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LIVE REVIEW: The Necks, Jazzhouse 05.12.17

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The Necks live at Brorsons Kirke in Copenhagen

It seems fitting that this, the end of the road for Jazzhouse, should take place in a church. The old venue in Niels Hemmingsens Gade has closed, and its requiem is being performed here, in Brorsons Kirke, by the Necks.

The Australian trio are often referred to as an improvisational jazz unit,  but don’t come expecting solos: their pieces typically emerge out of an initial fragment of piano or bass, from Chris Abrahams and Lloyd Swanton respectively, underpinned by the eery jangling of bells and cymbals that crowd the feet of percussionist and drummer Tony Buck. Small alterations will start to stack up until they reach a hypnotic intensity, such that the end can feel like been snatched back home after a long and strange journey.

The setting tonight is particularly conducive to the mix of concentration and wonder that the Necks are capable of producing. The band is softly lit in the centre of the small church, surrounded by the audience in warm, candle-lit gloom. On the other side of the room I see two older women, heads resting against each other, with closed eyes and beatific smiles, while on the other side of a room a kid in a baseball cap bobs his head like he’s at an industrial techno set.

Those two reactions help explain just why its hard to talk about the Necks’ music in a convincing way. There is a layer of abstraction to it that allows this huge divergence of interpretation. Tonight they play two sets of uninterrupted music, of roughly 45 minutes each, with an intermission in between.

The first slowly develops out of a beguiling, endless series of piano arpeggios that would put Lubomyr Melnyk to shame. This has the insistency of classical minimalism, but the bass and drums rescue it from an academic exercise and inject real pathos into the piece. At the same time Abrahams’ piano mutations feel closer to a DJ performing the perfectly beat-matched transition from one track to another, by subtly changing the emphasis in a chord.

The intense crescendos of the first set are replaced by a more brooding and searching second half, much closer to what you might have heard in the first couple of tracks from their latest album, Unfold. In this comparative quietness Buck’s percussion has a change to shine through more, especially towards the end when he manages to produce some banshee sounds from his kit by dragging a small cymbal against the skins of the drums.

There is a long pause at the end of the concert, as the last strains echo around the small church. Then the dream breaks, the lights go up, a cold December night comes grasping through the doors. So long Jazzhouse, and thanks for this, your last gift.

LIVE REVIEW: The Horrors, Lille Vega, 27.11.2017

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the horrors live lille vega copenhagen

You could be forgiven if the image conjured up by mention of the Horrors was one of too much hair spray and lanky moodiness. It’s an image they’ve sold for the last decade, from their initial emergence from the garage rock revival, never quite shed as they began to explore denser, dreamier arrangements, and supported yet again tonight at Lille Vega if by nothing else than the number of Unknown Pleasures t-shirts in the audience.

The band on stage, however, are not moody, loafing neo-goths, but a group of high energy stumbling and twisting their way around. Amidst a total onslaught of enveloping lights and dizzying strobes is singer Faris Badwan, glammed out in leather trousers and sequined shirt. He’s thrashing around from the word go, flanked by Rhys Webb and Joshua Hayward, who are more subdued in their dress and movements but test the limits of their energy and balance.

the horrors live lille vega copenhagen

The focus of their evening is the new album, V, and the set tacitly ignores their debut. Having cast off any garage rock associations, what is left is a lush wash of guitars and synths. The live arrangements have more focus on the rhythm section, and even if the albums don’t inspire you to dance there are people dancing now.

There’s a warmth and enthusiasm in the crowd, at one point inspiring a woman to shout, “I love you, Josh!” at Hayward, and prompting Badwan to demand, “And what about me?” Though Badwan has the pouting pose down pat, he spends most of the evening continuing to lunge about the stage and teetering on the monitors, at one point beckoning to a man in the crowd and then prodding him with a mic stand when he doesn’t respond. It seems like things could spill over at any moment, that Badwan could fling himself into the crowd while “Still Life” rolls on behind him, but it never gets that intense.

It’s all weirdly just fun.

LIVE REVIEW: The War On Drugs, TAP1, 26.11.2017

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The War On Drugs - Roskilde Festival 2015 (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Getting to TAP1 feels a bit like a journey through no man’s land on the way to a rave for the few in the know. It isn’t exactly like that, though. Situated in a former distillery in one of the few unpolished areas of Copenhagen, the 4500 capacity venue, where the War On Drugs are playing, is enormous: it’s about 100 meters from one end to the other, and even though it’s only half filled and I’m standing in the middle of the crowd, the frontman Adam Granduciel is just a tiny silhouette on the bright lit stage.

But The War On Drugs is not a band that you come to see, it’s a band that you come to hear. It’s unlikely to add anything to the concert if Adam Granduciel suddenly turned into some guitar-throwing rock-god I. With that in mind I learn to accept that the show is entirely stripped of anything of visual interest.

After opening with “In Chains” from their latest album A Deeper Understanding, The War On Drugs move on to “Baby Missiles” from their 2011 album Slave Ambient, and I am relieved to hear that the textured and layered music doesn’t loose all of its details to the raw surroundings. Because being spoiled with venues such as Loppen, Jazzhouse (rip) and Vega, I have to admit, that I was quite nervous about the sound. Concrete and steel aren’t exactly materials known for their acoustic qualities and apparently the sound hadn’t been top notch when The War On Drugs played the night before.

During the two hour set The War On Drugs plays almost the entire album A Deeper Understanding and about half of Lost in A Dream, plus a few songs from Slave Ambient and Wagonwheel Blues. I think it’s debatable if The War On Drugs ever made a hit, but it feels like a hit parade anyhow.

Adam Granduciel is not particular chatty, and the music is in large executed very much like it is on record. People often associate the The War On Drugs with driving through vast landscapes, and I am thinking to myself that this particular road trip could just go on, because at no time do I feel boredom creeping in.

It’s a very diverse crowd; the majority here is, like at most other concerts, people in their 20’s and 30’s, but there’s also quite a few who grew up while Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Neil Young were still young. Maybe it’s because the band seems to evoke these great artists, while still being very much their own, that they have such a wide appeal.

The photo was taken at Roskilde Festival 2015 by Morten Aagaard Krogh 

LIVE REVIEW: Mark Lanegan, Amager Bio, 19.11.2017

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Mark Lanegan live at Amager Bio Copenhagen

Mark Lanegan has been around for decades, has worked with more bands and artists than can be committed to memory, and has had a hand in a broad range of projects. His set at Amager Bio, however, is more firmly rooted in the present. Focusing his setlist on his work post-2000 with a particular focus on 2012’s Blues Funeral and this year’s Gargoyle, he ping pongs between alt-rock and blues.

The focus on the last fifteen or so years is an interesting choice given that Lanegan’s appeal does not seem to be cross-generational. The room is full, but many look as though they could have been on this journey with him over the last few decades. It makes for a weirdly subdued evening, with a crowd that is attentive but not especially energetic. Lanegan himself is glued to his mic stand, almost like he’s trying to twist it free, and there is something shaky about his general body language.

It is unsurprising that when he does speak, Lanegan’s voice is shot to shit; it’s easy to imagine a permanent state of laryngitis. When he sings, though, his voice is stronger than any of his timbre feels like it has a right to be. It’s many of the quieter songs of the evening that steal the show, such as his cover of the Twilight Singers’ “Deepest Shade,” while “One Way Street” (performed with just his lead guitarist) and “Bleeding Muddy Water” leave you wondering why he would ever be anything other than a blues man.

But then it’s nice that there can be surprises from an artist who has found himself at home with different artists and different tones. “Ode to Sad Disco” (introduced as “born in this city [as “Sad Disco”] and borrowed by me”) is surprisingly poppy even in its live incarnation, and a cover of Joy Division’s “Atmosphere” closes the set with a surprisingly lightness from both the arrangement and Lanegan’s vocals. If Lanegan continues to record and tour in the coming decades, and continues to live in the present, it’s safe to conjecture he will maintain that sort of enigmatic status.

LIVE REVIEW: Protomartyr and Metz, Loppen, 07.11.2017

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metz live at loppen copenhagen

On paper, Protomartyr and Metz sharing a bill seemed absolutely brilliant. And before we get any further, we’ll confirm that their co-headlined show at Loppen — evenly split with an hour for each band — was, in fact, brilliant. What we didn’t quite anticipate was how strange those two bands are when placed side by side.

Part of the discrepancy is that Protomartyr is not a band you immediately associate with being laid back. The brashness of their albums translates as more of a nonchalance live, not least because vocalist Joe Casey’s performance style is more voice actor than singer. His dry delivery is the defining characteristic of the band, and even though his physical presence is often stock still and a bit hunched, he is devastatingly effective.

“Sorry for spitting on the people in the front row,” he says in a rare bit of between song chat. “It’s what I do.” Casey can toss out throwaway lines with deadpan humor, but when he chants, “everything’s fine,” it’s disconcerting.

Protomartyr live at loppen copenhagen

But what really makes Protomartyr seem relaxed is when Metz take the stage and the opposite approach to performing in every way: Everything is louder, the band’s movements are more violent, and the half-spoken vocals are replaced with screaming.

The shift in energy is somewhere between deranged and comical. The next hour is filled with loud guitars alternating between clanging and vibrato. Drummer Hayden Menzies plays in a fashion that suggests he would smash anything set in front of him to pieces (though the layered effect on one cymbal that makes it sound like he’s hitting the lid of a trashcan is a nice effect). Frontman Alex Edkins is a relentless screaming mess, likely restraining himself from leaping across the stage only because Loppen has a low ceiling.

It’s on that thrashing note that the evening comes to a close, but even if the line up is a little strange, on the whole it is adeptly paced. It leaves you drained with no eardrums left to speak of, but absolutely satisfied.

Photos by Morten Aargaard Krogh

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.

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