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LIVE REVIEW: Anna von Hausswolff, Pumpehuset, 24.01.2019

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Anna von Hausswolff live at Pumpehuset Copenhagen

It’s a failing on our part that we haven’t seen Anna von Hausswolff play in three years. There has been ample opportunity at festivals or if we could be bothered to cross the Sound to Malmø, and we simply didn’t do it. So in our minds, von Hausswolff remained frozen in that performance at Jazzhouse (RIP) back in 2016 when things were strangely serene except for a sub-bass that made our intestines rattle.

Who can say how long we’ve been missing out on her performance as it is today, which is to say, far from serene. The main room at Pumpehuset has taken on a cavernous feel augmented by the 15 minutes of windblown sound effects that play before she comes out on stage.

The set opens with “The Truth, the Glow, the Fall,” and the effect is immediate. To hear her voice echo around the room is really quite extraordinary; her recordings are so dense and she smooths her vocals into the mix so softly that it comes as a shock to the system that her high notes have so much force behind them. Her backing band seem so dense and lush until she starts singing, then it suddenly seems like they’re exercising tremendous restraint.

Beyond the blare of her vocals, there’s a distinctive performance personality that von Hausswolff has developed since we saw her last. She no longer confines herself to behind her keys. Instead we see her dancing and thrashing about during the percussion-heavy interlude of “Ugly and Vengeful,” playing a 12-string guitar on “The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra,” and using her encore to wander through the crowd while singing her as-yet unreleased song “Gösta.” “Pomperipossa” sounds like a haunted house soundtrack with bouncy synths and ear piecing shrieks. People around us cover their ears as she stretches her vocals to their highest decibel. “Am I scaring you?” she wails. Yes! Absolutely! Give us more! While von Hausswolff is as connected to her performance as ever, it feels less like she’s in her own world and more like the audience is being brought along for a strange ride. 

Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh.

LIVE REVIEW: Anna von Hausswolff, Jazzhouse, 22.01.2016

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Low frequency sounds and thunderous bass aren’t always associated with relaxation, but Anna von Hausswolff’s sold out Jazzhouse performance could have been billed that way. From the beginning of opener Berg’s set, the evening was one filled with a resonance humming mildly in the air, lulling the audience into a meditative state (though Berg might have taken it too far by burning patchouli incense on stage).

But it’s not a smooth transition to Anna’s set. She takes the stage with her band in an unassuming way, situated on a platform, sitting behind her organ, far removed from anyone in the audience. This means that when she crouches behind the instrument, we can’t see what she’s doing. And it seems like she’s ducked down for a long while when she finally announces that her sub-bass has blown out, and she’ll be back in about 10 minutes, leaving us with a light drone.

True to her word, it is only 10 minutes, standing in pulsating blue lights that remind you of being in an aquarium. While the glitch has robbed Anna of any bold introduction, the now-repaired sub-bass has the shock value of making your teeth rattle in your head. Despite this, it’s very soothing. Because there is so much emphasis on the lower end, the guitars are a whispery afterthought; the myriad pedals before the two guitarist contribute nothing to noise.

Anna herself can shriek like a banshee, but it blends so easily with the arrangements that, regardless of her pitch, there’s no harshness. And the way that she sways — in big swooping motions with her hair trailing behind her — suggests a different atmosphere and a different music, a playfulness and nonchalance out of step with the avant garde.

Given the technical delay, this is one night when the perfunctory leave-the-stage-to-denote-an-encore could have been skipped. Von Hausswolff returns very quickly for a solo performance of David Bowie’s “Warszawa” before her band rejoins her for the final number. It’s an up-beat, almost pop number, different from the rest of the evening that she closes her set with. It’s past midnight, and there’s an air of fatigue in the room now, but it’s a wise decision to send us off with one last burst of brightness.

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