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LIVE REVIEW: Holly Golightly, Lille Vega, 01.11.2016

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Musician Holly Golightly live in Copenhagen

Lille Vega is a nice venue: It’s a comfortable size, the sound is decent, and the décor is at the least completely inoffensive. According to Holly Golightly, the venue is also quite “grown up.” It’s hard to say exactly what she means by that — perhaps she’s never outgrown her scrappy punk years with Thee Headcoatees — but it’s a term she comes back to again and again.

It’s a positivity that comes in handy when the room is only about a third full. And it’s reflected back from the crowd; though blues and country-inspired rock songs aren’t the most obvious songs to dance to, people are dancing (or “jigging around,” as Holly prefers). But because there are so few people in the room, there’s plenty of space for it, and it’s nice to see couples busting out the moves they learned in that one dance class they took together when they first started dating.

At times the evening has the feeling of an elaborate pub gig, not least because Holly has spent most of the last 15 years subtly shifting through different, adjacent genres. And through the evening her songs traverse predominantly blues tracks into Americana and, on the stripped down “My Love Is,” a bossa nova-flecked jazz. Though Holly has long since stepped away from her noisy, garage rock beginnings, there i still a girlish, cheeky quality to her vocals, and she is adept at choosing styles that suit her voice.

And given that these styles are less raucous than her earliest projects, it’s a bit surprising when, late in the evening, she once again cites the grown-up nature of Vega and says,“Usually people are throwing things by now.” It’s possible that Copenhageners are especially polite, or it could be that the fight doesn’t go out of a performer just because she turns the volume down.

LIVE REVIEW: Jenny Hval, Jazzhouse, 29.10.2016

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Jenny Hval live at Jazzhouse in Copenhagen

Some artists have projections rolling behind them when they play live. Jenny Hval has a woman in a body suit rolling suggestively on top of an inflatable kiddie pool, drinking wine.

This isn’t shocking or perplexing for even a second. When you sign up to see Jenny Hval, you look forward to something a little weird. This time around at Jazzhouse, things are lower-budget, no video screens, only one backing dancer doing whatever it is she’s doing, and the sole video cued up on a laptop that definitely can’t be seen from the back of the room. But what’s great about it is that as serious as the tone of the music is — and Jenny’s latest, Blood Bitch, has a number of tense moments — the performance itself clearly isn’t. Everyone in the room is in on the joke. Jenny herself knows how absurd the plastic kiddie pool, the squashed up fruit, the strewn flower pedals that land in people’s drinks look, and that’s why it’s fun instead of uncomfortable.

The truth is that musically speaking, Jenny Hval’s live performance would be a one-to-one interpretation from her albums. It’s a function of her music being primarily electronic and her voice being solid and reliable. But she’s aware of this lack of variation in her sound and translates it to what could fairly be described as batshit crazy art school nonsense for her visuals.

There is more spontaneity on this tour, perhaps because it’s not so seamlessly scripted as when she toured Apocalypse, Girl. There’s more conversation with the audience about the songs and the props. There are explanations for the back row when Jenny and her companion sit pants-less in the pool with sunglasses on, rubbing their hands and legs with red dye. During “That Battle is Over,” the pool is flipped over Jenny, delighting the young children in the front row who peer through its translucent sides and wave at her (what parent thought it was a good idea to bring their children to this show, I can’t explain, but at least her visuals are on the side of suggestive that to an innocent mind would just be silly).

As the evening winds down and a lyric from “Kingsize” is teased before devolving into the cacophony of “Plague.” The kiddie pool, meanwhile, has been cast out into the crowd, with the backing dancer looking on in distress and trying to call it back. When it does make it back to the stage, they deflate it together.

If you’ve made it this far and are completely perplexed, all we can say is that Jenny Hval has been confirmed for Roskilde 2017. This is your advance warning: Do not sleep on that.

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: Le Butcherettes, Loppen, 25.09.2016

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le butcherettes live loppen copenhagen

There are so many references at play in Le Butcherettes’ set at Loppen. There’s an immediate shock of glam with glittery red fabric draped over the synth stands and every guitar shining with silver foil. There’s a militant punk jolt when frontwoman Teri Gender Bender struts out in front of the stage, yelling and thumping before jumping behind a synth, dressed in a fatigue-style jumpsuit with a red band painted across her eyes. There are moments of disco and camp and heavy hits and rock rage.

Le Butcherette’s set is a pageant, pure performance from beginning to end. It’s theatrical and fun, mostly led by Teri’s dizzying energy. She’s undeterred by little things like not having a mic when it will do just as well to bellow into the crowd, or the face paint that runs with sweat and gets smeared along the sides of her hands. No, she’s too busy bouncing around the stage, belting her heart out, stripping off her jumpsuit to reveal a sparkly red dress during — what else? — “Take My Dress Off.”

Teri’s what make the show, for sure, but she’s backed by a smart and sturdy band who can match her vibe. And when there’s scarcely a pause between songs, one suspects that they must match her energy as well, even if in more understated ways.

The set ends with Teri climbing off the stage the same way she came on. The end of the performance is fuzzy as she begins hugging audience members, slowly making her way to the back of the crowd. The room is still dark, the house music comes up, but it’s not until she makes it to the merch table that it becomes clear that the show is over.

LIVE REVIEW: Mitski, Loppen, 24.09.2016

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Mitski live Copenhagen Loppen

Mitski packs a lot of emotion into two-and-a-half minutes. Her songs channel a familiar heartbreak and frustration. But if you call your latest album Puberty 2, then you’ve got a pretty clear understanding of what vibe you’re projecting.

Still, the most immediate impression Mitski gives during her set at Loppen is of being calm. Her body is relatively still as she sings and plays bass. Her face often has a neutral expression, no matter how long she holds a note. With her band stripped back to just guitar/bass/drums, the evening begins by feeling more intimate than her albums, with space given to her lyrics and her voice and the delicate almost-yodel that sneaks in.

She’s not cut off from the audience however. She’s clearly surprised by the turn out, the genuine familiarity with her songs, and conveys a warm, if nervous, humor. She introduces a dark cover of “How Deep is Your Love” by saying, “This next song was written by someone much richer than me.” The cover, however, not only highlights how strangely creepy the lyrics are to that song, but also serves as the first real display of how powerful her voice can be.

“Francis Forever” is the point in the set where her guitarist turns the volume up on his amp and introduces noise fills that compete with Mitski’s voice. But this is a turning point for her vocals in the set — as the guitars get louder, so does she, still hitting every note perfectly with a ferocity that could knock you back on your heels.

She ends on “last words of a shooting star” solo, delicately strumming a guitar. Though the house music comes up quickly, the crowd continues to cheer until Mitski reluctantly reappears, still alone, and picks up the guitar again. She bashes through a furious version of “My Body is Made of Crushed Little Stars” before once again giving a wave and a smile and walking off stage.

At 45 minutes, it’s a short set, especially considering that she has four albums of material to her name, but one that leaves your heart thumping out of your chest.

LIVE REVIEW: Eartheater, Loppen, 21.09.2016

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Photos by Victor Yakimov

On record, Eartheater is an eclectic mix of everything from spacey electronica to lo-fi freak folk. But live, Alexandra Drewchin’s solo persona is that of an uncompromising, confrontational noise artist. It starts with her reaching the stage by wading through the audience, towering above us in her 8″ Converse platforms. Some swift tapping on her laptop triggers an insistent low-frequency rumble, over which Drewchin performs a spoken-word piece, her voice drastically lowered by her trademark vocal effects.

Loppen is by no means packed out tonight, but if anything, this seems to work to Drewchin’s advantage. A significant proportion of her set is instrumental, aided by guitar retrofitted with a midi controller that triggers everything from pure white noise to the sounds of thunder, barking dogs and rainfall. Throughout this Drewchin wanders among the audience, staring them down one at a time, before drifting towards the bar, draping herself over it as if her spine were elastic. You sometimes hear of music being characterized as exploratory (typically standing for pot-induced jam sessions), but in this case the whole point of Eartheater is to test the space on a tactile level.

Eartheater 3

This sounds a little too facetious, the fault is mine. Drewchin is more than happy to cut the intensity of her set with moments of levity and self-effacement, and her physical contortions are as much joyful as they are pained. And as the set draws to a close, even the most bemused members of the audience look buoyed by the experience, or at the very least inspired to take up yoga.

LIVE REVIEW: Deerhoof, Jazzhouse, 13.09.16

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Deerhoof live Jazzhouse Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

It’s hard to think of a band as fun, weird and childlike as Deerhoof as, well, old, but 20 years in the business is a pretty significant amount of time. With around sixteen albums crowding their discography, the San Franciscan quartet’s unique brand of ultra-hyphenated, off-kilter art-rock has undergone endless refinements. If any band deserves to share that famous trope of the Fall, “always different, always the same”, it’s Deerhoof, a band that could record an album using nothing more than kazoos and still be immediately recognizable.

Case in point: towards the end of their set, I am puzzled by an familiar, but unusually riff-heavy song. After a couple of choruses, straining my ears, I eventually untangle the words: “Pour Some Sugar On Me.” I defy you to go out tonight and find me another band worth their salt playing Def Leppard covers, but more importantly, to incorporate them into a set without it sounding completely bonkers.

Deerhoof live Jazzhouse Copenhagen

It helps of course that Deerhoof’s latest album, The Magic, comes closer to standard rock tropes than most of their recent records. But for every Ramones-channeling “That Ain’t No Life For Me”, there is still a piece of their patented balance of unhinged and deadly precise, a la “Kafe Mania!”. Unhinged is a fairly apposite descriptor of the set as a whole, with John Dietrich’s guitar losing strings every other song.

In these technical pauses, drummer Greg Saunier comes to the rescue. Channeling Crispin Glover and Steven Wright simultaneously, Saunier embarks on tortuous meditations on the heat in Denmark and how it might be affecting both the tuning and the life-span of guitar strings. A good portion of the audience is baffled, but I would be the first to buy Saunier’s HBO special should he decide to ditch the drums for a stand-up career.

For all their fun, there is a challenging element to Deerhoof, a wry art to their playfulness that can sometimes be at the casual listener’s expense. Returning to stage for an encore, flushed by a blistering set, singer Satomi Matsuzaki spends a good ten minutes teaching the audience a rhythmically-challenging call-and-response. Satisfied that we’ve got the gist, the band get going. The song lasts a minute. The band leave. Best ending to a set I’ve witnessed in a while.

LIVE REVIEW: Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts, Stengade, 08.09.16

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Jeffrey Lewis: the William Morris of early 21st century Manhattan. A rather bold declaration, and definitely a facetious one, but when confronted with the lo-fi multimedia roadshow that is Jeffrey Lewis and Los Bolts, you can’t help but react with gleeful exaggerations.

Let me follow that with another one: Jeffrey Lewis is one of the very few musicians you can enjoy without knowing a single song he plays. In my case this is almost literally true, since I had not followed Lewis’s career closely, beyond enjoying his musical histories of the Fall and punk on the Lower East Side.

The effectiveness of his lo-fi-dom, typified by the pickup sellotaped to his trusty and battered acoustic, is in the way that the music acts as context, a score for his intimate tales of existential befuddlement. Which is not to say that the music is unimportant, but rather that it is there to serve the lyrics, rather than having a bunch of words thrown on top of it.

Jeffrey Lewis live at Stengade 2016
Jeffrey Lewis live at Stengade 2016

They have the immediacy of novelty songs, but their wry observations, particularly in songs like “When You’re By Yourself”, give them the staying power of a short story that gets so close to your daily life that it is no longer a matter of fiction and more one of millennial phenomenology. The pretension is mine, not theirs.

And just when you are worried things might be getting a little to real for you, Lewis is there to help with a capella renditions of Nirvana songs accompanied by literal and hilarious depictions of the lyrics, not to mention a brand new installment of his long-running history of Communism.

The night closes with a Pixies cover, more Nirvana “music videos”, and profuse apologies from Lewis for not having time to play even more songs, giving us just enough time to buy a few (ridiculously inexpensive) copies of his comics before riding home.

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: 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.

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