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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: Mitski, Ideal Bar, 15.06.17

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Mitski live at Ideal Bar Copenhagen

It’s a little surprising that, after the breakaway success of her fourth album last year, Mistki should still be confined to Vega’s Ideal Bar. But as we discovered when we caught up with her at Loppen last September, Mitski thrives in an intimate environment. It might be a little facile recycle that phrase to refer to her music as well, but it’s true, Mitski Miyawaki’s work is based on being close-up and unadorned.

Fragility is sacrificed for the same of directness in this live setting. Every hit of the drum is an unashamed whack that jolts the audience, every new guitar riff piles more effects into the mix, and the bass amp is rattling madly. Mitski herself looks impassively into the audience throughout this, which for the most part adds to the emotional weight of her lyrics by refraining from really piling it on.

Besides, there are enough people in the front row, hands on hearts, singing along to songs “Francis Forever” and “Your Best American Girl”. There is an undeniable emo element to all this but it has none of the whininess or self-loathing, and there is an undercurrent of humour everywhere in her work. Album-opener “Happy” is a particularly good example of this, a very plain but vivid story that wickedly winks to the audience with it’s punning “I felt Happy / come inside of me.”

Towards the end of a set that seems to speed up to breakneck speed towards the end, the songs compressing more and more, there is a definite tension in the room. Your bog-standard shouty twat manages to tick off the entire audience with his inanities, and although Mitski manages to deflect this, there is a tinge of revenge in the level of distortion she piles on for her final trio of solo songs.

LIVE REVIEW: The Kills, Store Vega, 09.06.2017

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The Kills live at Vega in Copenhagen

There was a time when being the cool kids from East London would have gotten a band some mileage, but that time was at least a decade ago. Thank goodness that the Kills, as they continue to soldier on, have long since given up on that schtick.

If anything, the energy of the pair is the standout of their show at Store Vega. They manage to take up a lot of space as only two people, and Alison Mosshart in particular doesn’t stop moving for a hot minute. She’s forever throwing her body around and flinging her hair in a way that would have put the entire grunge era to shame. In between songs, she paces around in circles like a caged animal as though she needs to keep herself moving so she can physically launch her body into the next one.

The Kills live at Vega in Copenhagen

Jamie Hince seems content to let her be the visual focus and spends the set is a continuation of guitar licks and swapped instruments. There are a few occasions where a song could have ended earlier, without Hince’s extended riffing after the rest of the band cut out, but these bleeds help prevent the dead air that would have ensued with their otherwise non-existent chatter.

The focus of the evening is on tracks from their latest album, last year’s Ash & Ice, and the enthusiasm for the new songs is as real as for the older tunes (even if pre-recorded strings for “Siberian Nights” just don’t have the same impact live). Though the album has it’s mellower moments, the live set was picked to be straight high energy. “Echo Home,” one of the more subdued new songs, ends up being much more energetic live thanks to a more pronounced backbeat provided by the backing band.

It’s this relentless energy, and the pleasure the band seems to take in their own music, that makes the evening so unexpectedly fun. It’s nice to see Hince and Mosshart crack smiles, and to see moments of genuine affection between the two of them. It’s a glimpse into the future for jaded indie rock kids everywhere: Careful or you may start enjoying yourselves.

LIVE REVIEW: Gnod, Loppen, 01.06.17

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Gnod live at Loppen Copenhagen

The evening begins with three of us buying t-shirts. Normally you’d wait till the end of the night to buy one, maybe as a sign of appreciation in the afterglow of a gig. But expectations are high and Gnod’s t-shirts just happen to be particularly good. Mine features a morose black and white portrait and urges “Trepanation for the National Health”, whereas my companions opt for the more timely “JUST SAY NO TO THE PSYCHO RIGHT-WING CAPITALIST FASCIST INDUSTRIAL DEATH MACHINE”. Perfect for their visit to Scotland in an election week.

It might not be the most pithy album title, but JUST SAY NO TO THE PSYCHO RIGHT-WING CAPITALIST FASCIST INDUSTRIAL DEATH MACHINE (I’m just copy-pasting it now to piss you off) truly delivers the brutality and urgency it promises. With this release Gnod have downplayed their more psychedelic and meandering side in favour of bloody-minded noise.

Things start noisily enough with opener Mai Mai Mai, whose violent take on ambient electronics recalls a Dario Argento-influenced Vatican Shadow. Gnod on the other hand have no time for atmospherics. With two bassists and a particularly heroic drummer providing the real power behind the punch, the Mancunian collective tear through their new material with no pause and no respite. Album opener “Bodies for Money” has even the most subdued in the audience on the edge of mutiny, with its jurassic riff of descending chords.

Even in their new bare-boned incarnation, Gnod still manage to evoke their more psychedelic and cosmic influences, arriving there through sheer repetition. In the final minutes of closer “Stick in the Wheel”, one guitarist becomes so involved in the beat that he abandons his instrument and just starts jumping up and down on stage. You could probably find something symbolic in that, but the only take you really need to leave with is that Gnod are so good live that they end up mesmerising themselves.

PHOTOS: Gnod, Loppen, 01.06.2017

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Gnod live at Loppen Copenhagen

Gnod live at Loppen Copenhagen

 Gnod live at Loppen Copenhagen

Gnod live at Loppen Copenhagen

Gnod live at Loppen Copenhagen

Gnod live at Loppen Copenhagen

LIVE REVIEW: Jesca Hoop, Vega, 17.05.17

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Jesca Hoop live at Ideal Bar Copenhagen

There is a sense of guilt in going to see an artist you’ve never heard before, a sense of not having done your homework. This is amplified all the more in Jesca Hoop’s case, partly because her latest record, Memories Are Now, is in fact her fifth in a decade. And also, of course, because she turns out to be a wonderful stage presence. The new album may be regarded as her most accomplished yet, but the true character of her skeletal folk songs only really comes through in a live setting.

Her music taps into the same playful, absurdist take on folk typified by artists like Joanna Newsom and Coco Rosie, including typewriter-based rhythms on “Animal Kingdom Chaotic”, as well as buzzing synths and field recordings of birdsong. As an American transplant in Manchester, Hoop is at her most interesting when the various filters of her experience and music are at their most obvious. More earnest and traditionalist folk performers are unlikely to want to mention computers or astronomy, and they are all the poorer for it.

I spend much of the set wondering at her guitar-playing style, which is as assured as it is idiosyncratic. Hoop uses a rather odd finger-picking technique that involves the fingers being almost completely extended at all times, pointing towards the headstock. The strings, which are plucked by thumb and ring finger almost exclusively, are permanently muted by the palm, completely transforming the sound of the instrument.

At the end of the set, Hoop returns to the stage alone for the encore. As if to prove that I have been focusing entirely on the wrong things, she sings her last song a cappella, giving her some real Anne Briggs-style cred.

LIVE REVIEW: SPOT Festival, Rock the Region, 05.05.2017

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This year’s SPOT Festival in Aarhus showcased an interesting variety of artists and speakers that brought together music lovers from all walks of life. Bands, artists, DJs from various parts of Scandinavia performed all around Aarhus’s downtown in an environment of willful friendships and music appreciation all around.

Godsbanen was where the underrated Rock the Region took place. This showcase of bands from around Denmark was the perfect experience for rock-lovers. Facaden from Silkeborg; Ryan from Holstebro; King Kross from Horsens; We Need Lilo from Herning; Rasmus Trinderup from Skive and You Work For Me Now from Aarhus; all gave a stellar performance and provided the audience with a great mix of indie pop and rock, Nordic folk and hip-hop with rock which was the best way to experience the variety that local music has to offer.

The show started with Facaden and their rock/hip-hop mash up seemed to get the crowd ruffled up as they raised their arms and sang along. It was electrifying to see the fans connect with the vocalist, almost as though they were all part of the band. Facaden’s energy was highly addictive and set the tone for the rest of the concert.

Up next was Ryan, a rather mellow, indie-rock, follow-up to Facaden but intriguing nonetheless. At one point, I felt still — almost in awe — as they played their song ‘I Am Done’. It was a very moving performance with impeccable harmonies that leave you feeling like the band’s music is perpetually tugging at your heart strings.

King Kross hit the stage after Ryan. Their sound can be vaguely described as droning electronic keys and prominent drum beats meshing into deep vocals and guitars, reminiscent of an 80s post-punk sound. It was almost entrancing, making you want to close your eyes and sway.

We Need Lilo’s performance was mind-blowing. The booming drums and catchy electric guitars complimented their frontwoman’s grungy vocals really well made me feel the music on a physical level. It was exciting to the see the band’s brilliant chemistry on stage. It was difficult not to genuinely feel happy about this band’s existence, and surprising almost, to see just a room full of people in the audience. I can understand why the band is called We Need Lilo, because it leaves you saying I need more.

Up next was Rasmus Trinderup, a saccharine break from the previous heavy rocking. Rasmus’ performance was adorable, to say the least. The musician was all smiles on stage and his fans were rooting for him throughout the performance. The catchy ‘ooh-oohs’ stay with you, but a little strange to have him in the middle of this Rock The Region line-up as his sound had a bit of a pop vibe going. That being said, Rasmus kept the crowd captivated and moving along to his tunes.

The last band for the night was You Work For Me Now. It’s interesting how musicians’ can impact concert-goers. It was in fact reading this band’s name on a poster that motivated me to attend this show. Their song, ‘The One That Got Away’ was like a healing force for the broken hearted. There was something very naturally emotive about the way the lead singer conveyed the songs. One would feel drawn towards him as he sang. It was as though they took you by the hand and pull you into their world. One would think this band deserves an outdoor stage with a larger audience rocking out to their sound. Maybe next time?

LIVE REVIEW: Wolves in the Throne Room, Loppen, 27.04.17

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Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

Wolves in the Throne Room are known for their singularly long, meditative takes on the black metal genre, infused with concerns with mysticism and the moody landscapes of the Pacific Northwest. The kind of band who wouldn’t be out of place on a rainy Wednesday at Twin Peaks’ Roadhouse, or, in this case, a windy Wednesday at Loppen. Originally scheduled to play Christiania’s other larger venue, Den Grå Hal, their loss is our gain, as Loppen allows the audience to get within hair-whipping distance from the band.

We arrive just in time to catch the second opening act, Orm, whose double vocals–one a deep death metal growl, the other a higher-pitched black metal howl–would seem a little gimmicky were they not accompanied by some very tight playing. Their debut LP also has one of the gnarliest covers I’ve seen in a while, a tasteful landscape including a full moon, a stormy and kraken-infested sea, and a castle on fire. I really want that on a mug.

WITTR arrive on stage prepared to create their own atmosphere, complete with ambient soundscapes and burning incense (picture below, although that could also be the most badly-rolled blunt ever photographed). But these are just garnishes, quickly overshadowed by the intensity of the playing. As their recently re-released debut proves, what truly distinguishes the band is their ability to generate atmosphere out of distortion and obsessive double-kick drums.

Tonight, the band starts at the beginning, with “Queen of Borrowed Light”, the opening track of their debut. It’s a solid introduction to the band, and one which eschews most of the atmospherics in favour of doubled-up soaring guitar riffs. It’s odd, but the real meditative moments, that is those that focus attention, are created not by slower tempos or lower volumes, but by stretching out the most intense moments. At a certain stage the lightning-fast tremolo picking begins to sound more like a long continuous tone than many shorter ones.

As our very own Morten put it, behind all the theatrics there is an unmistakable post-rock side to WIITR, moments when they sound closer to Mogwai (but without the sarcastic song titles) than Mayhem. Which, rather than being a criticism, is actually the reason we like them in the first place.

LIVE REVIEW: Moor Mother, Jazzhouse, 06.04.17

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Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

Already reportedly something of a fixture in the Philadelphia scene, Camae Ayewa’s Moor Mother project has lately brought her to wider attention with the release of her debut album, Fetish Bones. Even tonight, in a reduced-sized Jazzhouse, the audience is packed together and buzzing. The object of their enthusiasm is a confrontational mix of noise and politically-charged spoken word, dense with samples of old blues records and deafening, distorted synths. And, a little surprisingly, a theremin.

What ties this all together is what Ayewa would term “time-travelling”, a narrative of historical and contemporary black experiences in America. Like many, I’d be interested to read an exegesis of this record, and am honestly surprised I haven’t found one yet. I’m certainly not going to be the first to try: I don’t think anyone on Earth is clamouring for a middle class Italian dude’s hot takes on race.

But Moor Mother’s great strength as a project is Ayewa’s experience as a poet. The title alone of the album is a good example of her ability to bring different strands of meaning together: on the one hand we can read fetish bones as a reference to the talismans of West African Vodun traditions; but in the context of her references to police killings and systemic racism, this begins to sound more like a fetish for bones, an institutional reliance on violence.

Not that you have much time for these thoughts during Moor Mother’s set: her presence demands attention, her declamations scathing but also clearly witty (“It’s ok, the world has already ended”). Coming from a punk tradition, she throws herself at the audience, a moshpit of one, dragging and pushing people, mimicking violence but always with an astonishing degree of control. During “Deadbeat protest” she comes wheeling in to my corner of the venue, almost tripping over a stair and steadying herself by grabbing onto my jacket. Five seconds later the track ends, she rights herself, pats my back and strolls back.

Behind the often bleak soundscapes of Moor Mother, Camae Ayewa emanates positivity and an eagerness to engaging with people, which explains the initial enthusiasm from those in the audience who had clearly already encountered her. The good news for the rest of you is the promise that she will be back in July, expect updates from us when we get more information on that.

LIVE REVIEW: Moon Duo, Pumpehuset, 29.03.17

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Moon Duo live at Pumpehuset

Photos by Johannes Leszinski

 The key to Moon Duo is their simplicity: three instruments, three chords, one drum beat and 5 to 10 minutes to explore their every nuance. That sounds like an exaggeration, but it really isn’t. Moon Duo have two modes, on and off. Fans of crescendos and dynamic juxtapositions had better look elsewhere.

It’s two years since the last time I saw the Duo, and the roominess of Pumpehuset is a marked difference from the sweaty shoebox that they played previously. The reason for a larger venue, quite apart from having perhaps gained greater notoriety in recent years, is made apparent as soon as the band take to the stage. A large white semicircle at the back acts as a screen for some major psychedelic eyewash, as a thick weave of multicoloured beams reaches out into the audience.

Moon Duo live at Pumpehuset

It’s one of the best combinations of light and sound I’ve caught in a while, to the extent that for long periods of the set I have absolutely no clue what song they are playing. Nodding my head, banging a long-empty bottle of water on my leg. This isn’t exactly a new experience for me, but perhaps unusual for a sober Wednesday night.

The distinctive and ridiculously massive headstock of Ripley Johnson’s signature ’59 Airline waves in time with a solo barely hovering above Sanae Yamada’s keyboards. The real unsung hero, though, has to be John Jeffries and his unerring metronomic beat. No frills, no fills. After a very tight 60 minute set, the band’s encore is an appropriately thumping version of the Stooges “No Fun”. A banger, but very far from the truth.

Moon Duo live at Pumpehuset

 

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