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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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.
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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.
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.
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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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.”
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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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.
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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.
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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Entering Kurt Vile & The Violators’ show at Vega last night was like attenting a private party of the kind where nobody really bothers to get up and greet you welcome, and where it is up to you, if you feel at home or as a stranger. I felt at home quickly, but perhaps that was due to the fact that my only memory of Kurt Vile from previous shows is of his back and therefore I did not even expect him to face the audience – which he actually did all night only hiding behind his hair.
This band does not attempt to entertain or please anyone. They are are merely just there as if they were back in their own rehearsal space playing their songs regardless of whoever hangs out there and who cares to listen. And while some people find that attitude arrogant or boring or just too stoned out, I personally find that it serves to unveil the actual purpose of a visit by Kurt Vile and his band: The music.
Lou Reed once said: ‘You can’t beat two guitars, bass and drum’. Kurt Vile follows this rule to perfection, only broken by a few occasional rhythmical add-ons from a laptop. In one song a saxophone is taken onto stage, but noone plays a single note on it until the end where it is used solely to add to the white noise of several distorted guitars.
This no-nonsense attitude towards guitar-driven rock makes Kurt Vile & The Violators sound both timeless and at the same time completely present.
Few other bands dare to devote several minutes to just playing two chords over and over again, without adding some cool attitude or an interesting light show, in case anyone in the audience should get bored. Neil Young and Crazy Horse obviously comes to mind, but also less noisy bans such as Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers.
In fact, the only boring passage in yesterdays performance was one of the most anticipated songs, Jesus Fever, a song which Kurt Vile played in such an uninspired way, that I feared he would fall asleep. It seemed to me as if the demand for a ‘hit song’ from the audience bored Kurt Vile and instead doing a new interpretation of the song in a Dylan’ish way, he just chose to get over with it as fast a he could and return to jamming with his band mates.
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It was never going to be a stretch for Destroyer to do an acoustic solo set. Though his albums are fleshed out with a full band, Destroyer is still Dan Bejar on his own, and most of his work readily strips back to simple guitar and vocal arrangements without feeling like anything is missing.
So what’s really special about seeing Destroyer standing on a stage alone, strumming his guitar with his thumb? It’s the attention he pays to his entire catalogue, including a song from his latest EP, Five Spanish Songs, as well as early works like “Streets of Fire,” from his 1996 debut. It all bleeds together in the course of a twenty song set, but in this setting we get the impression of Bejar at his best. The room is dead silent and all of the nuances in his vocals, most notably his stage whispers, are conveyed in such a way that describing the evening as “intimate” actually feels appropriate.
But that silence feels too prominent between songs, and it’s well into the set before Bejar seems to realize he should fill in those gaps. Even then, he only makes little comments about when the songs were written and what they’re called. Bejar expresses uncertainty about how familiar the sold-out room is with the songs, comparing the evening to the idea of Donna Summer doing an acoustic folk tour. He then admits, “I never thought that before I said it, but now I’m going to think it more often,” and amid the laughter eases into “Chinatown.”
For the most part, Bejar’s interaction with the audience is limited to the half-bow he gives after each song, his curly hair tumbling down in front of him, needing to be smoothed back. It’s a small recognition that he is performing for a crowd, a not for his own amusement, which the placid look he maintains would suggest. This mild expression combined with that mass of bushy hair gives him the gentle appearance of a stuffed animal. He makes it easy to be comfortable in his presence, whether or not he acknowledges anyone else as present.
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Readers, I am an idiot. Every month or so a band pops up in Copenhagen and I think “Oh, I had no idea [whatever] were still around, it might be a laugh.” Nothing but insane optimism or a perverse desire to see the idols of my teenage years destroyed could explain this recurring lapse of judgement (not for nothing it has been observed that Greek tragedy operates in eternal cycles).
So here I am, Ithacan king returned from a warring decade, hoping to find comfort in the sounds of home, which in this case consist of the nasal musings of a Belgian midget. Like any tragic hero, I witness all the signs of impending doom, but choose to ignore them: Placebo have released a new album (bad sign, this means new material), Falconer salen is looking as edgy as a British Airways airport lounge, and all around me are 30-somethings who quite clearly have not being to a concert in fifteen years.
As we listen to London psychedelic openers, Toy, the augury of a fellow music journalist: “they have a new song about how much they hate social media.” I let this shocker skip lightly over my head the way Toy’s music is contemporaneously doing.
I am saying all this not simply because I am a bored and self-indulgent pseudo-journo, but to illustrate how much the odds were stacked against me enjoying a minute of a Placebo concert in 2013. But as is so often the case, the numbers are against me. Although Falconer is not exactly packed, three quarters of the room yell and woop with appreciation at the new material, and double this for the old hits. A glimmer of recognition hits me, when after 30 seconds I realise the band is playing “Every Me and Every You”. I expected to think back to that flatulent film version of Les Liaisons dangereuses, Cruel Intentions. Fortunately, this isn’t the case, but the reason for it is the utterly bland veneer that the band have pasted over everything. Brian Molko’s vocals are distinctive as every, but the guitars sound processed (as in, processed meat, pink slime, etc) to the point where all they can really contribute is a general white noise surrounding the bass and drums.
Consider also that in the first hour the band have said nothing between songs except for a token “Hello, we are Placebo.” Thanks, we’d noticed. The effect has evidently gripped most of the audience, but frankly I’d take the real thing over a placebo any day. I have faced the tragic climax, conscious that this will not serve as any kind of lesson for the future.
Forum is already half-full when Band of Skulls open with Southampton’s answer to blues rock. They are clearly from a generation whose influences are dominated by Queens of the Stone Age. A great band for a smoke-saturated dive bar, the trio hold their own on the huge stage, thanks to a focus on riffs that doesn’t degenerate into self-indulgent soloing. Perhaps not the most inventive take on the genre, but they can sure warm up a crowd.
Much as I would like to, I cannot, in good conscience, give Queens of the Stone Age five stars. Certainly this isn’t due to the material, or the band’s ability, both having being cemented long ago as titanic. Forum is sadly up to its old tricks, messing up the sound so that Josh Homme’s vocals are near inaudible, and midway through the second song, “My God is the Sun”, the sound cuts out altogether. For the first half hour the band looks tired, with barely a word uttered between songs apart from a half-arsed “’sup”. Eventually, Josh admits that the tour has ground them down, but after a few beers and a smoke, he perks up, and next thing you know the band is really there, egged on by the crowd.
Queens of the Stone Age take us all back to being teenagers. It’s not simply because many of the songs are part of the eternal soundtrack of those times, but because their energy and simplicity lets listeners of any age experience again the physiological explosion music causes in adolescence. This is true of mental “Little Sister” as it is of “Make it wit chu” (“this is a song about fucking”) or “If I had a Tail” (“the song we have most fun playing”). It’s been worth all the technical glitches, the moodiness and reticence to get to this point.
“I’m happy and drunk,” exclaims Josh Homme. An hour in, he has reached his comfort zone, and takes the time to introduce the members of the band. Jon Theodor, ex-Mars Volta drummer, gets a well-deserved roar from the crowd.
The encore sees Josh on piano for “The Vampyre of Time and Memory”, before concluding with some heavy, some might say indulgent, jams of some of their louder tracks. I take the time during these moments to observe the animations behind the band, a bloody tableau worthy of FX cartoon Metalocalypse. It’s impossible to think of Queens of the Stone Age without a sense of fun, and their humour is obvious. Thank the infernal deities that they are able to recover that sense even in their most trying moments.