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LIVE REVIEW: Greg Fox, Alice, 14.03.2018

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Greg Fox live at Alice in Copenhagen

In principle, watching a guy play drums for 45 minutes doesn’t sound like it would make for the most interesting concert. But in this case, the guy is Greg Fox, a drummer you could calibrate your metronome to. We’ve been repeatedly spellbound by Fox’s contributions to Liturgy, Guardian Alien, and Ex Eye, but how would his work hold up as a solo performer?

The premise of his most recent release, September’s Gradual Progression, is that Fox used Sensory Percussion — his kit feeding into modular synths via a MIDI — to create a fully-fledged ambient work. Woven with samples of saxophone and guitar, most of the sounds he’s working with are high pitched and mechanical, but the tenor of the set lacks much of the aggression of the other projects he’s involved with.

It’s difficult to tell if or how the sensors play into his live set; to the casual eye, he could just as easily be playing along to a backing track on the laptop set up next to him. But without other band members to distract or be physically set up in his path, this was the best opportunity to appreciate his skill. Fox seems to enter a trance when he plays — his eyes are rarely open — and it’s difficult not to feel meditative in his presence. If you couldn’t see the sweat flying from his face, it would all look completely effortless.

The intimacy of the evening isn’t underscored until the encore, when Fox returns to the stage to provide more insight into his latest work. Listening to him speak without a mic closes the space in and brings a human side back to the autopilot of his playing. He introduces an “experiment” — possibly to be found on his next album — which triggers a series of bird songs among the drumming. It’s whimsical and weirdly charming and guarantees that we’ll track down whatever he works on next.

LIVE REVIEW: Cindy Wilson, Hotel Cecil, 02.03.2018

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Cindy Wilson live at hotel cecil Copenhagen

There is no way to know exactly what to expect from Cindy Wilson’s solo set at Hotel Cecil. The B-52s singer released a debut album under her own name late last year that bears more resemblance to Hope Sandoval than new wave party rock. The show starts early, there’s just enough snow on the ground to delay buses and trains, and it’s our first visit to the new venue.

Hotel Cecil has preserved the feeling of Jazzhouse, though the bar now takes up more space. It’s the same intimate feeling, though, which is particularly good tonight because only about 50 people have shown up for the gig. This is the challenge that Wilson has walked out to, but she is instantly buoyant.

It helps that amongst the small crowd that has assembled are some super fans. They are here for Wilson as a solo artist, they know every word to every song on her new album and it’s preceding EPs, and they do not shout requests for B-52s’ songs.

Cindy Wilson live at hotel cecil Copenhagen

While some of the soft, dreamy vocals of the album make it through, Wilson’s live set is much higher energy. She’s swinging her arms and kicking around, surrounded by a band who grin like they’ve found the best gig in the world. Wilson is manipulating her vocals, twisting knobs, and tacking theremin outros onto almost every song. This feels like the logical place for the woman from the new wave band to be; performing live, it’s clear that Cindy Wilson is still a pop singer, but there is an experimental edge to it. There’s that little bit of weird that endures, that keeps her a safe distance from the blandness that she’s tried to avoid throughout her career, and she’s found it in a way that’s separate from the space and the band that has defined her up to this point.

With all that said, it’s an early night. Everything in Wilson’s solo catalogue only adds up to an hour, and by 21:30 it’s time to go home. Yes that hour was good fun, but maybe an opener on the bill would have fleshed out the evening a bit more.

LIVE REVIEW: Grandmaster Flash, Amager Bio, 23.02.2018

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Grandmaster Flash live in Copenhagen at Amager Bio

Grandmaster Flash throws a party on his own schedule. There’s a slow start to the evening at Amager Bio; a DJ has been spinning since the doors opened. About 15 minutes after the show was supposed to start, some break dancers run on stage and take turns showing off their old school moves. It’s fun and everyone in the crowd goes mad, but it only lasts 10-15 minutes, and then we wait another half hour for Grandmaster Flash himself to appear.

Things finally get started with a brief video about the history of scratching. This is formally the first part of the evening, in which Grandmaster Flash focuses on the legacy that has undoubtedly brought people out tonight, providing insight into his methods and his record collection. There’s also a camera set up on his rig synced to the screen behind him so we can watch him scratch in real time. It’s fun to watch, and considering this can all be done digitally now, it’s nice to appreciate the actual skill behind this approach.

This reflective state turns to a memoriam of hip-hop artists who’ve died: Phife Dawg, the Notorious B.I.G, Prodigy, Guru from Gang Starr, Ol’ Dirty Bastard, Big Pun, Heavy, MCA, Jam Master Jay, and Tupac Shakur. With the exception of Prodigy, enough time has passed since these artists’ deaths for the segment to feel celebratory rather than somber.

With a majority of these artists also hailing from New York City, there is a natural segue to Flash’s tour of the Five Boroughs (and Long Island). While the B-roll of street signs does start to wear thin, the narrative built around the show up to this point is impressive. It goes beyond nostalgia and becomes more of a history lesson.

But there is room for nostalgia. The reflective part of looking at the past is over, and now it’s time to hear 30 seconds of a song you love (or at least you know) before it cuts to the next track. Having had that extra hour to buy drinks, the audience is ready to oblige when asked for the umpteenth time to make some noise or throw their hands in the air. And even though a couple of drinks are flung for no reason and someone’s climbed on the stage and then been escorted out of the venue, this evening is joyful. Grandmaster Flash has instilled a sense of history in us, but the essence was always a good time.

Photo by James Hjertholm.

LIVE REVIEW: Circuit des Yeux, Alice, 10.02.2018

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circuit des yeux live at alice copenhagen

Circuit des Yeux has made reliable, yearly appearances in Denmark for the past few years, so it was appropriate and welcomed that she was the first performer we went out to see at our inaugural visit to the newly-opened Alice. The evening was set from the beginning to be reminiscent of something and somewhere else, seeing an artist who had made multiple visits to Jazzhouse playing in the remodeled Global, and debating whether or not the curtains had been moved from one location to another.

The focus shifted quickly when opener TALsounds took the stage. Her rich and romantic electronic music is built primarily around her voice and some piano being manipulated a dozen times while she hunches over various buttons. It was lovely and relaxed set, and TALsounds’ airy soprano seemed like it would be a polar opposite and perfect counterpart to frontwoman Haley Fohr’s alto.

That might be true of previous versions of Circuit des Yeux that we’ve seen. We were first taken with Fohr’s dramatic vocals when we saw her play a solo set, but Fohr’s voice has continued to develop in bold ways. She has now taken on theatrical, operatic ranges, leaping octaves with staggering control.

This is balanced nicely with Circuit des Yeux now touring as a band. Fohr was accompanied by drums and double bass, and backing musicians in addition to her samples (and some dramatic light projections) has also changed her performance style. Far from being hunched over her guitar with her hair in her face (as we first saw her), there’s a theatrical, almost imposing quality to Fohr’s stances. It was a nice pairing to hear her sing, “the arms ready to catch the fall” with her own arms stretch out in classic Greek theatre-style.

Her development in her comportment also makes Forh’s staccato vocal tricks that much more affecting. The vocal manipulation on its own is impressive, but with Fohr taking full possession of the space around her, the performance takes on an eerie, mystical element. She’s exciting to watch, and it’s exciting to consider what she’ll do next.

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

LIVE REVIEW: Wolf Alice, Lille Vega, 19.01.2018

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Wolf Alice live at Lille Vega Copenhagen

The perpetual buzz surrounding Wolf Alice has not subsided. For their sold out show at Vega, they’ve lured in a crowd ranging from jaded middle age rockists to enthusiastic teens wearing the band’s shirt — the sort of range you see at bigger venues for acts that have been around beyond a second album.

The band rise to the expectations. Frontwoman Ellie Rowsell’s persona and posture shift with the delivery of each song, from crooning to shouting, proving right out of the gate that the depth of her vocal timbre isn’t a production trick. Meanwhile, the boys flanking her on guitar and bass are living out their rock star fantasies in real time. Guitarist Joff Oddie spends most of  “Space and Time” knocking his guitar around in a way that vaguely suggests frustration (or at least  the feedback wasn’t substantial enough for it to be for the sake of sound). But their crowd pleasing shtick is a successful one, and the audience eats up every occasion that they balance themselves on the monitors.

The energy only amps up as the show draws near to the hour mark. A mosh pit erupts towards the center. This would be cool except there is a row of teenage girls lining the stage and the pit mostly consists of men who are older (if only slightly) and larger and shoving from every direction. As bassist Theo Ellis has jumped up on the monitors and eggs the crowd on as he has throughout the gig, I’m now distracted, staring at this line of girls and watching more than one close call between a face and the stage.

Everyone gets out in one piece and everyone seems to have had a good time. But my enduring impression of the evening is the hope that those girls keep fighting their way to the front of the room, but also that they learn how to throw elbows.

LIVE REVIEW: The Necks, Jazzhouse 05.12.17

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The Necks live at Brorsons Kirke in Copenhagen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LIVE REVIEW: The Horrors, Lille Vega, 27.11.2017

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the horrors live lille vega copenhagen

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

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

the horrors live lille vega copenhagen

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

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

It’s all weirdly just fun.

LIVE REVIEW: The War On Drugs, TAP1, 26.11.2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LIVE REVIEW: Mark Lanegan, Amager Bio, 19.11.2017

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Mark Lanegan live at Amager Bio Copenhagen

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

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

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

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

LIVE REVIEW: Protomartyr and Metz, Loppen, 07.11.2017

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metz live at loppen copenhagen

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

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

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

Protomartyr live at loppen copenhagen

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

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

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

Photos by Morten Aargaard Krogh

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