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LIVE REVIEW: Torres, Loppen, 10.03.2020

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Torres live at Loppen in Copenhagen

Torres isn’t a newcomer, but like many artists playing in Denmark for the first time, she’s amazed that people have heard of her. And while there are maybe 40 people at Loppen on a Tuesday, these are people who know her music well. It’s a crowd that cheers for older songs and that applauds for a little too long after every song.

Opener Katie Harkin — once the frontwoman of indie rockers Sky Larkin, lately of Courtney Barnet’s touring band — leads a formidable charge. She’s performing to a nearly-empty room, encouraging people to come forward in a time of social distancing, but she has a tremendous, warm stage presence. She gives us a taste of her debut solo album (simply under Harkin), stripped down to just her vocals and electric guitar. “It’s such a strange time to be traveling,” she says, introducing her new single and not knowing how much stranger things are going to get. “This is for all of us.”

When Torres takes the stage, it feels like a blast of all of the pent-up energy we know we need to preemptively get out of our systems. For all the seriousness of her songs, she jumps back and forth with a great playfulness while wearing a pair of cowgirl boots.

While there’s a heavy dose of crunchy rock from her earlier albums, the focus of the evening is on her new album, Silver Tongue. While programmed drums and synths keep things suitably unpredictable, it’s the pedal steel on these newer songs that lends them a real sense of drama, particularly on “Last Forest” and the album’s title track. This wide range of compositions from her more alt-rock previous albums to the complexly composed new release also gives Torres a chance to show the amazing breadth of her vocals. The extremes come out between the quiet whispers of “Gracious Day” and the full-throated yop of “Sprinter.” 

Torres also reveals the meaning behind the name Silver Tongue, an expression that refers to someone’s ability — for better or worse — to persuade others. “This is an album about persuading people to believe in the greater good,” she says.

We had a suspicion going into the evening that this would probably be the last gig we would go to for a while. Government recommendations have ensured that this is true. So until things start to resemble what we were used to, at least we can say that this was a show worth going out for. And until then, may we can hold onto the album’s sentiment.

LIVE REVIEW: Moor Mother, Alice, 21.02.2020

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moor mother live at alice in copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

It’s been close to a whole three years since the last time we caught up with Moor Mother, Camae Ayewa’s solo noise and spoken word project. In the meantime Ayewa has been keeping busy, releasing records with Irreversible Entanglements, ZONAL, and last year’s Moor Mother release, Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes. One thing that has very noticeably changed in the intervening years is the size of the crowd, which has doubled since that night in 2017.

The sonic pallet is still dark, twisted and pained, opening on a distorted, bassy synth drone, and accompanied a lonely, skittish violin. Ayewa’s vocals are low and urgent, more declamatory than rhythmic. “After Images” breaks into a martial kick drum, and marks the tension point between the punk confrontational part of Moor Mother and the gothic, reflective part.

Samples are also an integral part of Ayewa’s music, but they aren’t used in the looping manner of hiphop or techno. Instead the voices of the likes of Paul Robeson appear as ghostly presences that sit uncomfortably next to the noise. They could appear almost nostalgic next to the apocalyptic cacophony, if it weren’t for the obvious histories from which they speak.

The emphasis on time having stopped, of time being “held captive”, is embodied in those clips from spirituals and blues, and appears to situate Moor Mother very much in the Afro-goth tradition outlined by Leila Taylor in Darkly: Black History and America’s Gothic Soul.

But as mentioned above, there’s also a great physicality to Ayewa’s performance. Towards the end of the set she disappears into the crowd, purposefully stumbling into people, tying the crowd up in her mic cables. But that confrontational side is also tempered by empathy, a quick “are you ok?” as soon as the track draws to an end.

As if to disprove any assertions of bleak pessimism, Ayewa ends the evening by completely turning face, with a very short impromptu DJ set. Something like an exorcism at the end of this industrial séance.

LIVE REVIEW: Isobel Campbell, Hotel Cecil, 14.02.2020

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isobel campbell live at hotel cecil copenhagen

“Thank you for remembering me,” says Isobel Campbell. “We didn’t do any press, so we worried only five people would show up.”

Looking around a reasonably full room at Hotel Cecil, this seems like classic understatement, a part of the performance from a singer-songwriter whose nearly-25 year career involved stints in a beloved indie rock band and a multi-album collaboration with a titan of alternative rock, to say nothing of her five solo records.

But Campbell has kept a low profile in recent years. Her latest album, There is No Other…, released this month, is her first in almost 10 years. The new songs are a feature of the evening, the 60s inspired folk patterns drawing out her whispery vocals.

Opener Nina Violet is backing her on viola, bass, and guitar, but where she really shines is on vocals. They perform several songs from Campbell’s collaborations with Mark Lanegan, with Violet taking over Lanegan’s vocals. In particular, Violet’s lead vocals on “Seafaring Song” and “Something to Believe” not only highlighted her abilities in a way her own songs don’t, but adds a completely different dynamic to Campbell’s songs; the harmonies become soft and rich, freed from the gravel of Lanegan’s timbre.

This performance is not part of a wild Friday night out. Most of the songs are quiet enough that you can hear Campbell’s guitarist tapping his foot while he plays and the most intense moment of the set might be the harmonics she plays on her cello for the outro of “Thursday’s Child.” But while Campbell is warm and teasing between songs, it’s the gentleness of her voice that draws everyone in, and that gentleness carries through the whole set.

Campbell reveals that her final song is the first one she ever wrote, back when she was 21 years old. She doesn’t mention that it was for the band where she got her start, nor does anyone in the audience seem to be demanding songs from a group that Campbell has now been out of far longer than she was ever a member of. Still, the delight in the room when she begins “Is It Wicked Not To Care?” is palpable. And it’s a consistent, low-key way for her to bring the evening to a close.

LIVE REVIEW: Beak>, Loppen, 02.02.2020

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Geoff Barrow and Beak> live at Loppen Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

Bristol-based, kraut-rock-revivalists Beak> have finally shipped to Copenhagen, which means Loppen is heaving on a Sunday night. Lead by Geoff Barrow (him off Portishead), Beak> combine synths, bass and drums to create occult floor-stompers, pub psych and giallo-inspired soundtracks, sounding at times like Goblin after a really hard night out, at others like Tangerine Dream on a very tight budget.

What at first looks like a huge row of amplifiers turns out to be a light display, in equal measures trippy and tongue-in-cheek, as befits the three men on stage. Opening with “The Brazilian”, with its detuned synths and mastodontic descending bassline, we are projected into a 70s Italian crime movie, before settling into the hypnotic groove of “Brean Down”.

As synth player Will Young (no, not THAT one) downs a comically large can of Faxe, Barrow and bassist Billy Fuller read out negative youtube comments for their song “Eggdogg” (the highlight: “This is literally the worst combination of sounds in the history of the world”).

Beak> live at Loppen Copenhagen

In a live setting it’s much harder to separate older and newer material, since the evolution of Beak>’s latest record, 2018’s “>>>“, lay primarily in a much increased attention to production details. But the fluttering synth in “Allé Sauvage” is ever more frenetic live, and the caveman stomp of “Wulfstan II” is more brutal than ever.

Beak> really thrive in this setting, and even if their declaration that this has been their best concert in Denmark is a joke, it’s also a demand to check back in when they are next in town.

LIVE REVIEW: Richard Dawson / Burd Ellen, Alice, 31.01.2020

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richard dawson live at alice copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

Brexit day must be a strange time to be touring abroad as a British musician. From most you’d expect a bit of sheepishness (even a Leaver would feel a bit out of place, surely) and despondency. But tonight Richard Dawson and support act Burd Ellen deliver a blinder that breaks through the shackles of the present.

It’s a sold-out night at Alice, with a good proportion showing up early for Burd Ellen, in no small part buoyed by their set at Fanø Free Folk Festival last summer. The Scottish goth folk duo expand on their traditional repertoire with samplers, fiddles and DIY (and very literal) sound-sculptures. Gail Brogan (also of Pefkin) adds the eery backdrop for vocalist Debbie Armour’s fantastic voice, nowhere more clear and wrenching than in their rendition “Sweet Lemany”.

burd ellen live at alice copenhagen

Richard Dawson’s uniquely brutal fingerpicking guitar style and darkly funny lyrics have steadily gained him a substantial following since the release of his breakthrough album, Nothing Important. Since then the Newcastle-based folk singer has released a more acoustic-leaning concept album set in Northumberland after the retreat of the Roman Empire, as well as his latest record, 2020.

This is Dawson’s first concert in Denmark, so we can’t make any direct comparisons to his performances before he “went electric”, but the tracks from 2020 demonstrate a new rhythmic urgency. Accompanied by drums and bass, opener “Civil Servant” is a fuzzed-out song of complaint from the titular character, skipping work to avoid having to explain to “another poor soul/ why it is their Disability Living Allowance will be stopping shortly.”

Bleakness is everywhere in Dawson’s work, which means every little joke counts just that bit more. There is an audible chuckle at the mention of “the man in the vape shop” in “The Queen’s Head”, but the climactic moment comes with “Jogging”, starting with its Stooges-esque caveman stomp. This is Dawson at his emotionally complex core, a tale of someone suffering from anxiety who takes up jogging as a way to cope. The catharsis of the chorus matches musical euphoria with gnawing doubt: “I know I must be paranoid / but I feel the atmosphere / round here getting nastier.” The jogging might work, but that doesn’t stop the place from getting worse.

It’s a lyrical downer but physically exhilarating, and without doubt one of the best sets Alice has hosted in its two-year history. We’ll be needing a lot more Richard Dawson in the years to come.

LIVE REVIEW: Tusks, Ideal Bar, 18.02.2020

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Tusks live at Ideal Bar Copenhagen

It’s an evening of firsts for Tusks. It’s the band’s first gig of the tour. It’s frontwoman Emily Underhill’s first time in Denmark. It’s their guitarist’s first ever show with the band. And for most people in the crowd it will be their first gig of the year, starting off mellow and broody.

Though usually presented as Underhill’s solo project, Tusks are on stage at Ideal Bar as a fully-formed outfit. The difference this presents between the album recordings is immediate. Though there is plenty of guitar on Tusks’ albums, they are much more prominent here — which is before you account for synth track “Bleach” being reinterpreted for guitar in this set. 

There is a bedroom recording quality to Tusks’ output, but that feeling is absent here. Despite a laptop, a synth, a tablet set on an amp, and a whole mess of pedals, there is nothing swampy about the music. This is in large part because the vocals and drums are prominent rather than buried under reverb. There are still some chill out moments, as when they play “Mind,” and people are dancing in their own contorted ways.

That prominent, individual feeling of each instrument reshapes some songs in significant ways. Penultimate songs “Salt” has lost the softness of its recording and is instead strongly rhythmic. The synth lines are clearer, there is an extra floor tom, and the tune on the whole is more energetic and exciting.

It’s not an isolated moment; “Last” is only the second song in the setlist, but the band attack it with an energy usually reserved by performers for their final piece. Underhill pulls a similar trick for “Avalanche” when, after a quiet introduction, she counts her band in with a mischievous smile for a thunderous outro. It underlines the difference between Underhill the producer and Underhill who fronts a rock band. The version of Tusks she brings to the stage is more approachable, more dynamic, but exudes the same coolness. 

LIVE REVIEW: Boris, Vega, 01.12.2019

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Boris live at Lille Vega Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

Boris have gained cult status with their idiosyncratic take on slow, ominous waves of distorted guitars. Having collaborated with everyone from doom lords Sunn O))) and noise king Merzbow, Boris are the kind of band you bring a spare set of earplugs when you go see them. So their opening song, “Away from You”, comes as surprise: the delicate, reverb-y guitars, tasteful drumming and breathy vocals are about as far away as you can get from noise.

But Boris have never been a band that’s easy to define. With countless albums to their name, they have slowly morphed away from chugging psych band to a more genuinely experimental outfit, borrowing with ease from shoe-gaze, abstract noise and J-pop.

The confirmation of this comes with “Coma”, second track both of the set and their latest release, LOVE & EVOL: the sense of space is still there, but this time it is tackled with their signature wall of noise. Having seen Sunn O))) about a month ago it’s interesting to see that guitarists Atsuo and Wata are employing a similar live technique to Stephen O’Malley and co, slowly gesturing each chord change in order to synchronise with the ponderous tempo.

What’s so impressive about Boris in a live setting is how the trio manage to produce so much out of two guitars and a drum kit. It helps of course that Atsuo and Wata have an endless supply of pedals and pre-amps at their disposal, Atsuo supplementing his down-tuned guitar with an extra bass neck (as if Boris are ever in need of even more low end), Wata achieving the same effect electronically.

The energetic soul of the band is drummer and vocalist Takeshi, who tonight is in full stadium-goth mode, black lipstick and head mic. Boris may be experimental, but they are also fun. They nod to their origins with a cover of the Melvins’ song that gave them their name, and close with the lush, My Bloody Valentine-inspired “Farewell”. Which proves they also have a taste for appropriate titles.

LIVE REVIEW: Lankum, Alice, 29.11.2019

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lankum live at alice copenhagen

There is an inherent darkness to Lankum’s music. The Irish folk quartet place a strong focus on the texture of their arrangements and the word “apocalyptic” comes up frequently during their set at Alice.

They open with “Wild Rover,” the first song off of their latest album, The Livelong Day. The slow build of the song is a good representation of their song structures. The harmonium comes in halfway through the song and serves as a constant, ominous hum throughout the evening. It’s referred to as “that thing that sounds like the apocalypse,” and often requires Radie Peat to sit on the floor to play it, out of the line of sight of most of the audience.

The band layer vocals and harmonies three and four at a time, but their goal is never to blast the audience away. The same way they create texture with their instruments, they create textures with their vocals, and nuance takes precedence over volume. There is a lot of subtlety beneath the moodiness of their songs. The slow builds in complexity are exemplified when the band stitch together their darker tracks with the foot-stomping melodies more commonly associated with Irish folk music (outside of Ireland, at least).

But the band themselves are a bit more light-hearted than their music — or their suggestion of their music — might lead you to believe. Their chatter between songs is funny, warm, and often self-deprecating. They introduce the song “The Rocky Road to Dublin” with a story about being included on a competition show called Ireland’s Favourite Folk Song. “All we can say,” says Ian Lynch, “is this is not Irelands’s favorite folk song.”

Lankum are also another band resisting phoney encores, and Peat comments that it is deeply embarrassing to leave the stage, assume people want you to come back, and figure out how long you need to stand behind the curtain. Instead, the band simply asked if people wanted them to play two more songs. The audience did, and so the band did.

LIVE REVIEW: Holly Golightly, Loppen, 24.11.2019

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holly golightly live at loppen copenhagen

“Cuddle in,” Holly Golightly says as she and her band take the stage at Loppen. People drift away from their tables and towards the stage and suddenly the room feels different. With dozens of albums and years as a performer behind her, no one is at this show by accident. This is a friendly audience that is ready to oblige.

“We’ve got a new setlist: Same songs different order,” she says. A chuckle goes around the room and Gollightly remarks, “It’s funny because it’s true.”

It will, indeed, be the running gag of the evening. The band will tease each other about what song is next, who actually starts the songs, who actually has decent enough vision to read the set lists. It’s also true that if you’ve seen Golightly at some point in the last decade, or listened to a live album, you’ve heard some version of this collection of songs: Of Golightly’s clipped voice, her ramshackle guitar, her line between Americana and blues with a little garage holdover.

It does make the set reasonably representative of her work, from her standard opener “Crow Jane” to “Satan is His Name” off last year’s Do the Get Along; even Brokeoffs’ track “Mule Skinner” makes its way in as a dedication to everyone who has to go to work on Monday morning. 

Beyond all the quips about the band’s lack of professionalism, there are moments that take you by surprise. Golightly never really fully shifted her punk snarl to a country twang; she always maintained an appealing roughness to her vocals. But for jazzy number “My Love Is,” with the band stripped back to just bass and percussion, her vocals completely smooth out to a croon. Watching her, it’s suddenly clear that she could push her voice to very different depths if she wanted to. She could abandon the blues, Americana, garage rock all together and remake herself in a different image. 

But then again, you don’t stick around in music this long without keeping a few tricks up your sleeve.

LIVE REVIEW: Sarah Louise, 18.11.2019

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sarah louise live at alice copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

If your introduction to Sarah Louise was through her lush folk album Deeper Woods, or her trad Appalacian duo House and Land, you might be surprised by her current live set up: Her characteristic 12-string has been replaced by an electric, but the main elements are a sampler, synth, and pedals. On her latest release, “Nighttime Birds and Morning Stars”, she channels the cosmic music of Alice Coltrane and krautrock as she does her more traditional folk influences.

The common element throughout is Sarah Louise’s powerful voice, soaring above fingerpicked guitar and drum machines alike. The concert hall at Alice has been reduced in size by black velvet curtains, the audience huddled together at tables, and Louise’s down-to-earth presence gathers everyone together into a warm cloak against yet another wet autumn evening.

This is not Sarah Louise’s first time in Denmark, having played at Fanø Free Folk Festival in 2018 with House and Land, but it’s only fitting that this be her first trip to Copenhagen, ending the current season of Free Folk Mondays at Alice.

There is more of a DIY feel to the songs in a live settings, particularly in the charmingly unselfconscious drum presets that ring oddly beside the drones and rattles and bells. This new approach works surprisingly well with Sarah Louise’s older material as well: the sparse, electric version of “Bowman’s Root” seems to have switched seasons, from autumn to winter.

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