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LIVE REVIEW: The Black Heart Procession Play 1, Jazzhouse, 22.03.2017

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The Black Heart Procession live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen

The Black Heart Procession broke a three-year silence to mount a modest European tour celebrating 20 years since recording their debut album, the pre-search engine era 1. If you didn’t know this going into their set at Jazzhouse, then you didn’t find out until after they had made it through the album and were into the encore. They’re not a band to make a fuss or really chat all that much between songs.

Opener Sam Coomes, touring his debut solo album, brought a glitchier version of his work with Quasi. Perched on an amp in lieu of a piano bench, he’s got an analogue drum machine, loads of twiddly knobs to twist between songs, a stuffed vulture mounted on his mic stand, a rotating mannequin head with LED eyes, and more pedals underfoot than seems logistically reasonable — including an air synth, which effectively acts as a theremin he can operate with his foot. It’s more visually stimulating than you’d expect a guy at a keyboard to be.

Sam Coomes live at Jazzhouse Copenhagen
Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh

It’s not a competition for obscure objects to trot out during the show, but the Black Heart Procession begin their set with frontman Pall Jenkins playing a saw. And while it’s a neat party trick, it’s also a detail that demonstrates why 1 has aged so well in 20 years. The current line-up of the band, augmented by accordion and violin as well as drums and synths, is mostly built around organic arrangements not subject to technology’s fads or evolution. It also emphasizes the band’s range of dynamics in a way that is lost on their albums: Everything on the recording always sounds very mellow and delicate, and it’s surprising just how loud a song like “Release My Heart” can be.

The encore is less orchestrated: “A Cry for Love” (because it’s curiously popular on YouTube), “The War is Over,” and the treat of an unnamed new song. The new song is introduced with a brief speech from Pall, who explains that the song is about borders and refugees and how the rhetoric in the US is uncomfortable for two guys who grew up near the Mexican border. And while the Black Heart Procession doesn’t seem like the sort of band to get political, the new song is undoubtedly one of theirs. If this marks a new direction, it won’t take fans far off course.

LIVE REVIEW: Emmy the Great, Ideal Bar, 27.03.2017

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Emmy the Great by Alex Lake

It’s an interesting choice for an artist, especially an established artist, to start a show with a cover of someone else’s song. That Emmy the Great chose to start her gig at Ideal Bar with the Cranberries’ “Dreams” in Cantonese was an interesting artistic move, a moment for everyone who recognized the tune to feel clever, and a talking point about how the hallmark of a song’s popularity in Hong Kong is the number of Chinese cover versions of it (apparently there’s a techno one of “My Heart Will Go On” that we should all either seek out or avoid like the plague).

It’s a quirky but competent beginning, one that sets the tone for Emmy (née Emma-Lee Moss) to tell stories about songs and a childhood in Hong Kong. She’s alone on stage with her guitar and a pocket-sized synth set-up, but clearly comfortable with chatting about herself in a way that’s self-deprecatingly charming, at telling you little facts about songs that meander just the right amount.

In this solo set up, it’s interesting to see how much her style has changed from her debut album, First Love — written primarily for solo acoustic guitars at a time when everyone was drooling over Bon Iver and plotting to move to a cabin in the woods. Her work since then has come with more complete band arrangements, relying less on finger-picking, and when it’s played by her solo, it’s in a stripped back form. It’s clear that she has given thought to how she would perform them — even the requests she takes from the audience (she can only play half of them — one fellow is particularly bad about choosing songs she can remember).

The evening is best represented by Moss’s latest single, “Mahal Kita,” an upbeat pop song about foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong. It’s a final look at the personal history she’s shared all evening and how it radiates beyond her. It looks beyond the exploitation of workers and focuses on what they do to reclaim their senses of self. Moss is marking out a next phase, beyond the super-personal songs, beyond just guitars, toward something ever more ambitious.

Photo by Alex Lake.

LIVE REVIEW: Hamilton Leithauser, VEGA, 01.03.2017

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Hamilton Leithauser of the Walkmen live solo Vega Copenhagen

It is a confessedly jet-lagged Hamilton Leithauser and band that take the stage at Lille Vega, but as a performer who seems to revel in a certain rootsy journeyman-musician persona, this could turn out to be an asset for him. His latest album, I Had a Dream That You Were Mine, a collaborative effort with ex-Vampire Weekender Rostam Batmanglij (present tonight in spirit only), reached a fair few ‘Best of’ lists last year, confirming Leithauser as more than simply the frontman of The Walkmen.

Judging by the impassioned singalongs in the front rows this evening, a good portion of the audience is here on the strengths of the solo work alone, and might not even be familiar with the band that gave us the perennial indie club night banger “The Rat”. The wiry texture of those Walkmen records is softened in Leithauser’s later work, which replaces their ironised distancing with more direct romanticism.

The energy this evening comes mostly from that voice, the pained howl that somehow manages to modulate into a croon or a Dylanesque sneer. The tension generated by that upwards strain can be thrilling, although perhaps an hour is just about the limit at which it can sustained. In fact my earlier characterisation is incorrect: you don’t, in fact can’t, really sing along with Hamilton Leithauser, even if you know all the words, at most you sing beneath him.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Lambchop, Lille Vega, 27.02.17

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lambchop live copenhagen lille vega

Lambchop’s FLOTUS has been acclaimed as a daring reinvention, and indeed few of us would have expected Kurt Wagner’s outfit to stray from their left-field brand of Americana into a world of autotuned vocals and, yes, even the odd trap beat. But this narrative of a reinvented band misses the fact that the band have always traced a unique and at times bizarre path. Find me another alt-country band that would, say, choose to release a concept album centred around the Nixon presidency.

The iciness of these new electronic elements lend an air of fragility, a tension that is very evident in the room as the band remain remote and quiet at the back of the stage. The vocal effects act as a mask that might allow Wagner to both indulge and play with a set of lyrics more private than usual. Slowly the thaw sets in, and soon enough the piano player is cracking ever more weird and confusing jokes. It occurs to me that Kurt Wagner may have just decided to stay silent in order to coax out of him ever more awkward sex stories.

Drummer Andy Stack, of Wye Oak, looks on in amused confusion, and though his contributions are limited, they are the most notable instance of Lambchop’s “new sound” beyond Wagner’s vocals. “Directions to the Can” in particular stands out as one of the grooviest tracks Lambchop have produced in a while, aided by a subtly filthy hip-hop-inspired bass line.

By the end of the night if Wagner is getting close to talkative, and his use of the vocal effects switches from understated to enthusiastically experimental. They announce their last song as a cover, and as people whoop at the first couple of chords Wagner laughs out loud and calls them out: “this could be any song.” In fact it is a very Lambchop-ified cover of Prince’s “When You Were Mine”.

LIVE REVIEW: Future Islands, Jazzhouse, 26.02.17

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Future Islands

Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

It has been over a year since Future Islands last played a gig in Europe, which, together with a shortly to be released album and the last-minute announcement of this show, adds a heightened layer of excitement to the four-piece’s re-emergence in Copenhagen. This gap makes itself felt in the initial hiccups with the keyboards, but this ends up providing frontman Sam Herring the opportunity to begin his intense love-in with the audience.

There are few performers who are quite as obviously thrilled to be onstage as Herring. Arguably it was his idiosyncratic dance moves during their Letterman performance that attracted enough consistent attention onto the band to propel them into wide recognition, but there is more to it than an amusing dad dance. Seemingly every moment on stage is an opportunity for him to stare intensely into the eyes of every single audience member in the first three rows, point and grab for emphasis, usher them in.

Future Islands

Last time I saw them, Future Islands were vague specks on a stage a football field away from me. With that level of distance it’s easy to be dismissive of their more mawkish lyrical tendencies, but when the man is sweating, crying and singing a foot away from your face, it’s hard not to get swept up in the drama.

The new material shows that, even when inevitably many of Future Islands’ songs end up being about “the road”, they haven’t lost any of their intense, campy, melodramatic joyfulness. Until the album comes out in a few weeks’ time I won’t be able to say exactly which song made me laugh out loud, but be prepared for an instance of rather wonderful pseudo-reggae synth hilarity.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Ed Harcourt, Pumpehuset, 15.02.2017

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Ed Harcourt live in Copenhagen at Pumpehuset

Ed Harcourt is a versatile performer. Over the years, I’ve seen him play in dive bars and concert halls, with a full band and solo at an unstable upright piano in an old man’s pub. His set at Pumpehuset, however, removed him from notions of singer-songwriter and took the idea of one man band to another level.

Harcourt’s latest album, Furnaces, is full of dense production that doesn’t seem like it would lend itself to a solo performance without a lot of prerecorded tracks. And to be fair, he does have a number of prerecorded tracks at the ready for new songs and his back catalogue. What Harcourt also has, in a quantity I’m unable to count, is looping pedals. This means tracks are sometimes built from the drums up, but also that there are subtler shifts of multiple guitar or piano parts layered without fanfare.

It also means that no matter how familiar you are with Harcourt’s work, it’s impossible to predict what form songs will take. “Occupational Hazard” is reconstructed by drums, then guitar, then piano, and back to guitar, whereas the indie pop of “Church of No Religion” is stripped back to loop-free acoustic guitar. And we all learn a valuable lesson in etiquette: A whoop from the audience while Harcourt is trying to loop a tape played back from a Fischer-Price tape recorder gets picked up by the mic, requiring him to start again.

Ed Harcourt live in Copenhagen at Pumpehuset
Photos by James Hjertholm

It’s one of many awkward but strangely endearing encounters between Harcourt and the small crowd that’s assembled. We’ve all decided to be in on the joke, whether he’s pondering aloud if he should buy a ball gag or inviting an audience member whose shirt he admires to go on a shirt pilgrimage to Milan with him. It’s why we laugh at these monologues and maybe why during “Until Tomorrow Then” Harcourt steps off the stage to serenade the crowd — a recurring schtick for this song — people hug him.

He’s already reached the two hour mark by the time he comes out for his encore, at which point the audience starts calling for older songs. He complies readily with “Music Box,” with laborious effort for “Shanghai,” and skirts a request for something from Lustre by vamping the chorus of “Haywire.” He’s nearing the end of his tour and has pointedly said that he doesn’t care how long this drags out. And quite plainly, staying past curfew to take your obscure song requests says more about how an artist feels about his audience than weird banter or even hugs ever could.

LIVE REVIEW: Genesis P-Orridge & Aaron Dilloway, Jazzhouse, 09.02.17

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genesis p-orridge live jazzhouse copenhagen

If there is one predictable thing about Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, it is the crowd s/he attracts: the goths, punks, noise connoisseurs, art musos, drag queens, crusties and techno-obsessives. Each one these stands for a moment in the career that transmuted little Neil Megson into the Pandrogyne h/erself. And although some of the elements of tonight borrow from the past, most notably Psychic TV’s “This is the Final War”, it is not to the industrial of Throbbing Gristle that we look to, nor Psychic TV’s mix of psychedelia and acid house, but to capital-N Noise.

With one of the genre’s masters, Aaron Dilloway, on stage with Genesis, and local Puce Mary giving providing the initial pummelling, this is not a night for just smugly basking among a hip underground. In the first minutes of the opening act, no sooner have I perfected my “arms folded, head tilted, thoughtfully appreciating abstract music” pose that the monitor begins to emit a frequency that makes the lighting rig tremble and my stomach tie itself into a Windsor knot.

puce mary live jazzhouse copenhagen

Genesis and Aaron Dilloway switch the direct savagery of Puce Mary for a more diversified approach: Genesis providing the spoken–or, more precisely, incantatory–word, Dilloway the uncanny sonic abstractions, and a screen doings its best to out-freak the other two.

Two people sat down at tables with some equipment doesn’t sound very visually exciting, but between Genesis’s wizard staff and golden trainers, a screen full of dayglo skulls melting into Psychick crosses, and, all the way to the right, Aaron Dilloway convulsion at his desk with what appear to be contact mics shoved into his mouth, there is arguably too much to look at.

Although Genesis P-Orridge’s sometimes lilting, sometimes declamatory voice is the anchor that propels the evening forward, it is Dilloway that really steals the show. Compared to some, his setup is minimal, little more than a few tape loops, a drum and some microphones, but out of these he is able to conjure what sound like rough field recordings in Soviet-occupied Dantean hell. Or something like that.

LIVE REVIEW: Teenage Fanclub, Lille Vega, 10.02.2017

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There’s a strange air at gigs of bands who hit their commercial peak in the ‘90s but never broke up. It’s the oddity that always being around never created more demand, that their availability didn’t spark the imaginations of a younger generation who could only hypothesize what it would be like to see them play live, that the devoted are the same devoted of 25 years ago.

And with that in mind, the vibe at Teenage Fanclub’s Vega show is curiously energized. These are the same devoted of 25 years ago, middle-aged or closing in on it fast, but they aren’t stuck in the early ‘90s. These are people who know the words to the songs from 2016’s Here, who call repeatedly for “Baby Lee”  (which doesn’t get played), who erupt when the band plays “It’s All in My Mind.” They’re the sort of crowd who have seen this band many times before and know the earliest work is saved for the very end of the set and wait patiently to hear it.

Teenage Fanclub themselves hit on a signature sound somewhere around the release of Grand Prix, and their new songs blend seamlessly with the old. It helps that over the years they’ve all become stronger singers, stronger players, and have found a place for their keyboardist/third guitarist to add an extra, shimmering layer to every song. It’s not a flashy or visually stimulating set, but it’s technically solid and full of positivity. 

Norman Blake in particular looks incredibly happy with his lot in life. He’s not bothered by the middle-aged couple down front talking selfies with the band behind them, nor is he fussed by the woman in a red dress who jumps up on stage towards the end of the set. All of the band look perplexed, but the woman, dancing around the stage, isn’t being obnoxious, isn’t getting in the way, isn’t trying to assault the band, so everyone lets it slide. She dances with their guitar tech and when the song ends gives a courtly hand to Blake, who looks amused and charmed. It’s about the least embarrassing way that scenario could have played out.

The lead up to the end of the evening rolls back the clock through “The Concept” and “Star Sign” before landing on their debut single, “Everything Flows.” If you’ve listened to the album version of “Everything Flows,” it’s easy to appreciate how much more tuneful the live performance is, how they’ve learned to build on the foundations of what their music was then but retain the raw, ramshackle energy that made it exciting in the first place. It’s a little emotional to watch because even if you as an individual do not have that attachment, everyone around you does. The band does. And it’s a good moment.

 

Visit From a Blackstar – David Bowie’s Final Works One Year Later

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David Bowie

David Bowie died a year ago today. This was the first of several mornings in 2016 that began in complete disbelief. At the heart of each one of those shocks was the richness of detail with which one could visualise each successive failed future: defeated Brixiteers loudly priding themselves on the fact that almost half of Britain dislike the EU, clamouring for a second referendum; Trump supporters denouncing the presidency as satanic; op-eds everywhere detailing just how close we got to Armageddon.

With Blackstar, Bowie had proved the efficacy and productivity of his late self-imposed obscurity. How many more of his albums would have suddenly revealed themselves over the coming years?

He would have been 70 on Sunday, but he won’t need the conveniences of calendars to be remembered. Blackstar managed to survive a year of thinkpieces, in part because its connection to the loss that immediately followed it meant that every mention of that album is a veiled or overt act of mourning and memorialising. It was without any doubt the album that defined that year for us, and each time we hear it, it reenacts the surprise of first hearing it, and the surprise of waking up two days later.

It’s an album of great conviction, that still baffles. We will analyze and over-analyze it for a generation, and every time we think we’ll have reached a conclusion, some new Easter egg in the artwork will be discovered and we’ll begin again.

The newly-released No Plan EP is little more than a teasing of what might have been. There was obviously no time to create something as fully realized as his final complete album. Will we search these final few songs for answers the way we scraped Blackstar? No, we’ll just happily accept any scraps that try to piece together what we lost. We’ll force ourselves to be content with Blackstar as the perfect farewell it has become, whether or not it was intended to be.

PHOTOS OF THE YEAR 2016

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Mø

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh, Tom Spray and Amanda Farah

Mø (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
PJ Harvey
PJ Harvey (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Fat White Family performing live at Loppen (photo: Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Fat White Family (Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Courtney Barnett (Photo by Tom Spray)
Savages
Savages (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Bob Hund live (photo Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Le Butcherettes (photo by Amanda Farah)
Action Bronson
Action Bronson (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Chvrches (photo by Tom Spray)
A Place To Bury Strangers performing at Loppen in Copenhagen
A Place To Bury Strangers (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Puce Mary (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Puce Mary (Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Bisse
Bisse (photo by Morten Aagard Krogh)
Jackie Lynn
Jackie Lynn (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Gojira (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)
Wiz Khalifa
Wiz Khalifa (photo by Tom Spray)
mac demarco live roskilde festival
Mac Demarco (photo by Tom Spray)
Angel Olsen Live in Copenhagen
Angel Olsen (photo by Amanda Farah)
guardian alien live roskilde festival
Guardian Alien (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

 

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