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DR Koncerthuset

LIVE REVIEW: Slowdive, DR Studie 2, 30.09.2017

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Slowdive live at DR Studie 2 in Copenhagen

Slowdive have played in Denmark since reforming three years ago, but their set in DR’s Studie 2 is their first in a venue rather than a festival since the ‘90s. The setting is perfect for the evening:  It’s intimate, it has just the right amount of polish, and it just barely contains the expansiveness of the music.

Blanck Mass proves to be a highly appropriate opener. Though he performs in almost total darkness compared to Slowdive’s dizzying light displays, he is a kindred spirit of the post-ambient derivation of electronic music. His pedals may be hooked up to synthesizers rather than guitars, and he may lean more towards harshness than delicacy, but there is a familiar dynamic range in the bright chimes he uses to counter his often aggressive songs.

There is a bit more consistency in the sonic range of Slowdive’s set. About half of the songs come from either this year’s self-titled album or Souvlaki, and they seem cherry-picked to match that evenly metered chiming and chugging. Songs that have been reimagined from their album cuts — for example, “Crazy for You” being pulled back from its looping electronica or “Dagger” being filled out from its soul-destroying minimalism — are now fashioned into something that fits neatly in a setlist. It’s a demonstration of the band’s maturity as musicians as well as their understanding of what exactly was successful for them.

It is also interesting to see how the audience have embraced the new album; songs like “Slomo” and “Sugar for the Pill” garner a bigger response than older songs like “Avalyn” or “Blue Skied an’ Clear.” The new album has clearly given Slowdive a new focus. With the addition of synthesizers to their live arrangement, it’s also given them a new shape. This subtle change adds a new and different density to their songs (and given us Rachel Goswell’s small, inflatable flamingo ring that she balances on her keyboard and keeps her egg shaker in).

Not every band that reunites after extended periods away is quite so committed to their current or future incarnation. Though Slowdive are still treading familiar territory, and indeed may now have played Syd Barrett’s “Golden Hair” live more than he ever did, they’re clearly back as a living band and not just for nostalgia.

LIVE REVIEW: Tori Amos, DR Koncerthuset, 23.09.2017

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Tori Amos live DR Koncerthuset Copenhagen

People who come to see Tori Amos play in 2017 know her well. It is not only the type of environment where you hear people talking about how many times they’ve seen her before, but one where you hear talk of what time their flight got into Copenhagen that morning so that they could be at the show.

Concerts by veteran artists in venues the scale of DR’s Koncertsalen give the impression that it isn’t possible to be a casual fan. The people there don’t just want to hear the new album and the early stuff; it’s a space where the person shouting for the obscure B-side from the ‘90s has a good chance of being indulged.

Amos understands her role. She scurries to the front of the stage in sky-high heels to greet people before taking her place sandwiched between her grand piano and three keyboards neatly stacked on top of each other. It’s a rare occasion to see a pop concert in this room in the round, and Amos does her best to look to the audience at the back of the stage throughout the evening (though as she shifts between her instruments — often mid song — they always see her back).

It is not an especially young crowd; it’s clear that most of the audience was introduced to Amos in their teens and have continued to see her over the years. Some are now bringing their own children with them. They are reverentially quiet through almost every song, to the effect that the man next to us goes to great lengths to hold in a sneeze.

Tori Amos live DR Koncerthuset Copenhagen

This quiet is appreciated as Amos is alone on stage. Though the occasional backing track comes in, it’s mostly just her and her pianos. This means that her set is flexible, adjusted according to reported requests that came in earlier. It also means that songs often take on a completely different feeling from their recordings, whether it’s a different arrangement or a non-linear rendition. Lyrics are reorganized, repeated, changed completely. It doesn’t make for any easy singalong, but this isn’t a singalong kind of crowd; they’re more likely to be pleased to hear something different in a song they’ve heard played before.

As the tour is meant to promote her new album, Native Invaders, the single “Reindeer King” makes an appearance, but the set is an unpredictable mix of songs from throughout her career, including non-album tracks “Ruby Through the Looking Glass” and “Garlands” that everyone still seems to know.

Amos has always been one to include covers in her set. This tradition has taken on the form an interlude which features “Fake Muse” projected onto the organ in Koncertsalen, looking suspiciously like the Fox News logo. This evening’s selections are “Let It Be” and, following an electronica reinterpretation of the intro to her song “God,” “Running Up That Hill” (Amos was surely tipped off to its frequent radio play here). These are received with the same enthusiasm as the now decades-old “Crucify” and “Winter.”

The quiet reverence comes to an end with the encore, when those in the orchestra seats squash themselves up against the stage and clap along to the backing track of “Sorta Fairytale.”

They stay put through new single, “Cloud Riders,” which, with an oblique reference to “raisin girls,” sees Amos shifting her body towards the grand piano and playing “Cornflake Girl,” picking it up from its bridge. It’s impressively timed considering the backing tracks, but the pre-recorded backing vocals are a little too loud. While Amos’ live vocals leave something to be desired for the first time this evening, the energy and borderline violence with which she plays is exhilarating. It’s a strange note to end the night on, but the sentiment in the room is that everyone is satisfied with their Strange Little Girl.

Photos by James Hjertholm

LIVE REVIEW: Angel Olsen, DR Koncerthuset, 20.10.2016

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Angel Olsen Live in Copenhagen

The first time we saw Angel Olsen, we knew she was something special. Seeing her play solo songs on smaller stages now feels like a privileged view to the past, a moment that we’ll tell people, “We saw her when,” but catching Angel at Studie 2 of Koncerthuset with a full band or wailing over a keyboard as she does for “Intern” and “Woman” is not less intimate or less touching.

She’s filling bigger stages in a physical sense with more band members — two guitarists in addition to her own playing, a backing singer, plus rhythm section — all of whom are wearing matching grey suits and bolo ties. Her once stripped-back performance is significantly richer for the added musicians; the night is dominated by songs from her new album, MY WOMAN, but “Hi Five,” “Forgiven/Forgotten,” and “Sweet Dreams” all make an appearance with fleshed out arrangements.

Without the high production values of the studio, the new songs have a decidedly more country feel to them, and they can be heard as made up of discernible parts rather than just atmospherics. In other words, there’s more slide guitar than you’d realize, and it’s a very good thing. This grounding effect also changes the emotional projection of some of the songs; “Sister,” for example, has a new energy that makes it sound less tragic than the album version. When she sings, “My Life has slowly changed,” it might even be a positive thing.

While there is still a seriousness in her overall demeanor, Olsen has given up on the stony sternness that once set the tenor of her performances. She’s working on her stage banter, which she sometimes gives up mid-sentence (and she knows it’s funny when she does), and smiles break through just rarely enough to be rewarding.

But for these charismatic flashes, the reason you go to see Angel Olsen is because her voice is so dynamic. It’s sweet, it’s affecting, and it’s powerful. The build up to “Not Gonna Kill You” — in its live incarnation, a fully-fledged rock song — proves that she could end up being one of the great rock frontwomen of a generation.

Or she could be the next June Carter Cash. It all depends on where she wants to take her songwriting, and since she’s busted out the synths for the new album, that could really be anywhere. Perhaps by the time she’s playing the main room at Koncerthuset (and she’s destined for such audiences) we’ll have a complete picture. But if Angel Olsen is in it for the long haul, we guarantee we’ll be right there with her.

LIVE REVIEW: Julia Holter, DR Koncerthuset, 18.08.2016

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Julia Holter live at DR Koncerthuset

Photo by Morten Krogh

Julia Holter is trying hard not to lose her cool. She tries to sing her first song only to find that her mic isn’t plugged in. She keeps asking for more vocals and keys in her monitor, only to learn that none of her band have any monitors at all. It’s not the most auspicious start to an evening in a smaller room in Koncerthuset, but Julia Holter is a professional.

There are little hints at this professionalism, her classical training, such as when she provides the exact measure to pick up after the mic snafu or when she conducts — whether consciously or unconsciously — for herself, waiting for her backing band to rejoin her on a song.

Maybe it’s the initial tension of the evening that skews this perspective, but the energy of the band as a whole seems stronger than when we first saw this incarnation at Vega last year. Perhaps there is a battle-worn solidarity that helps them rally their energy, but everyone recovers from the early inconvenience and compensates for a lack of joviality with energy. It’s not surprising that Holter surrounds herself with people as seasoned as herself.

While waiting for the monitor situation to get sorted, Julia jokes that now would be the time to sing a cappella, except she never does that. But later, when she sings the hushed line, “all the people run from the horizon” from “How Long?” or when the opening vocals of “So Lilies” ricochet off of those of her backing vocalist, you wonder why she wouldn’t try it. Her voice always identified as a part of her lush arrangements, but would anyone even blink if she made them the defining characteristic of a song?

Her set hasn’t changed much in the last year, with Have You in My Wilderness still her most recent release, but her set did draw a new appreciation for “Vasquez.” Without the electronic elements of its recorded version, it takes on a decidedly more jazzy feel, the bass more dominant and Holter’s vocals more careless in their delivery. The breakdown in the middle, without the horns of the album, is a showcase of minimalist bass and viola work, and when the drums chime in, it is truly startling. And that’s why we’ll be out at every show she plays in Copenhagen — for all her polish, and even after seeing three shows in as many years, Julia Holter can still startle.

LIVE REVIEW: Patti Smith, DR Koncerthuset, 02.08.2016

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It’s not very far into Patti Smith’s show at Koncerthuset that a theme emerges for the night: Death. Death hangs over so many of her stories and songs. It’s implied when she opens the evening by reading from Just Kids about the optimism of ringing in the New Year, 1970, with Robert Mapplethorp, and confirmed shortly thereafter when she introduces “Paths That Cross” as a song written with her late husband for their friends suffering from AIDS (including Mapplethorp). It’s present in “This is the Girl,” Smith’s tribute to Amy Winehouse, now gone five years. It’s in the cover versions of “When Doves Cry,” “Perfect Day” and “People Get Ready,” the last of which got its worldwide debut from Patti and Co.

Or maybe this show is about life. As the years creep on and her written works begin to match those she’s recorded, Patti Smith is increasingly the one who has lived to tell the stories of those lost along the way. And Patti herself is so full of life. You feel it in the way her voice careers from folksy when she’s telling an unscripted story to frantic when she’s yowling the outro to “Land:” and flailing her arms to match. Or when she introduces “Beneath the Southern Cross” as “a song for life.” Or in the simple energy that radiates from her when she dances throughout the evening, every movement with a consistency that suggests that this is still what she loves and wants to be doing.

No, really, this evening is about survival. Because Patti Smith is not just a historian of her own stories or other people’s stories. She’s not on a legacy tour, but performing music she’s written in the last decade. She tells the audience that she’s performed the songs from Horses a million times, but it doesn’t feel like it. There’s still a force behind those songs that tells you they’re as important to her now as they were 40 years ago. Sometimes it manifests itself as fumbling intros, as with “Land:” and “Because the Night,” possibly because, after all these years, she still thinks about the songs as she sings them. She clearly isn’t on autopilot. She’s still experimenting, whether it’s new arrangements or new covers. It’s this enduring creativity that we will continue to celebrate.

LIVE REVIEW: Laibach, DR Koncerthuset, 16.01.2016

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Laibach (photo by Johannes Leszinski)

Photos by Johannes Leszinski

It’s hard to know what to expect of a Laibach show, even halfway through a Laibach show. Despite over 30 years as a band, they are a group whose reputation has surpassed their work and music, who are synonymous with fascist satire and singer Milan Fras’s strange headwear. Their performance at DR Koncerthuset was more minimalist than expected, and grandiose because of the pageantry managed with such a barebones set up.

Laibach photo by Johannes Leszinski

The focus of the drama is obviously Fras and his voice that sounds more than anything akin to Tuvan throat singing, especially when contrasted so extremely with Mina Špiler’s soprano. It’s in their movements: standing stock still when not singing, holding out their arms when they are singing like church choir directors, or the drummer crashing cymbals together with huge flourishes.

The first half is sweeping, slightly spacey ambient electronic, splintered by the vocal pairing. It’s unexpected when it’s interrupted by a fifteen-minute intermission that leads to, in the words of their pre-recorded voice over, something completely different. Let’s hand this over to John Oliver for a moment:

And he did.

It was an overstatement to bill the night as “Laibach play The Sound of Music,” as the posters did, when this was limited to four songs. And it was a little predictable that they were all arranged as Špiler accompanied by a piano before synth, drums, and Fras joining in (with the exception of “My Favorite Things,” which Fras sang alone while the items he describes in the song flashed on the screen behind him in the most consumerist manner possible).

But then things shift back from this strange diversion — as it really can only be thought of, whether or not it was what was advertised — to Laibach’s own work. Though a song like “the Whistleblowers” could fit in just as easily as a weird showtune (in the context of what we’ve just seen), there’s still the feeling that we’ve shifted to somewhere else yet again. Not ambient, not militaristic, not overtly satirical, and the most fascinating part is, if this kept going all evening, surely the tone would continue to change.

Laibach photo by Johannes Leszinski

After the encore, and before people can quite get through the studio doors, the John Oliver clip flashes up on the screen. It’s intercut with the band presumably in North Korea, and the suggestion that maybe their trip didn’t go especially well. But we’ll find out soon; the documentary will be out later this year.

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