some (very literal) siren songs, the playful swing number “Pryntyl” and the more meditative “Le sirene”.

There’s a party atmosphere in Alice tonight, a semi-official meetup of Italians in Copenhagen, lots of familiar faces and loud voices. The slow numbers give way to tarantelle and more costume changes. Towards the end, with Capossela’s most famous song, “Che cossé l’amor”, it becomes a veritable singalong.

During the encore, the sweet lullaby “Il paradiso dei calzini”, you can see and hear the Italians turn to their Danish friends to amusedly explain: this is a song about lost socks. A surprisingly sad one at that, but that’s just what Capossela excels at, mixing playfulness with nostalgia, social history with theatre.

LIVE REVIEW: Gruff Rhys, Alice, 24.11.2018

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gruff rhys live at alice in copenhagen resist phony encores

Few pop musicians possess the creative drive of Gruff Rhys. As if his work with the Super Furry Animals weren’t enough on its own, his prolific solo work and collaborations on everything from the concept synthpop of Neon Neon to appearances alongside De La Soul on the Gorillaz’s “Superfast Jellyfish” prove that the the man is tough to pin down but easy to love. In his last two albums Rhys has focused on a psychelia-tinged Americana, but the stylistic choice is in the service of the themes he covers, whether it be the adventures of Welsh explorer John Evans along the Missouri in American Interior, or his more topical American dystopia in his latest album, Babelsberg. 

True to his maximalist vision and energetic practicality, Gruff takes to the stage with a band, a slideshow, and his signature placards (including vintage SFA “GO APESHIT”). The first sign says “Side 1”, which gives you a pretty good idea of where the evening is going. Starting with the lush opener “Frontier Man”, Rhys tells the story of a national consciousness gone senile, and despite being pretty open about it (think of the song “Negative Vibes”) somehow avoids being a massive downer about it. His charm comes through even at his most cynical, and if you were feeling just a tinge melancholy as Side 2 winds to a close, the second half of the evening comes to the rescue.

Things take a more meditative turn with SFA track “Colonise the Moon”, replete with chiming guitars, a digital shruti box, and a roadie lighting incense sticks. The satyrical edge of the song is amplified by the noticeable discomfort in the drummer’s face as more and more sticks are lit, and no amount of hand signalling can divert the man from his task.

Rhys’s Welsh-language songs always seem to be his most joyful, and tonight is no exception, starting with the spaghetti-western-by-route-of-Bangor ‘Iolo’ to the “Hey Mickey”-inspired drums and vocals on “Gwn Mi Wn”. After this we are offered a choice: either some more “mediocre pop songs”, or, alternatively “a 20 minute crime drama”. Needless to say we all shout for “Skylon!”, a three chord riff that lays the foundation for the story of a bomb-disposal expert who saves a plane from a hijacker with a Semtex device disguised as a beer can (said device is carefully placed on the piano by the zealous roadie at the appropriate moment), and lives “unhappily ever after” with a mediocre tv personality he has been sitting next to.

As the night draws to a close, Rhys reminds us of his membership to the “Resist Phoney Encores” movement, leaving us with a wave and the last two cards: “The End” and “Thanks”.

Photos by Amanda Farah

LIVE REVIEW: Colin Stetson + Eli Keszler, Alice, 14.11.2018

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colin stetson live at alice in copenhagen

As an awkward teenager I let myself be convinced into taking up the saxophone. My main memories of it are marked by my constantly bleeding lips, crushed and torn between the mouthpiece and a set of razor-sharp dental braces. If only I had been aware back then of just how brutally terrifying a saxophone could sound, I might have kept it up. But the record that first alerted me to this, Colin Stetson’s New History of Warfare Vol 2: Judges, only appeared in 2011, when my reed-gnawing days were long gone. His work since then has encompassed everything from collaborations, reworkings of classical pieces, and film soundtracks, most recently for Hereditary.

Tonight is a chance to hear two virtuosic and idiosyncratic instrumentalists at work.  Percussionist and sound artist Eli Kezler starts off the night with his signature off-kilter virtuosity on the drums. Embedded as much in electronic music as he is in jazz, Kezler’s drumming is woven into a bed of synthetic and sampled sounds, triggered by midi pads connected to various drum pieces: the bass drum might usher in an ominous pad sound, a small floor tom is locked into a sequence of electric piano samples. His drumming style is based on tight clusters of spidery rolls, relying as much on the sides and rims as the skins themselves.

Before Colin Stetson arrives on stage the more curious people in the first row are carefully inspecting his instruments, a heavily wired-up trio of bass and alto saxophone and bass clarinet. The bass saxophone is monumental in size, its faded patina and the wiring of the contact mics connected to it giving it a martial feel with might account for the title of Stetson’s Warfare series.

This is matched in the physicality, both of the performance and the man himself. His neck muscles stretch the skin to bursting point, cheeks bellowing air through his signature circular breathing technique, his face turning varying shades of red and purple under the effort. The first piece of the evening is “The stars in his head”, from Judges, made up of a series of lightning fast arpeggios on alto saxophone, voiced in all shades from barely audible to metallic distortion. Another singular quality to Stetson’s playing is caught by the contact microphone wrapped around his throat, picking up his haunting screamed vocals directly from his vocal cords.

But the real excitement comes when he picks up the bass saxophone and launches into the eponymous “Judges”: the microphones attached to the instrument pick up the sound of the mechanism itself, the thudding of the pads amplified to an industrial degree that would make Nitzer Ebb sound like Mumford and Songs by comparison. It’s truly shocking the first time you hear it, and transforms the atmosphere of the room from polite enthusiasm to feverish intensity.

In between songs Stetson is affable and down-to-earth, visibly energised by the enthusiastic reception. “Where has the time gone?” he laments as he checks the time before his last song, and indeed despite all his athleticism there is clearly a physical limit to how long Stetson can perform these demanding pieces. The phrase “short and sweet” doesn’t really cut it in this context, but it’s a textbook example of leaving the audience wanting more. And leaving me to look up the price of saxophones on DBA.

 

 

LIVE REVIEW: RP Boo + Jana Rush, Alice, 09.11.2018

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It took a long time for RP Boo’s name to be widely recognised, but his influence on the footwork genre has gradually brought him to legendary status, first in his native Chicago, and finally here in the wider world. Producing since the mid 90s, his first full-length record only appeared in 2013 on Mike Paradinas’s Planet Mu label. Footwork is as much a dance style as it is a music genre, characterised mostly by its intricacy and speed. On this side of the Atlantic its main acts are mainly released on that same label, which is perhaps most known for abstract, even geeky, IDM, but as we discover tonight its real focus is on creating pure joy.

The night opens with local boys Lyra Valenza, whose frenetic blend of techno, ecstatic rave and confrontational breakbeats indirectly seems to point much more clearly towards British and American tradition than most of their local peers. They feel like a real breath of fresh air compared to the dourness that characterises a lot of the rest of the scene.

Jana Rush is part of the same scene as RP Boo, which is clearly evidenced as they photograph and celebrate each other’s sets.  With an incredible ear for detail and a taste for obscene vocal samples, Jana Rush exhibits an incredible control over the flow of the set, gathering momentum at each beat, offsetting peaks with moments of gleeful chaos. Halfway through her set it is hard to believe that the headline act hasn’t even started.

Taking a breather outside, we can hear the bass and kick rumbling through the walls, which helps to isolate the core of the footwork sound. The kick is at its simplest right now, four to the floor, but the bass is played in triplets, creating a juddering effect not entirely unlike experiencing heart palpitations. And I mean that in the most positive sense. Back inside RP Boo is waving at us as the first brass burst of “02-52-03” thunders through the room. Later I discover that the sample is from an old Godzilla movie, which makes perfect sense, especially matched later on with a sample from, of all things, the Rocky theme.

That’s RP Boo in a nutshell, really: the decades of dedication to his craft, all that painstaking layering of rhythms, all of it is still based on the simple desire to create these joyful moments where the intensity of it all means your brain devoting all its energy just to keep up with the body. Without a doubt its the most fun I’ve ever had at Alice.

Photos by Victor Yakimov

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.

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