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LIVE REVIEW: Wire, Jazzhouse, 09.10.2015

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Wire at Jazzhouse

There is an energy that runs through Wire’s sold out show at Jazzhouse that creates a vibrancy you can feel as though it were tangible. It’s not just the energy of a group that have been playing together for nearly 40 years and have an intuitive dynamic, or an adrenaline shot from a decades-younger member, or the exuberance of a crowd with an equally diverse age range who stumbled in from the good cheer of Kulturnatten. It’s the emphasis on the new that makes Wire, whose original members are all past 60, feel as vital as ever.

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Thought not totally immune to nostalgia, Wire have been more forward looking than many of their contemporaries. They are not the only band of the post-punk era to continue to produce work, but they have continued to create at pace beyond most of their contemporaries, and they have continued to emphasize their new work over their old. They don’t really care how many times people call for “1 2 X U,” they’re not playing it (the contribution from Pink Flag to the set is “Brazil”).

While there is an obvious common thread through their work, through the set you can see as well as hear how Wire’s songs have evolved from album to album. Watching their second guitarist Matt Simms hunch over his pedal board without his guitar, pressing buttons and turning knobs and creating multi-dimensional swells of noise behind the more utilitarian structures of the rest of the band. From a technical perspective, the sole criticism is that there were times when Colin Newman’s vocals were too low.

Wire at Jazzhouse

Rock music doesn’t make you fear death, it makes you fear aging, becoming irrelevant and simply too old to keep up with the younger generation. It can make you feel that way by the time you’re 25 if you only ever look back to what you loved as a teenager. But if the bands you loved as a teenager, and the bands you love who made great records before you were even born continue to make great music, why should any of us worry about getting old? If I must age, let me age like Wire.

LIVE REVIEW: Jenny Hval, Jazzhouse, 24.06.2015

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Jenny Hval live at Jazzhouse, Copenhagen 2015

Whenever artists make an off-kilter record, it’s always exciting and a little nerve-wracking to see how they will perform it. In the case of Jenny Hval, whose latest album, Apocalypse, Girl, combines spoken word with muted electronics and some odd-ball pop songs, there are any number of ways her performance at Jazzhouse could go wrong.

The show, however, is far beyond a concert and more along the lines of performance art. It’s pure entertainment, the kind you recommend and don’t worry about whether or not other people will find it strange. [inlinetweet prefix=”null” tweeter=”null” suffix=”via @heretodaydk”]You’d have to be completely joyless not to find humor in Hval’s avant garde fly girls[/inlinetweet], who play with an iPad that projects onto a screen on stage, or gyrate in the shadows of a backlit screen, or momentarily take over to sing a karaoke version of Britney Spears’ “I’m Not a Girl.”

Hval herself angles for subtler performance, wearing a reddish wig for no apparent reason, allowing herself to be jostled by the fly girls, and pausing slightly longer during “Kingsize” when she declares “I am one-fourth Danish,” to allow the crowd to cheer (which they do).

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Hval never seems to exert herself when she sings; no matter how far she stretches her voice or her range, her body is languid, lax, her posture somewhat lazy. She balances this nicely with projections of a woman smoking, sped up just enough to make it twitchy whereas Hval is anything but.

The visual aspect of the set is a tremendous counter to the fact that the music side of the performance doesn’t differ at all from the recordings. But you could never argue that you haven’t been given a real treat. For how casual the evening feels, it’s clearly choreographed down to the wigs being pulled off at the end of “The Battle is Over.” Hval has to apologize to the crowd that there won’t be an encore, that they haven’t prepared one. And after the spectacle of the last hour, it’s better that she walks away than offers anything less.

 

LIVE REVIEW: Blanck Mass, Jazzhouse, 04.06.2015

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It’s the second night of Distortion and Blanck Mass, aka Benjamin John Power of Fuck Buttons, is playing Jazzhouse for his first ever Copenhagen solo show. And there’s no one here. On an ordinary night, this would already mean that everyone is missing out, but for a late show following hours of raucous street parties, this is the chillest way possible to round out the evening.

In the darkened room, half of the approximately 30 people who have assembled are sitting, staring up at Power, who is backlit by a projection screen. The next hour is an ebb and flow of ambient lulls and crests of beats. Without any beats, his songs have an Eno-esque softness. When paired with the freeform, shifting colors of the projections (except for the one that was a skull, that wasn’t so freeform), the mood is between serene and sedate.

When Power plays with Fuck Buttons, he has Andrew Hung to interact with, and that in itself changes the energy of the performance. Alone on the stage, he fares well enough, bopping behind his table and flitting from one piece of equipment to another. But we can’t even see his face, so there is an effect of disembodiment.

Granted, for his more beat-driven tracks, it makes less of a difference. The rhythms are scattered and compete with one another in a way that absorbs the movements into each other. On a different night with a different crowd, this could be a very hip party soundtrack.

But here, now, with the evening is drawing to close, a harsh buzz saw of static cuts through any comfort that had settled in the room. The jolt fades into more soft, enveloping synths, and finally rolls back into one of his multi-layered rhythms. The music cuts, the projection screen goes blank, and Power says an unamplified “thanks” to the crowd before walking off the stage.

LIVE REVIEW: Liturgy, Jazzhouse, 29.05.2015

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Liturgy (photo by Johannes Leszinski)

Photos by Johannes Leszinski

Liturgy open their set at Jazzhouse with frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix singing controlled, almost monastic vocals, looping them back on each other, and an anticipation hanging in the room. Of course it won’t continue like this. And with knowing nods between the band members, there is enough time to brace yourself for impact.

Much has been made about whether Liturgy are a black metal band or not, with their latest album, The Ark Work, further fueling the debate (and dividing a few fans in the process). But does it really matter what the precise sub-genre is when the music’s loud enough? The bigger question is how the synthesized, horn-like sounds of their last album would translate. Answer: As a sort of high-level screeching, but not at a frequency that’s painful to listen to.

Liturgy (photo by Johannes Leszinski)

They are full of subtle tricks amidst the noise: a sawn-off guitar given a permanent capo, effects that make guitars sound like glockenspiels, and their drummer, Greg Fox, who is apparently half man/half machine and looks like he could drum for days without breaking a sweat. Together with bassist Tyler Dusenbury, he really shapes the songs, and also helps you sort out who in the audience has any ability to keep time — there’s an awful lot of arrhythmic flailing in the crowd when they move out of 4/4 time.

It’s all a weirdly serene experience. Hunt-Hendrix normally maintains a straight-faced, disaffected expression, but is not immune to the occasional smile. The rest of the band have the countenance of the three chillest dudes ever, noise be damned. It’s the kind of performance that simply washes over you, sometimes sweeping you along in a rolling, repetitive song. It’s not what you’d call relaxing, but it’s totally engrossing.

Liturgy (photo by Johannes Leszinski)

LIVE REVIEW: Grouper, Jazzhouse, 21.04.2015

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Cam Deas is a modern man in search of a song. It’s a pretentious (and frankly plagiaristic of a track of his) way of saying that he’s an idiosyncratic electro wizard who doesn’t seem to conjure music as much as he bridles it. In Deas’ world, a musician is not a creator. He’s a wrangler.

His setup looks like a mid-20th century vision of a techno-futuristic picnic: a tabletop splayed with an assortment of boxes connected by cables, with bundles of them spilling over the edges. The main piece is on the right, a large red box that opens to reveal some sort of computer console, out of which even more cables pour. On the left, out of place, lies an acoustic guitar.

What follows is a 40-minute set consisting of Deas effecting noise. When he turns them on, the machines emit high-pitched electronic signals. Those signals then repeat and distend, becoming thick and elliptical. Occasionally he steps over to the guitar. Using a slide, he slaps out some rustling tones and then returns to the machines for processing. Up until this point, the shape of the sound is abstract, a going-in-all-directions mood piece with jutting textures that keep you on edge. Then it all collapses. The climax, if you can call it that, is the violent dissolution of these layers, resulting in a deep and profound trembling that shakes the room. I’m seated behind the sound guy, watching the levels spike well into the red. He doesn’t move, though. On stage, Deas is presiding over an experiment going horribly wrong, which is object of the piece. The spectacle of it is scary, penetrating, and, at times, thrilling.

When the stage is cleared, Liz Harris, who performs under the moniker Grouper, appears like an apparition in the wake of a terrible accident. Live candles have been placed at either side of her, and she sits in the middle of the stage, legs crossed. Above her, a projection screen lights up with sun-soaked images, what looks to be a home movie of a vacation on the Oregon coast.

It’s a beautiful contrast to what came before. Like a lot of ambient musicians, Harris can hide herself deep inside her work, inviting us to observe the labyrinth from a distance as she feels her way out from the middle. For the show, she limits herself to voice and electric guitar, both of which she buries low on the high reverb setting. In a way it makes her sound far away, but there’s a warmth that envelopes you and brings you closer.

Harris’ music is wash of sweet melodies that rises like a gentle tide. Her set harkens back to the sound of 2007’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill, where songs like “When We Fall” and “Tidal Wave” serve as the clearest sonic callbacks. It’s the steadily strummed chords that keep you from drifting in the dreamy atmospherics, directing focus toward the foreground where we find Harris, at once receding and surging, in slow motion.

Most reverential experiences are definite about their sense of place. The movie projected on the screen aims to take us to the coast, where land meets ocean, where shape loses shape. With Harris, it’s more about a sense of time. There’s something about digging into the past that can bring you to a moment of clarity in the present. Her songs are thick with the sound of thought, the turning over of memories. But she’s there. And so are we.

PHOTOS: Lower | Jazzhouse, Copenhagen, 29.08.2014

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Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

Lower (Jazzhouse, Copenhagen)

Lower (Jazzhouse, Copenhagen)

Lower (Jazzhouse, Copenhagen)

Lower (Jazzhouse, Copenhagen)

Lower (Jazzhouse, Copenhagen)

Lower (Jazzhouse, Copenhagen)

LIVE REVIEW: Destroyer, Jazzhouse, 03.12.2013

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It was never going to be a stretch for Destroyer to do an acoustic solo set. Though his albums are fleshed out with a full band, Destroyer is still Dan Bejar on his own, and most of his work readily strips back to simple guitar and vocal arrangements without feeling like anything is missing.

So what’s really special about seeing Destroyer standing on a stage alone, strumming his guitar with his thumb? It’s the attention he pays to his entire catalogue, including a song from his latest EP, Five Spanish Songs, as well as early works like “Streets of Fire,” from his 1996 debut. It all bleeds together in the course of a twenty song set, but in this setting we get the impression of Bejar at his best. The room is dead silent and all of the nuances in his vocals, most notably his stage whispers, are conveyed in such a way that describing the evening as “intimate” actually feels appropriate.

But that silence feels too prominent between songs, and it’s well into the set before Bejar seems to realize he should fill in those gaps. Even then, he only makes little comments about when the songs were written and what they’re called. Bejar expresses uncertainty about how familiar the sold-out room is with the songs, comparing the evening to the idea of Donna Summer doing an acoustic folk tour. He then admits, “I never thought that before I said it, but now I’m going to think it more often,” and amid the laughter eases into “Chinatown.”

For the most part, Bejar’s interaction with the audience is limited to the half-bow he gives after each song, his curly hair tumbling down in front of him, needing to be smoothed back. It’s a small recognition that he is performing for a crowd, a not for his own amusement, which the placid look he maintains would suggest. This mild expression combined with that mass of bushy hair gives him the gentle appearance of a stuffed animal. He makes it easy to be comfortable in his presence, whether or not he acknowledges anyone else as present.

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LIVE REVIEW: Julia Holter, Jazzhouse, 05.11.2013

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Julia Holter’s set at Jazzhouse was one of those demystifying performances. To see her songs performed by her at the keyboard, a violinist, a cellist, a saxophonist, and a drummer connects all the dots scattered by her dense albums. From the first notes of opener “Maxim’s 1,” there is clarity. Suddenly every sound is easy to identify, though every musician has several pedals laid out in front of him.

While the mystery is gone, the beauty remains. Holter’s voice is strong and dynamic, whether she’s bellowing over the din of her backing band or whispering over her keys. She is the constant element, the reliable figure at her microphone, while the other variables in the form of jazzy compositions, fairytale soundtracks, and avant garde noise build and recede around her.

While much of her set is taken from her latest album, Loud City Song, she ends the evening with both versions of “Goddess Eyes,” from Ekstasis. She tells the audience it’s about Aphrodite getting her revenge on a mortal before confessing that she doesn’t expect anyone to know the songs.

Holter is chatty and personable between songs, even if she’s just talking about the curry she had for dinner. After watching her perform with a serious face, lost in her work and  sometimes dramatically posed, her banter between sets, whether with the audience or her bandmates, feels like she’s breaking character. And it’s rather endearing.

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Finally, it’s worth mentioning opener Lucrecia Dalt. If there is an organic, demystifying element to Holter’s performance, Dalt’s is exactly the opposite. Alone on stage with a bass, samplers, and pedals galore, she’s like the evil twin of Julianna Barwick, slowly building tracks based on loops and probably taking pleasure in audience members who cover their ears at the high frequency noises.  Then again, the girl who pauses her set to ask why her banana-scented smoke machine isn’t working can’t be all darkness, can she?

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Julia Holter | Jazzhouse, Copenhagen, 05.11.2013

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Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (www.mortenkrogh.com)

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LIVE REVIEW: Julianna Barwick, Jazzhouse, 20.10.2013

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There was a question looming of how Julianna Barwick’s atmospheric music would translate as a live performance. Her ethereal voice, largely wordless lyrics, and airy songs are so unobtrusive that it never seemed likely that Barwick would overwhelm a room with the force of her personality. And standing behind her keyboard, reaching across to twist knobs on her sampler and occasionally swaying behind her microphone, this is the case. Her accompanist for most of her set, guitarist Scott Bell, is equally benign.

It is interesting to watch Barwick build a track, looping layer upon layer of her own voice, and how effective her sporadic piano playing is. What is evident is her overwhelming vocal control, and the strength and clarity of her voice, which is necessary for her loops to work at all. But the fascination wears off before too long.

Julianna Barwick (Photo by Tom Spray)

It is not unreasonable to believe that her voice is compelling enough to make her live show worth seeing, in spite of her physically stagnant performance. What is achieved is a sort zen-like state, conducive to meditation — or truthfully, were the chairs more comfortable, to sleep. It’s very peaceful and very pretty, but there is a limit to how engaging it can be.

With this in mind, Barwick has video rolling on a screen behind her. The images — of a seagull, of waves crashing, of a woman (possibly Barwick herself) clad in a lace dress, floating in water, tangled up in tulle — though intriguing, are incidental. The footage keeps rolling even between songs, and begins to repeat itself three quarters of the way through her set.

Her set is brief, coming in under an hour, including the encore. But it’s sufficient. If you missed it, you’ll likely get just as much pleasure out of buying a copy of her latest album, and curling up at home with it, a cup of tea, and a good book.

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