Even after eight studio albums and three soundtrack albums, the love and enthusiasm Mogwai engender from their audience is surprising. The idea that an instrumental band could ever become quite as big as this would be thought of as ridiculous outside of the odd 1960s novelty tune. But Mogwai are very much the lads of post-rock, who have made a career of giving songs ridiculous titles (reading the tracklist of any Mogwai album is a pleasure all in itself), wearing the same jeans and trainer combo, and concluding every live song with “Thanks, cheers, thanks a lot.” Having released both the soundtrack to French horror-series, Les Revenants, and a studio album, Rave Tapes, in just one year, anticipation is high.
The main concert hall at DR Koncerthus, with its asymmetric juxtapositions of balconies, as if several ships had collided around the stage, provides Mogwai with a suitably concentrated, if off-kilter, space. The seats are certainly welcome during Pye Corner Audio’s set, which consists of long-form electronic pieces. Though some of his last tracks contain rather more keyboard noodling than I’m comfortable with, some of his first songs have a wonderful eeriness, like having a slow panic attack on a bus, on a rainy Friday night.
The stage features the double-eye and purple hexagons from the cover of Rave Tapes, looking halfway between a set from a 60s sci-fi flick and an Illuminati convention.
Opening with “Heard About You Last Night”, one of Rave Tapes more ‘classic’ sounding tracks, Mogwai steer a course that gives equal time to tracks from their latest LP as well as older material. It is testament to the sheer breadth and size of their back catalogue that they can have a song as majestic as “I’m Jim Morrison, I’m dead” as their second song. Throughout, the five-piece swap instruments, are handed an endless series of guitars, and are periodically joined by long-time collaborator, the novelist and multi-instrumentalist Luke Sutherland.
No concessions are made to this being a venue designed for classical music. Mogwai are loud, tinnitus-inducing, Glaswegian audio-saboteurs, who entice you with delicate guitar lines before kicking the living shit out of your eardrums. “Rano Pano” sees the band battle with each other’s distorted guitar drones, kept in line by a strict drumbeat, while the solo to “How to be a Werewolf” bursts joyfully through the other guitar layers.
In these moments it seems almost a pity that we are sat down. Around me are pockets of metalheads awkwardly headbanging while leaning forwards in their seats. But much like Godspeed You! Black Emperor at Tivoli, the seating arrangement means that the audience can more readily accept longer and quieter songs. It’s certainly one way to make sure no-one irritates you by being too tall or attached to their phone. God bless seats. Now I feel old.
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On a horrible, windy, rainy night following so closely on the heels of lovely, warm weather, Ideal Bar feels especially welcoming, and Ólöf Arnalds feels like the perfect performer to distract from the nastiness outside. The múm member’s elfin soprano and finger-picked guitar are, even at their most melancholic, infused with the brightness of spring. She is cheerful and playful from the outset, cracking jokes that she “tunes because she cares” when her between song prep takes longer than she would like.
Though most of her set is in English, Arnald still manages to work in a few Icelandic songs, as well as caving to what she refers to as the temptation to sing a song taught to her during Danish classes in elementary school. There are also covers from Arthur Russell and Caetano Veloso which emphasize how unique her style of songwriting is — the way her fingers scuttle up and down the fretboard, how her vocals are drawn out in such a way that minimizes her accent and allows her to warble on wordless notes. But there is something charming in hearing her lilt clobber the “better, better, better” outro of “Maria Bethânia.”
Then again, charm seems to be why people are here, sitting so quietly that Arnalds finds it worthy of a comment. That’s part of the reason why things feel so comfortable, even when she stumbles halfway into a song and needs to start again, even when she’s laughing at her inability to wrap up her final song, “German Fields.” She isn’t flustered, so we aren’t flustered. We’re all friends here.
When a guy at Roskilde once told me he had his biggest life epiphany whilst watching Sigur Ros off his face on shrooms, I was in no way sceptical. It sounds like the perfect recipe for sudden realisations. Unfortunately, due to Bon Iver’s long time hibernation (and my lack of penchant for psychedelic drugs), I’ve had little to fill my greater height of consciousness quota. But last night’s gig suggests another majestic Icelander may be able to help me out.
Because Ásgeir Trausti is, quite simply, glorious. His music is uplifting even in its quietest moments, and as the Icelander’s bewitching vocals rise around the dark venue, it hits that perfect musical sweet spot. Suddenly plunging Store Vega into darkness, his brother and long time band mate performs an a cappella folk song in his native tongue to start the set. As the lights increase, the frontman and the other instrumentalists reveal themselves, moving into a quietly building melody. Before long, we’re stuck in a rich, multi-layered soundscape, that maintains itself unto the end of the set, only pausing to accept the loud applause the Danish audience are ready to offer between tracks.
At 5’1”, I am no match for the statuesque Scandinavians surrounding me. As a result, my view of the stage is limited to the occasional tip toe look at Ásgeir bent over his keyboard in a pool of spotlight. But this is not a bad thing. In soaring vocals over instrumentation that is at times hauntingly dark and at others anthemic, listening to Ásgeir live is a transportation, whether it be covering Nirvana’s ‘Heart Shaped Box’, or lifting himself into a falsetto for ‘King and Cross’. There’s a rumbling reverb under your feet as he closes the set with ‘Torrent’, that is impossible to resist.
Ásgeir Trausti is soft and powerful. He’s got strength and back up enough to not be fragile, but the music is heartfelt, warm and simple. Store Vega’s high ceilings may be architecturally glamorous enough for the attention and respect this singer demands, but it’s no match for the live show’s content.
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I have to admit, I’m sceptical of the George Ezra hype. Since featuring on the BBC Sound of 2014 Poll, he’s been catapulted onto the musical radar of “ones to watch”, and I can’t help but think it’s all a bit unsubstantiated. Unoriginal (although admittedly cheery and catchy) guitar pop? Really? That’s the new sound of 2014? But with an open mind I made my way to a sold-out Ideal Bar in Vega to make my judgement based on more than a Radio 1 interview and a few plays of ‘Cassy’O’. I’m now happy (and surprised) to admit I could not have invested my hour any better. I took a chance on the boy, and the boy done good.
When I first saw a press shot of Ezra, I thought they’d perhaps made a mistake, or the photo was a decade old; there was no way his Eoin Loveless resembling mug matched that deep husky voice. And here was that fresh faced blonde, in the flesh, opening his mouth to reveal a delicious, reverberating vocal. From opening track ‘Blame It On Me’ to the end, Ezra’s voice was unfaltering, perfect, in falsetto imitating an absent female chorus on ‘Leaving It Up To You’ or smooth a cappella on the long intro to final number ‘Did You Hear The Rain’. Rich, gooey and accompanied with a perfect dash of cigarette grime. Many artists fail to live up to their on record vocal flawlessness when performing live, but Ezra’s singles don’t do him justice.
And then there’s the aura. Yet again, I was expecting to be remarkably underwhelmed. But his witty anecdotes into each song’s scribbled origins, that could have become so inane, remained charming for the gig entire. When performing solo acoustic guitar pop, it must be quite tricky not to become boring, but Ezra showed up originality and tangible charisma on his renditions of the unreleased numbers. He acknowledges the support of the crowd, but doesn’t go overboard on the whole “look at how humble and thankful I am” spiel. He is beautifully, effortlessly, no-nonsense cool; a chilled temperament without any try-hard affectation.
George Ezra’s live show completes the disjointed package that his singles and press packs offer. The voice is richer, the demeanour is cooler, and the chat is more interesting. There’s no denying that acoustic solo pop is an old trade, and one with which it’s hard to be creative, but an hour with this guitar spindling 20 year old proves it’s possible to make it highly entertaining.
Anna Calvi often elicits hyperbolic pronouncements. Brian Eno referred to her as the “biggest thing since Patti Smith”, and certainly her self-titled Mercury Prize-nominated debut had journalists scrambling for musical references. But it is always something of a disservice to focus too much on the comparison game, and Calvi’s second release, One Breath, confirms that her musical identity is much more than an aggregate of classical rock and post-punk tropes.
No opener is more likely to contrast with the headline act than Alice Boman, the Swedish singer-songwriter who has been making a name for herself in Copenhagen opening shows for the likes of Matthew E. White. Everything is low-key, from the keyboards to the shy little vocals. The most intense part of her set was when someone carrying her kick-drum bashed me in the knee.
Amager Bio fills up to a comfortable level, and it is gratifying to be surrounded by people who are genuine fans of the act, as opposed to those who go to gigs out of some sense of cultural duty. The stage background is a huge blow-up of a desert vista, which in the case of Anna Calvi could as easily refer to Spain as to the American West. Accompanying Calvi tonight are a drummer, a keyboardist, and a woman who the singer describes as playing “all those instruments”, including a harmonium, bass, and assorted percussions.
The presence of the percussionist should be revealing in itself. Anna Calvi has cultivated a meticulous and mesmerising live sound, with a guitar tone that her records simply cannot do justice to.
Opening with “Suzanne and I”, it takes a minute or so for her voice to warm up, but when the song really requires it, she slips into gear and belts out the chorus. From this point Calvi breezes through most of her two albums with a passion and control that are hard to reconcile with each other.
“Rider To the Sea” is vastly extended, and slowly abandons its cold façade as Calvi lets rip. I can honestly say I haven’t been this taken with a guitarist since I was a twelve year old pretending to be Jimmy Page. The flamenco flourishes and Hendrix flashes are genuinely exhilarating, and Calvi achieves this effect completely unaccompanied.
Though there are moments where Anna Calvi’s sense of the dramatic places her squarely as one of Roy Orbison’s few genuine descendents, there is nothing strictly “retro” about her. Songs like “Piece by Piece” showcase her canny sense of composition and use of incidental sounds over a sparse keyboard riff. The fast guitar riffs are so delicate that they end up melting with the keyboards, until they are displaced by overdriven guitar lines.
While it is true that for the most part the audience is in love with Calvi’s voice and guitar playing, rather than her song writing, the latter is a skill she is fast developing, and which will certainly come into its own on her next release. But it is no exaggeration to say the audience is in love. The enthusiasm in Amager Bio is undeniable, the applause heartfelt. Calvi, who says very little in between songs, seems truly affected by this, and finally exits the stage in a shy glow.
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The Men: the generic name is revealing in itself. Initially labelled as a post-punk band, possibly due to the connection with Sacred Bones Records (home to Savages), the band’s last albums have steadily encompassed almost every genre of guitar-centric music, from psychedelia to hardcore. Their latest release, Tomorrow’s Hits, move back even further in time, with references to soul and Bruce Springsteen, albeit reinterpreted and speeded up to fit The Men at their most manic.
Loppen fills up with a varied contingent of long-haired dudes in black t-shirts, the usual entourage of shirt-buttoned-to-the-top teens, and assorted older hipsters. First on stage, Communions have become so familiar to me, and one presumes the readers of Here Today, that describing their set seems rather futile. Check our reviews of Traams or Iceage, or wait for their session with this website.
Having fallen behind schedule, Total Heels are determined not to waste a second of their set. “We are Total Heels, we’re from here” exclaims a frantic frontman, assuring us they will only play twenty minutes. He looks determined to punch a clock until the minute hand thinks better of this whole moving forward business. Like a beefed-up Question Mark and the Mysterians, the four-piece have an energy that is rare in these cynical times. They should also be commended for filling the press photo section of their website with pictures of puppies and promo shots of Vampire Weekend.
Finally the Men arrive at midnight, and in the spirits of the previous bands, waste no time with stage banter, ploughing through songs at a ridiculous volume. Though they have the loudness and unmistakeable bass-tone of a hardcore band, the Men are more focused on instrumental jamming, sharing vocal duties in intermittent bursts. No matter how disparate their influences on each song, there is a surprising continuity between the new material and that from previous albums.
Live renditions of brass-driven tracks like “Another Night” tend to veer away from their E-Street Band associations, with the odd Allman Brothers guitar lick substituting for a saxophone stab. Mark Perro’s keyboards only really make sense in the new songs, but they never seem out of place, in spite of the cheesy reputation that keyboards usually have in punk. And though for the most part the Men rely on their older aesthetic when playing live, it is their newest single “Pearly Gates” that gets the most enthusiastic reaction.
Loppen is the perfect location for this brand of bar-rock, unpretentious and unapologetic. No one is pretending it’s the seventies or eighties, but then again I don’t think anyone gives a damn that it’s 2014 either.
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John Grant is happy to be in Copenhagen. The American singer goes so far as to say, “It’s really, really nice to be here,” in hesitating Danish. Early in the evening, Grant tells the audience that the title of his first solo album, Queen of Denmark, is, in fact, inspired by his love of the country, and that he was happy spending a day off wandering around the city and listening to people speaking the language that he also has a soft spot for.
He saves the eponymous song for later in the set, and of course everyone sings the final line, “You might be the next queen of Denmark.” It’s a striking moment in an evening that is otherwise marked by an almost reverential quiet. Grant is an imposing figure whose very presence commands deference even as his fingers delicately wrap around his mic stand. He does not dance so much as he swaggers, sometimes in place, but mostly just over to his synth setup.
While much of Grant’s 2013 album, Pale Green Ghosts, is based on synth programming, it’s the variations from these reproduced sounds that are most striking. Grant stretches his normally steady voice during “Why Don’t You Love Me Anymore,” to compensate for Sinead O’Connor’s missing primal screams. “Queen of Denmark” is punctuated by crunchy choruses. And rather than replicating the delicate outro on the recording of “Glacier,” the song explodes into a shock of noise that seems to overwhelm even Grant, who takes a seat on the stool in front one of the keyboards and closes his eyes, nodding along.
It’s anticipated that a man who incorporates so much humor into his music would match it in his between song banter, but there isn’t much to speak of. Still, there’s a sense of spontaneity by the end of the evening, when calls from the balcony for “Angel Eyes” are obliged, when the song, “Paint the Moon” by Grant’s former band the Czars is introduced, when most of the band leaves the stage for “Caramel” only to come back for a fifth and final song in the encore, “Chicken Bones.” It’s possible to be personable without a lot of chatter. In Grant’s case, it’s enough to show you’re happy to be here.
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In the vast world of electronic music Nicolas Jaar has always stood out from the pack. His early releases were a strange take on house and techno, most of them more suited for headphones than the dance floor. When it became time to create a live show for his debut album, ‘Space is Only Noise’, Jaar needed solid musicians to back him. He asked his childhood friend Will Epstein to name the best musician that he knew. The answer, without hesitation, was Dave Harrington. Together the three of them worked to bring Jaar’s songs to rapturous crowds around the globe. The results were legendary – the group have been named the best live performance by Resident Advisor for three years in a row.
Darkside was allegedly born out of a bored hotel room jam, between Jaar and Harrington, during a stopover in Berlin. The two continued to develop their early ideas, finally delivering their album ‘Psychic’, one of the most exciting releases of 2013. When the two walked onto the stage on Saturday night, the room had been full for over an hour, the show had been sold out for months. With all the hype surround this act, it’s quite safe to say that expectations were high.
Jaar and Harrington remained in darkness for a long while, quietly forming an ambient soundscape which sounded like a space ship about to land. On the record, Harrington and Jaar cover an incredible spectrum of sounds, and it was exciting to see them try to translate this live. For their live set-up, Harrington plays electric guitar, hooked up to a small army of loop pedals and effects. He also controls a massive mixing deck and samplers. Jaar mans the keyboards, vocals and one of the biggest MIDI controllers ever seen. It’s exciting to see all of this equipment on stage. In a world where electronic “performers” can get away with staring at a 12-inch screen for an hour, Jaar and Harrington function on a much more improvisational and intuitive level, taking full advantage of the unique musical chemistry which they’ve formed over the last three years. Throughout the set, the crowd was receptive to the freedom of the set, revelling in the opportunity to witness a unique performance.
‘Paper Trails’ was a crowd favourite. Perhaps as a reaction to the crowd’s energy, Jaar and Harrington turned the soulful driving energy of the five minute album cut into an extended jam lasting over ten minutes. In fact, most of the songs on the night were doubled in length and often flowed seamlessly into each other to sustain the energy of the tracks. This was not just a dance party though. For every release of the kick drum, there was an equal share of tripped-out experimentation. The sound system at Pumpehuset did a great job of maximizing the energy of the heavier moments, while still amplifying the nuances of the quieter breakdowns.
The final moments of the 15 minute encore was an aggressive sonic assault. The crowd was bathed in a blinding light while Harrington’s screaming guitar tested the limits of our eardrums. Jaar pushed the beats to a dizzying speed and laced everything in a thick reverb. If anyone hadn’t felt anything by that point, the density and volume of this finale would correct that.
After the duo left the stage, most of the crowd filtered out, rushing to the official after party at KB3. Anyone who did, would be greeted by an hour’s wait out in the cold, an uncomfortably packed dance floor, and a very underwhelming sound system in the club. Nico spun techno and house for two hours, playing some of his own unreleased productions and remixes. Unfortunately most of the crowd was too busy with Vodka or Instagram to ever really get into the vibe.
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Savages may have marked the last date of their tour with little fanfare, but a crowded main floor of Vega is a testament to success they have enjoyed since the release of Silence Yourself, their debut album on Sacred Bones Records. Proving that I’m not the only one to find the taste of Copenhageners unpredictable, the organisers were forced to move the gig from Lille to Store Vega after a surge in public interest.
One satisfaction is the amount of people gathered around the stage for the opening act; the other is the act itself. Joining Savages all the way from Australia, A Dead Forest Index produce beautiful music under an awful name. Borrowing both from the icy folk-songs of Nico (whose album, The Marble Index, probably explains part of the band’s moniker) and the guitar-and-drums minimalism of Low, these two boys create intense atmospheres through the use of layered vocals, canny guitar effects, and unpredictable drum fills.
Savages saunter on stage like they’ve just finished beating up some skinny indie boyband in a back alley. With no more ceremony than a single “Hi” from lead singer Jehnny, the band launch into “I Am Here”. Emerging out of the slide and sustain noise from Gemma Thompson’s guitar, the verse has that bass-lead bounce that made post-punk almost the only genre I listened to in high school, while the chorus showcases Jehnny’s vocal abilities, as precise as they are wild. The bounce isn’t a complete fabrication of mine, as I see drummer Fay Milton jumping up and down on her seat in time with the kick-drum.
Jehnny prowls about with intense blue eyes and an Ian Curtis haircut (well, that isn’t going to help against the comparison-brigade). She doesn’t so much talk to the crowd as recite short monologues. It is an inescapable fact that Savages are a very serious-minded band, but no one needs jokes or witty anecdotes when confronted with a band that can play songs like “Husbands”, which puts to shame most ‘original’ or ‘authentic’ post-punk bands.
The other benefit of the band’s seriousness is their strict and often-repeated policy on phones and cameras. Plastered all around the place are posters reminding people that constantly taking pictures during the show will probably get you a black eye. Some bastard close by me keeps snapping away, until one heroic guy behind him swatted the phone out of his hands.
The set is a short one, barely an hour, but then their only album, Silence Yourself, is less than 40 minutes in length. Savages close with their longest song, as yet unrecorded, and generally referred to as “Fuckers”. It doesn’t contain the most profound or interesting lyrics ever (“don’t let those fuckers get you down”), but it gives a chance for the band to stretch out and play with the dynamics of a song. It’s a good ending to what must have been a wild year for the band, and as people shuffle out of the venue and into Ideal Bar next door to hear Jehnny’s DJ set, you can’t help wondering what comes next.
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We need to talk about Sohn. No, let me rephrase that, why are we talking about Sohn?
With a discography that consists of a whopping two singles and one EP, this London-born, Vienna-based producer has managed to sell out Pumpehuset. Depending on your opinion of his music, this is either an impressive feat or another instance of the insane rush with which the press and the music industry try to keep ahead of the curve.
Local boys and girls Gabriel open the evening. By turns low-key or melodramatic, the five-piece, including piano and cello, are rather at odds with the buzz of the room. In another venue it might be possible to hear the subtleties of the different instruments and appreciate the vocal gymnastics, but here they are lost.
When Sohn finally arrives on stage, dressed in what appears to be a black monk’s cassock, the room explodes. Again, how excited can anyone possibly be, on the basis of five songs on Spotify? I let this doubt pass, and for the first three songs there are enough interesting beats and samples to keep us going. Behind me, someone who will later tell me they loved the show, jokes that in the first fifteen minutes Sohn has played all the songs he has released so far.
But there is a definite moment, just after this comment, when something changes. Stuck behind a group of annoyingly tall people, it takes me a few seconds to figure this out: is he now playing a fucking acoustic guitar? Yes, readers, he is. Now it all makes sense: signing to 4AD, the high-pitched vocals, the guy in the corner noodling around on a keyboard like he’s Rick Wakeman, the acoustic guitar. Sohn just wants to be the electronic Bon Iver, doesn’t he?
Thankfully, after one song, the guitar disappears. Rick Wakeman continues with the bloody arpeggios, and everyone is loving it. Almost everyone. Later on, in the middle of the song, Sohn reaches behind as a roadie hands him another acoustic. Lord, why?
I can’t focus; every bit of the music is distracting me away from the rest. Suddenly it stops. I can just make out some movement onstage over someone’s shoulder. Then this: “I need your energy for this last one.” This last one? It’s a quarter to eleven, you’ve played 45 minutes, this is the last one? Don’t tire yourself out, mate.
Ladies and Gentlemen, whether you happen to like Sohn or not, this is ridiculous. Copenhagen cannot collectively lose its shit over this man’s 50 minute set. Sure, they are all ahead of the curve, and probably being part of Frost Festival will have helped with the ticket sales. No doubt this is the year Sohn makes it big. Whether he deserves to it altogether is another matter.