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Live Reviews - page 27

LIVE REVIEW: Forest Swords, Jazzhouse, 22.02.2014

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It is always a pleasant surprise when most of the audience show up in time to see the opening act. The Jazzhouse is almost full when local hero Sekuoia hits the stage to deliver an hour-long set of warm, minimalist electronica. This evening he is playing without the assistance of drummer and guitarist, but if anything his performance is more energized than usual. “Rituals” still stands out as his most recognizable and catchy beat, but it is a rare privilege to be able to hear such an extended set from him.

Forest Swords (Photo by Tom Spray)

Under a black and white projection of abstract dancing figures, Forest Swords materialize as producer Matthew Barnes and trusty anonymous bassist. Apart from being a chance to experience his doom-laden dub in an intense and intimate setting, the performance also functions as an explanation of the record, Engravings. Samples and live instruments, which on the album are often undistinguishable, become evident live.

Make no mistake, Forest Swords is pure, Lee Scratch Perry-approved dub (Perry even remixed FS’s “Thor’s Stone”). That is not to say that Barnes isn’t innovative, but rather that his music has a very strong grounding, evidenced by the organic quality of his samples. Though often associated with James Blake or Burial, Forest Swords seems to have more in common with the austere sonic explorations of These New Puritans.

Forest Swords (Photo by Tom Spray)

Though for the most part the nature of songs is contemplative, the crowd is onboard, swaying and nodding along. Barnes doesn’t engage in much banter in between songs, presumably so as to not spoil the mood. When he does, it’s to enquire as to the quality of the sound to stage left. A couple of speakers, which had already been slightly distorting the bass during Sekuoia’s set, are starting to malfunction. What follows is a silent quarter of an hour during which Barnes, bassist and sound engineer fret over cables trying to solve the problem.

Although the frustration onstage is evident, the audience is mercifully understanding, and before too long the sound is sorted. The set has had to be cut short, but there are still some surprises. “Irby Tremor” features Barnes channelling spaghetti westerns on guitar, while the drum samples are crisp, almost koto-inspired. I am also convinced that “The Weight of Gold” is somehow secretly  borrowing from Morricone’s “Ecstasy of Gold”, but have little evidence to back that up. The mood that Forest Swords inspires manages to ride between these contemplative analyses and produce an undeniable physical response that waves these moments away.

LIVE REVIEW: Moderat, Koncerthuset, 15.02.2014

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Sat directly underneath the main concert hall of DR’s Koncerthuset, “Studie 1” is not so much a music venue as a faithful recreation of a rather swish regional airport. In one sense this befits Moderat, the fusion of Berlin “legends” and “pioneers” (hack-speak for “bands people have heard of”) Apparat and Modeselektor, whose latest album, II, sees them tackle a broad and accessible range of electronica. Like the album itself, the venue is very clean and tasteful, but I keep expecting songs to be interrupted by a distorted voice saying “Final call for passengers on the SAS flight to Gdansk…”

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Stuck behind the four inter-crossing panels that form Moderat’s backdrop, opener and fellow Berliner Anstam is visible as little more than a backlit shadow. Unperturbed, he jitters around, explaining that the next song is about Terry Gilliam. Cinematic references are obvious in the music, as grandiose themes are dismantled under pounding drums and noises bleeding into the mix. Only when his set ends to I realize I’ve spent the entirety of it trying to come up with anagrams of Anstam (spoiler: turns out there are none).

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I am trying to deal with this personal crisis as Moderat shuffle on stage. Not by any means the most charismatic of musicians, they do seem in good spirits as Sascha Ring attempts some of the worst stage banter I have ever heard in my life (excerpt: “We are finally in Copenhagen. I hope you will like that fact.”). Three men behind workstations, like a mutilated Kraftwerk, the band relies on multiple layers of lights and projections behind them to give some visual life to the music.

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Unsurprisingly, the setlist consists mainly of tracks from their second album, but the live interpretation of these tracks has a different set of values. In such a large space many of the more subtle or quiet sections of the album are completely lost, and throughout the set they are steadily eliminated in favour of straightforward club beats. This isn’t so much music for dancing as it is for standing-awkwardly-with-phone-in-one-hand-and-other-hand-punching-the-air.

Sasha Ring is also allowed much more space for vocals, which on the album generally signal the least interesting tracks. Live, however, they seem to garner the greatest response from the audience, perhaps because they provide the most palpable connection between band and audience. The evening is sold out, but most people in the crowd seem to be spending more time taking pictures of each other than listening to the music. Once again, during the break before the encore, I snap back into reality and discover I have spent the last hour looking at the ceiling and making a mental list of thing I have to do next week.

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LIVE REVIEW: Connan Mockasin, Bremen Teater, 15.02.2014

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When Chorus Grant takes the stage at Bremen Teater, there is no indication of how weirdly wonderful the night is going to be. Kristian Finne Kristensen & co, with their downtempo, ‘70s inflected rock, are very reassuring. They’re not just pleasant, they’re comfortable to listen to. It’s a really nice, really unassuming way to ease into the evening.

So when Connan Mockasin takes the stage, looking for all the world — with his bleach blond hair and black poncho — like a cult leader, things take a radically different turn. His psychedelic rock is really the perfect soundtrack to lying on your living room floor and tripping your face off, but it’s his personality and stage presence that make him worth coming out to see in person.

Connan Mockasin (Photo by Ivan Boll)

Before even picking up his guitar, he comes to the front of the stage to tell the audience that he is delighted to be in Denmark. It’s his first show here, ever, and when he tells the audience that he’s wanted to come here since he was a child, he sounds genuine. That’s a big part of why his show works. When he casts cheeky grins at the audience in the middle of pre-song improvisations, it feels spontaneous. When he plays his guitar from a seat in the front row for much of “Why Are You Crying?” it feels impulsive and not like something he’s been planning to do since this afternoon’s load-in.

Mockasin’s band is similarly easygoing, which works well as much of the set has a slow-motion quality to it. They frequently hit wind chimes to add to the dream sequence sensation of the music. More than halfway through the show, Mockasin walks up to the soundboard in the middle of the theater to introduce their soundman and get an audience perspective. When he returns to the stage, the crowd are on their feet.

Connan Mockasin (Photo by Ivan Boll)

But if the evening has only been unpredictable up to this point, it’s with the encore when things get truly odd. The band help to carry out a large duvet surrounding a petite Japanese woman in a kimono. She leads the crowd in a chant of Mockasin’s name before he emerges from under the duvet, now dressed in beige pajamas, bare chested and doing little to sway me from my early assessment of him looking like a cult leader. He finishes his set singing through a pitch-shifted mic that’s dropped his vocals more than an octave. It might be going a bit beyond accessible artistic expression, but it’s definitely memorable.

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LIVE REVIEW: Get Your Gun, Loppen, Copenhagen, 13.02.2014

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The room is well attended this Thursday evening at Loppen. People might have been tempted to show up due to Get Your Gun‘s recent single release ‘Black Book’ – a very promising pre-taste for their debut album The Worrying Kind, which is to be released this spring. The trio silently grab their instruments without a glance at the audience and the guitar riff for ‘Black Book’ starts chopping through the speakers.

With a long black trench coat, shadowing hat and a huge beard lead singer and guitarist Andreas Westmark, looks as if he just wandered in from the wilderness. The howling sounds of bass and guitar surrounds Westmark as he walks forth and back on the stage, while staring down on the audience. There is a certain anger in the expression that creates tension and suspense from the very beginning. In a quiet passage he walks into the audience and sings directly into peoples faces without a microphone. A strong an brave move that almost intimidates the bystanders.

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But Get Your Gun is not only an energetic live act – they’re masters of dynamic which is proven in ‘The Sea of Sorrow’: A tuneful track with polyphonic vocals that reminds me of ancient monk ensembles in vast cathedrals. The slow pulse sucks in the listener while bassist Søren Bøgeskov firmly dictates you through the track. The drums and the bass are at the heart of the band’s simple expression – it works as a strong backbone that allows Andreas Westmark to move and play like a man possessed without losing track.

Only ”thank you” is said between the songs until an humble announcement of the band’s visit on this year’s Roskilde Festival sends a victorious applause through the venue. An old favourite in the band’s repertoire ‘Death Rattle’ is proclaimed as the last track of the evening and the stoner inspired riffs and heavy beat force both bass and guitar players down on their knees as they begin to abuse their pedals.

The encore ‘Rage’ from the coming album was a superior statement that sets the expectations for the full length debut on high.

Shrouded in stroboscopes Get Your Gun silently walk off the stage.

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LIVE REVIEW: Au Revoir Simone, Loppen, 06.02.2014

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Au Revoir Simone line up neatly behind their synths across the stage at Loppen, like a sexier version of Kraftwerk. Unlike the storied Germans, the Brooklyn trio work to infuse some humanity into their performance, rather than erase it. They aren’t glued in place, and often switch keyboards, pick up a bass, or simply take the microphone in hand and step away from their instruments.

There is a clear division between Au Revoir Simone’s pop songs and their more atmospheric songs, namely that the pop songs get louder vocals. And while the pop songs are more fun, not least because they’re easier to sing along to, there is plenty to be said for the rich beauty of their crooned vocals dissolving into the synthesizers. It isn’t just woozy, swampy, formless ambient electro; there is always a beat to string things along, even when the drum machine or bass is enveloped by the same soft tones.

The live bass, used only on a few songs, doesn’t really differentiate itself in sound from the synth bass they use, but it is a better outlet for Annie Hart, whose bouncing energy is more suited to an instrument with some mobility. She provides an entertaining contrast to her bandmates, who are more inclined to gently sway behind their keyboards.

But the band maintain a certain detachment from the audience, and it’s not until the encore that they begin making jokes, teasing about how after 10 years they have enough songs for a jam band-length set, then fretting when this fails to get any laughs (possibly explaining their detachment — perhaps jam bands lack the same stigma here that they have in America).

They end the night with an altered version of “Knights Of Wands” — Hart, while defending her ancient keyboard that her bandmates hate, is forced to admit that she can’t remember which sound the song is supposed to be played on. The result has less of a chiming effect, but it’s the kind of variation that works, and the kind of spontaneity that would be welcomed to their set.

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LIVE REVIEW: Son Lux, Stengade, 31.01.2014

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There is something particularly interesting about watching electronic artists interpret their work live. It’s never certain whether you’ll get a full band or someone with a laptop. With Son Lux (né Ryan Lott), touring for the first time ever with a backing band. His sold out show at Stengade — and first ever show in Copenhagen — saw him accompanied by a drummer and guitarist in what was only their 18th show together.

Interpretation is really the way to look at the set. While the basics of all of Son Lux’s  songs were there, thus making them each readily identifiable, the listening experience was still completely different from his albums. The biggest changes in dynamics come from the guitarist; as recordings, these are not guitar-centric songs, so the moments when the distortion is hit the hardest have a dramatic effect.

Then there is Lott himself: Limited to the space behind his keyboards, he is strangely compelling to watch. He often has his arms raised aloft — perhaps the only bit of him that can be seen from the back of the packed room — or moves in jerky motions to match glitchier music. Even during his quieter songs, he dances with with an enthusiasm that doesn’t quite match up but is infectious all the same.

One of the biggest shocks, however, is his voice. The whispered fragility of the vocals on his records, bolstered there with dozens of overdubs, gives no indication of just how strong his voice really is. Not only is it resonant and often emotive, but it carries through the cadences in the songs where the other instruments fall away and, as another example, when he comes back alone for the encore to play a minimalist version of “Lanterns Lit” Lott has a clear idea of how he works as a recording artist and as a live performer, and he knows how to execute each. His show might not be flashy, but it’s still an experience.

LIVE REVIEW: Traams, KB18 29.01.2014

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Traams’ debut Grin cemented 2013 as the year the UK got post-punk right. As bands like Savages and Factory Floor looked to the likes of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Throbbing Gristle for drive and inspiration, Traams managed to amalgam the best of British post-punk with US noise rock, and have received a justifiable amount of recognition for it.

I need precise telephonic instructions to find KB18 among the snowy streets of Kødbyen. The weather has not been kind to us. The Copenhagen curse dictates that the most interesting bands are often all but ignored. So be it, I will continue to berate you readers until this town learns to appreciate the talent that passes it by every week.

Communions (Photo by Tom Spray)

After a few beers and what seems like most of David Bowie’s hits on the PA, Communions hit the stage. Tonight they are supposed to be inaugurating their new seven-inch, Cobblestones, released by Posh Isolation. Not that you would ever know it, since there isn’t a whiff of their vinyl or cassettes anywhere. A pity, since Communions stand out among their peers for embracing some West-coast surf riffs to lighten up the Danish gloom. The eponymous single closes the set, and stands out for its use of melody and noise.

To their complete credit, Traams don’t seem to care how many people were put off by the snow and wind, and inject some much-needed adrenalin. Songs like “Red” and “Low” showcase their rhythmic prowess, spinning riffs on their head and thrashing out intense duels between Stuart Hopkins’ guitar squeals and Leigh Padley’s melodic bass lines.

TRAAMS (Photo by Tom Spray)

A real departure from post-punk etiquette can be found in the guitar solos in “Sleep”. They scream out of Hopkins’ abused guitar, testifying that this is no revival bullshit. This is mirrored by Padley’s own bass solo in “Loose”, a reminder that the bass as a lead instrument did not die with New Order. Driving these two contesting forces is Adam Stock’s tight drumming, moving seamlessly from drum rolls to 4 on the floor motorik beats.

The closer, “Flowers”, is Traams in a nutshell, driving forward without remorse. Padley later reveals that it is their oldest song from the set. The band are hopping around, shaming an audience either too polite or too wrapped up in the ennui of existence to display any kind of involvement. The Chichester trio are way ahead, so put on a coat and keep up.

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LIVE REVIEW: Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks, Lille Vega, 29.01.2014

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The demographic of the crowd for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks at Lille Vega is striking: the overwhelmingly male crowd seems to be evenly divided between those who have been following Malkmus since the ‘90s, and those who look just old enough to have discovered Pavement on their 2010 reunion. Amusingly, many men of all ages have Malkmus’ haircut.

Malkmus is still the archetypal indie rock guy, lanky, hunched over when he sings, and he comes on stage chewing gum, which he manages to keep up through the entirety of opening song “Tigers” before spitting it onto his setlist.

Yet somehow there is an ease to the evening. Having stacked several of his shorter tunes early in the set, the band seems to speed through songs, as evidenced by a 22 song set list (further bolstered by a medley of covers in the encore). This balances things nicely when Malkmus does indulge in guitar solos, including the ridiculous rock star move of playing his guitar behind his back for the outro of “Senator.”

Stephen Malkmus (Photo by Ivan Boll)

The vocals could stand to be a little louder, they sometimes get lost under the guitars and keyboards, but the band is tight. Between songs, when Malkmus makes sometimes awkward banter (or at least when his question about whether anyone in the audience has ever accidentally appeared in the background of Borgen falls on deaf ears), his bandmates take jibes at him that he readily deflects back them.

While a chunk of the show was devoted to the band’s latest album, Wig Out at Jagbags,  the Pavement songs “Harness Your Hopes” and “Summer Babe” still creep in at the end. Of course, these are the songs that garner the most enthusiastic responses of the evening. Malkmus is still the archetypal indie rock guy, clearly comfortable with what he’s doing now. But obviously most of his audience arrived at what he’s doing now via what he did 20 years ago.

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LIVE REVIEW: Jeffrey Lewis and the Jrams, Loppen, 25.01.13

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Jeffrey Lewis is a singer songwriter and comic book artist and writer, and that wordy description of his career is a pretty accurate summation of his work. Economical in everything but words, Lewis’ performance at Loppen is a mishmash of music and art, sometimes though-provoking and often amusing.

The latest incarnation of his ever-rotating band is the Jrams, featuring Caitlin Grey on bass/synth and Heather Wagner on drums, with both women chipping in with backing vocals, though there are none of the duets that feature on Lewis’ albums. Despite only arming himself with a sticker-plastered acoustic guitar, he still manages to shred away, distorting things into oblivion, flinging off his guitar strap and nearly taking out his synth before the end of the second song.

The set is upbeat, even though Lewis’ delivery is always even-keeled and sometimes leans towards melancholy, and even if songs like “Anxiety Attack” and “So What If I Couldn’t Take It” are darkly comic, if not depressing. The massive smile plastered across Wagner’s face throughout the set only emphasizes that the most serious moments are still meant to be fun.

The real treat in Lewis’ live shows are his low-budget films, which involve him standing on a chair with an over-sized comic book he’s drawn. His band plays a rhythm and he sings along to the pictures in his book. Last night’s films included a low-budget biopic on Watchmen creator Alan Moore and a chapter of Lewis’ ongoing “History of Communism” series, Part 6: Vietnam. Such is the educational portion of the evening.

And if songs about communism somehow gave no indication that Lewis is politically aware, there’s his latest single, “WWPRD” (What Would Pussy Riot Do) which he performed as spoken word. Most remarkably, he managed to silence the room with his screed on the value of artistic integrity (except for the intermittent cheers — who would have thought there would be anti-corporate types in Christiania?).

It might have made more of a statement to end on the ensuing punk rock spazz out, but in the end it’s an encore of the more gentle, folky “The East River” and “Reaching” that send everyone off back into the cold. Maybe that’s more appropriate; maybe songs about walking home are what you should be left with while making your way home.

LIVE REVIEW: Oh Land, Store Vega, 12.12.2013

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The second of Oh Land’s two homecoming shows is a jubilant evening. It’s the kind of evening where spirits are high and the audience can be encouraged to clap along — even to sing along — with minimal provocation from the artist. Everyone is just into it.

Even opening the show on a mellow note, sitting at the piano for “Cherry On Top,” is greeted with enthusiasm that’s equalled when she rolls into the more directly dancey “Pyromaniac”. That’s because Nanna Øland Fabricius herself is a performer in all of the best, most over-the-top senses. She’s the type who will thrash around behind her piano (or at least chair dance — everyone who has their headphones on while at work knows what I mean), throwing up her arms she’s going to do a trust fall with the same energy that she uses to bounce around the stage when not being the piano.

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She shows her vocal range often by stripping back arrangements for quiet intros that burst into rousing pop numbers, and with songs like “3 Chances,” performed primarily  with just her and guitar, allowing her to demure at the microphone. Her backing band can’t be undervalued either, not just as musicians, but also as vocalists — in particular, Katrine Enevoldsen matches Fabricius in strength, and the difference between having live backing vocals of that calibre versus a prerecorded track is huge.

Between songs, Fabricius is chatty, cracking jokes, teasing her American guitarist in Danish and then having to translate for him, and upping audience call and answers into elaborate, operatic scales. Nothing about Fabricius is too earnest, and that’s key. Even during her more serious songs, she still has a smile on her face, which is why she can pull off a lot of the hands-in-the-air, palms aloft moments. You readily believe that she’s just as cool as she is goofy. As a live performer, there’s more than one angle that she can play, in precisely the same way her songs span the sensitive and sweet to the straight up pop tunes.

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