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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: Spoon, Amager Bio, 24.09.2017

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Spoon live at Amager Bio Copenhagen

It seems remarkable that in a 20+ year career Spoon has somehow never played in Copenhagen before, but they swore that their show at Amager Bio was their first here. It’s a shame that it’s a crowd thinned by he early-to-Roskilde set, but there is dedication in the audience — though it’s the band’s first time here, many have seen them before, and some have traveled a good distance to be at this show.

Indie rock as a genre has often supported a lack of professionalism as staying true to one’s roots. Spoon have somehow never seemed conflicted about moral integrity and turning out quality work. They have regularly turned out solid albums (for independent labels Merge and Matador), toured on solid if not flashy performances. It makes trying to pinpoint the exact appeal of Spoon is an interesting exercise.

Spoon live at Amager Bio Copenhagen

They have energy, but it’s not over-the-top; during an instrumental interlude, most of the band leaves the stage while a keyboardist plays a Low-inspired piece and frontman Britt Daniel lies prostrate on the drum riser. They have presence, but they shroud themselves in lowlight. They have charm, but they aren’t especially chatty (though they were apparently quite taken with Tivoli).

Spoon live at Amager Bio Copenhagen

They are a well-rehearsed band, which has a potential to stifle spontaneity but works wonderfully to their advantage as they are able to seamlessly work in an extended intro to “I Turn My Camera On” when the second guitar shorts out. But there’s something to be said for a band that has been around for 20 years who are as interested in what they’re doing now as what they were doing five, 10, or 15 years ago. Roughly half the set comes from their two most recent albums, Hot Thoughts and 2014’s They Want My Soul. Of course we want to hear the songs that were licensed into oblivion, but we want to hear them as living things that fit in with the new and not as relics of the past.

It’s one of the reasons why Spoon still feel current, why they don’t read as a ‘90s or ‘00s band. And that they’re low-key, unassuming, work horses instead of show ponies, is an angle that use to their advantage.

LIVE REVIEW: L7, Amager Bio, 31.08.2016

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L7 live at Amager Bio Copenhagen

We aren’t quite in the throes of a full-on 90s revival, but surely the return of fanny packs (as they are known in American parlance) means we’re too close for comfort. It’s been amping up for a while — it’s not like kids have stopped being influenced by grunge in the last 20 years — but now it’s also getting more and more toothless. The biggest problem with the nostalgia-inspired younger bands is that they not only lack the energy of bands they’re emulating, but many of those bands are still around and still doing that same schtick better.

L7 is now two years into a reunion that has, as yet, yielded no new songs. If their show at Amager Bio is anything to go on, they’re enjoying every minute of it, happy to bask in the enthusiasm of a crowd of diverse make-up, and happy to whip them into a frenzy before launching into “Fuel My Fire.”

Three decades on from when they formed, their energy is intense, with none of the women standing still for a minute. Once in a while there’s a cheeky comment leading up to a song, like describing “One More Thing” as, “the scrape heard ‘round the world,” but otherwise they barely pause between songs, preferring to jump and shimmy and stagger around. It’s not terribly surprising that the set clocks in just past the hour mark.

L7 live at Amager Bio Copenhagen
Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh

But there is an effortlessness to it all: They sound loud, forceful, strong in how they sing and how they play. More than once bassist Jennifer Finch falls to the floor, her legs going up over her head before she swings herself back onto her feet, and it’s amusing instead of contrived. There are more fans on stage than one normally sees, blowing the women’s hair around and preventing them from breaking a sweat (which in the case of drummer Demetra Plakas, with her serene facial expressions, makes her look particularly like she’s in an old rock music video; in the case of Donita Sparks, it’s probably keeping the impressive metallic body art painted up and down her arms from smudging).

It’s tempting to frame this evening as a gathering of awesome women to see awesome women play, but raucousness prevails. There’s plenty of shoving and spilled beer and dodging of flailing arms to preserve the feelings of punk and grunge, for better or worse. But the irony of the bassist shouting, “this one’s for the ladies” being punctuated by dudes lobbing their empty plastic cups at the people behind them is a little too much. There are some behaviors that would be wonderful to see left in the past — sadly, they are still very present.

LIVE REVIEW: Deafheaven and Myrkur, Amager Bio, 17.03.2016

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deafheaven live

It’s only eight months since we saw Amalie Bruun’s debut performance as Myrkur at Roskilde, which was notable for its fanfare and how much attention was drawn to it being a debut. But her performance at Amager Bio has a lower key, hometown vibe to it. There’s a Danish flag draped on the drum kit (we assume in a charming, celebratory way and not a nationalistic way like black metal bands from other countries might) and Solbrud’s Ole Luk comes out for a song.

Bruun herself is sticking to her evil sprite character, emphasizing her haunting voice whether paired against a piano or heavily distorted guitars. She does have her metal moments — the shifts in drum fills, the separate, effects-laden microphone — but she’s best described as a hard rock act with particularly pretty vocals.

Myrkur (Photo by Tom Spray)

Compared to Myrkur, who plays up the pretty aspects of her music, Deafheaven actively work to hide the fact that their music can be quite pretty. In their quieter moments, you could be forgiven for thinking they’re an indie rock band, so strongly do their shoegaze influences come through, and even though singer George Clarke is shifting and stalking like a caged animal. You can’t fault him for energy, though it’s clear that he doesn’t always know what to do with it. He beckons fans to come closer, though no one tries to climb up on stage.

It’s really a rather curiously polite crowd considering the music and considering the singer’s own thrashing energy. It’s not until the encore, “Sunbathers,” that there’s any semblance of a mosh pit. But then the artier impulses of Deafheaven play to this; their new album, New Bermuda, follows a less predictable song structure than their previous work. It’s difficult to mosh when the aggression suddenly falls out the bottom of a song. But this decreasing predictability also makes them as exciting a live act as any of Clarke’s thrashing.

LIVE REVIEW: Calexico, Amager Bio, 14.04.2015

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Photos by Johannes Leszinski

Where are you from? Where are you going?

Amager Bio on a drizzly Tuesday. A diminutive blonde woman plays a lap steel guitar on a stage that surrounds her in shadow. Seated and dressed in white, she arches over the instrument in her lap, running the slide over the strings with one hand while she plucks them with the other. Her wispy tremolos are accompanied by a nylon-string acoustic guitar, the maraca rhythms of a drum played with brushes, and a cello.

Maggie Björklund doesn’t introduce herself until the last song of the supporting set, after someone in the audience calls out for the name of her band. Earlier, before a song she described as “film musik,” she had encouraged us to substitute our own narrative, as the film had yet to be made. It isn’t entirely fair. Björklund’s music conjures images of desert vistas at dusk where the mind can go wandering. It’s airy and expansive, but there’s little to draw your attention. Sometimes when the band crescendos toward a climax, you wish the lap steal would snag like a pinched nerve. But no—Björklund’s resigned to a mood. It’s music by the bonfire. At least it’s warm.

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Calexico’s set opens with “Cumbia de Donde”, a track off their new album Edge of the Sun where the Latin reference points are front and center, and that seems to be the point. “I’m not from here/ I’m not from there,” sings Joey Burns in a call-and-response interplay with trumpet player Jacob Valenzuela and guitarist Jario Zavala (“De dondé eres?/ A dondé vas?”). It’s instantly infectious, and it helps that the capacity-crowd is super responsive. Syncopated rhythms get your shoulders popping on the off-beat as you join in the refrain: “I’m in the moment and I’m on my way/ I’m on my way.”

After nearly 20 years, Burns and drummer John Convertino remain the driving force of Calexico, and much of their success is credited to a wholehearted embrace of the collaborative spirit. Though neither Sam Beam nor Neko Case are present to sing their respective parts on “Bullets & Rocks” and “Tapping on the Line”, you’d think the touring band was comprised of other contemporary heroes of alternative country you just hadn’t heard of.

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Valenzuela and Zavala in particular are standouts. Zavala, a powerful axman, is in kind blessed with natural charisma. During the elegiac “Maybe on Monday”, a song about a departed love, he manages to whip the crowd in whoops and cheers with a searing solo on baritone guitar, totally earning the applause break and mean mugging all the while. Valenzuela is a less showy performer, who gets his moment with a beautiful solo vocal performance of “Inspiracion”, a song he wrote for 2008’s Carried to Dust.

Calexico’s always had a nack for capturing a sense of place. Even when they’re paying tribute to other bands from other eras, with faithful covers of Love’s “Alone Again Or”, R.E.M.’s “The One I Love”, and The Minutemen’s “Corona”, their set is charged by an ambiance that transports you. As with their namesake, Calexico’s music is a port of entry to the sounds and themes of the American Southwest, where the steady warble of slide guitar and horns hold your soul in the borderlands of darkness and light. Toward the end of the set, on “Not Even Stevie Nicks”, Burns takes us “into the blue, into the blue”. The song then builds magnificently into a familiar tune—Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Though they may have “the wound that the sun won’t ever heal”, I’ll always “Follow the River” when Calexico’s in town.

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