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LIVE REVIEW: K-X-P, Loppen, 05.03.2016

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Finnish trio K-X-P aren’t the best at self promotion. Their band bio lists four people and mentions a rotating drummer (they currently have two drummers playing live). Their photos usually feature obscured faces. At their show at Loppen, they perform on a darkened stage while wearing black hoods, which suggests that one cannot live so far north without bringing some kind of black metal influence into his work. None of it really suggests upbeat, danceable electronica.

But despite their best efforts, K-X-P are curiously accessible. There is no harshness coming from the sawn-off guitar or the table full of knobs that singer Timo Kaukolampi twists, nor his reverb-laden, swampy vocals.

It’s not a big crowd, but everyone is dancing. All the little tables have been abandoned, left piled with coats dangerously close to the candles. Watching hands flail in the air and people jump around during “Space Precious Time,” the mood comes close to touching on rave culture, even as Kaukolampi attempts his best growl.

While having two drummers can seem like a gimmick, in the case of K-X-P it adds further dimension to the otherwise programmed music. It’s a little difficult to distinguish what’s coming from a person directly and what’s coming from a table of wires, but the literal feeling of being propelled forward by their movements compensates for this cerebral uncertainty.

And the confusion about preprogrammed sounds versus physically present instruments is perfectly in keeping with the tone of the evening. It’s hard to reconcile the notes that stretch out into acid-inspired whirs with the group on stage. It’s hard to reconcile that the bodies are dancing around in the low-ceiling Loppen and not in a festival tent in a field. But it’s only these superficial things that feel mismatched. Shut your eyes and enjoy the spaciness, and everything feels right.

LIVE REVIEW: Protomartyr, Loppen, 12.11.2015

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Protomartyr / Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

Photos: Morten Aagaard Krogh

Listening to any of Protomartyr’s albums, and in particular focusing on the deadpan delivery of singer Joe Casey, it’s that their show at Loppen will go one of two ways: Either Casey will be a complete maniac on stage, or he’ll match his dry delivery with every other aspect of his being.

As it turns out, it’s the latter of the two options. Casey is as nonchalant in his body language and facial expressions as his voice suggests he would be. When he does growl, he’ll immediately avert his gaze as though he surprised himself. It’s hard not to look at him, not just because he’s center stage, but because he’s in the middle of so much more overt activity. It’s especially clear at the halfway point in their set when they play “The Devil in His Youth” and the band band have loosened up and a few hoots are called from the crowd, but Casey is singing with one hand in his pocket.
Protomartyr / Photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)
This does serve to highlight the charm of their bassist rocking back and forth on his toes with surprising lightness. Protomartyr are not a bass-heavy band, and it would be easy to overlook his contributions, however when you can see him literally in time with their drummer, it is immediately clear just how strong their rhythm section is.

Their natural energy is a good counterpoint to a singer who, meanwhile, is placing a failed balloon animal that has made its way on stage next to his beers as though this were perfectly normal (in the encore, he’ll conjure that it’s a “sword – I hope”).

What makes such a reserved performance so watchable is undefinable, but by the time “Why Does It Shake?” rolls to a close we’ve all been sucked into the peculiarity. You definitely won’t get the same thrill just by turning up the volume on the album.

LIVE REVIEW: Chelsea Wolfe, Loppen, 06.11.2015

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Friday’s show at Loppen was the third time we’ve seen Chelsea Wolfe in the last 15 months. At this point, we know what to expect: We know Chelsea is a talented musician who surrounds herself with other talented musicians. We know there’s going to be a heavy gloom cut through with surprisingly delicate vocals — her latest album, Abyss, guarantees this. Any serious deviations from when we last saw her at Roskilde would come as bolts out of the blue. Since that didn’t happen, these are the details I’ve chosen to focus on instead:

  • When the band finally take the stage after an extended string introduction, there is a notable shift in the air. The chatty audience finally shushes and the growing noise develops a sinister quality.
  • Despite having a capable backing vocalist, looped vocal tracks play a big role in Chelsea’s performance. There is something disorienting and mildly fascinating in watching her stomp her loop pedals. Loppen is a physical good space for vocal harmonies.
  • No matter how many times I see her, I will never not be impressed by Chelsea’s backing band. I maintain that her drummer is half man, half machine.
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  • It is so much hotter in Loppen than it seems like it should be in November. I’m grateful to be leaning against a cool wall even if it obstructs my view of the stage. Chelsea, of course, is wearing something flowy and in this case one-sleeved. But the sleeve she has is long, and you have to admire that kind of commitment to a look.
  • “We Hit a Wall” elicits not only cheers from the audience, but huge smiles from those behind the soundboard.
  • “That was the song I came to hear, so now we can go,” says an American bro immediately after “We Hit a Wall.” Dude is standing at least 10 feet away from me and does not understand that his voice carries.
  • That said, watching rows of other audience members throw their heads forward at the same time is quite visually pleasing.
  • Chelsea has always been something of a shy performer. Maybe it’s the intimacy of the space, but this is the most engaged I’ve seen her. She plays guitar for nearly the entire set, and for the one song she doesn’t, she uses the stage more than I’ve seen her. It’s a nice development to see in an artist in a relatively short period of time.
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  • About an hour and a half, this is also far and away the longest set I’ve seen her play.
  • When the set ends in a squall of noise and feedback, she falls over her guitar repeatedly looking rather like she’s trying and failing to do push ups. Again: signs of shedding her more reserved stage persona.
  • To the parents who brought their slightly bored looking 9-year-old daughter with the giant, noise-canceling, pink headphones: Thank you, that was inspiring.

LIVE REVIEW: Metz, Loppen, 20.10.2015

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Photo by Tom Spray

It’s Metz’s first time at Loppen, but not their first time in Copenhagen. After doggedly touring here over the years, there is a crowd of devotees that have turned out for the band, many in their Metz t-shirts, and some buying them at the merch table to put on immediately over their long sleeved shirts.

This was not an audience that would stand passively by, and less than halfway through the set there is a presumably drunk fellow dancing on stage with the trio. From opener “Headache,” there is scarcely a break in the chanting or fist-pumping, making it feel a little like a basement show in New Jersey (a positive in terms of energy, anyway).

Metz (Photo by Tom Spray)

Amidst the more obvious thrashing and clanging Metz are associated with are circular, looping motions within the songs. But you could never be swept up in these movements, because the band themselves are constantly twitching to throw off that repetition, and there are flashing lights blinding you with a redoubled violence the band don’t exhibit themselves. Though far from low energy, the boldest move of the evening comes when singer Alex Edkins climbs on the drum kit only to find out just how low the ceilings at Loppen are (earlier in the evening, the singer of opening band Crows made a similar discovery when he climbed on a speaker).

Metz just released their second album, II, earlier this year, which is why it’s unexpected when they introduce something newer still. The song, “Eraser,” released as an as-yet non-album single only a week ago, is a frayed song that feels constantly pulled back from the brink with an easy to shout along chorus. Which is convenient, because Metz’s lyrics can feel incidental to the screaming; Edkins is not one for enunciating, and the reverb on his mic doesn’t make it any easier to understand him. He is, albeit, understood clearly enough when he announces their last song, and maybe that accounts for the abrupt way the house music is brought up before he can finish saying good night.

LIVE REVIEW: Screaming Females, Loppen, 28.04.2015

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Screaming Females

[inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]Much is made of Screaming Female’s frontwoman Marissa Paternoster’s guitar playing, and rightfully so[/inlinetweet]. Her technique is hard to match, but while she can shred like it’s nobody’s business, she has an intuition that makes Screaming Female’s music interesting and tactful rather than a wanton display of her skills.

Live, however, you can’t downplay the significance of the band’s rhythm section. The bass in particular contributes so much to the propulsion of each song, and is what gives their set a punk feel, even though Paternoster’s riffs take them far away from that territory.

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This is a band with enough confidence to turn their backs to the audience, to repeatedly form a tight circle around drummer Jarrett Dougherty’s kit and play for themselves, and yet their energy is fantastic. Because when they are facing the audience, Paternoster twists her body in determined, broad movements and swings her hair with a tact that could only have been learned by watching MTV in the early 90s, and enough sweat is flung off of bassist King Mike’s hair to make us all feel a little gross but in a largely good way.

But there’s a huge shift with the intro to “Hopeless.” It’s the first time we really hear Paternoster’s voice clearly, and it’s rich and soulful and quickly supplanted once again by her usual growl.

They end the night first with King Mike handing off his bass to an enthusiastic young man and giving him an impromptu lesson. Paternoster steps off the stage and the two pair crumple to the floor before she, too, hands off her guitar for another member of the audience to take over. It’s fun, an anti-rock star move worth a good laugh (and given the monetary and potential sentimental value of one’s instruments, it’s brave, too), and it brings the night to a definite if surprising close.

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PHOTOS: White Hills, Loppen, 14.04.2015

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Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

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LIVE REVIEW: Eyehategod, Loppen, 07.04.2015

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Eyehategod (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

The evening’s proceedings were scheduled for a late start Tuesday night, with LLNN kicking things off at 21:30 as the first supporting act. A spiritual offshoot of The Psyke Project, which disbanded in 2014, LLNN retains guitarist/vocalist Christian Bonnesen and drummer Rasmus Gajhede Sejersen, who have more than 20 years of experience between them playing the Danish hardcore scene. Bolstered, and in a way guided, by the addition of Sejersen’s little brother Ketil on synths, the group takes a measured approach to rhythm and tempo, which gives their re-appropriation of hardcore staples like red-faced screams and crunchy guitars that sound like they were strung with rusty chains a fresh sense of urgency and weight. The way LLNN does it, those abrasive elements are coming through clear; doused in reverb and tremolo, their suffocating bigness is not the kind that wears on you, but one that sets the mood.

Tombstones (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

Tombstones, the program’s second supporting act, are interested in a more classic breed of rock. This Norwegian trio still believes in the guitar riff, unabashedly chugging power chords with the palm-muted drive of an icebreaker. Appearance wise, they fit the mould of a throwback, modestly bedecked in Chuck Taylors, tight pants, and shirts ranging from T, to sleeveless, to none. In a context that’s otherwise licorice black (noting the cloaked mannequins at either ends of the stage), Tombstones inject a refreshing bit of regular hard rock into their visions of doom, featuring plentiful doses of sustained growls and droning distortion. This combination helps them build suspense and dread like the best horror movies, letting the audience fend for itself in the dark before the cathartic upswing of a groovy bass lick.

“Guitar strings are not meant to last” quips bassist Ole Christian Helstad at the expense of his six-string counterpart, whose instrument failed him on the previous song. Still, we all cheered when it roared back to life.

Eyehategod (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

 

A half hour before midnight, Eyehategod unceremoniously take the stage, futzing with their instruments for a couple minutes. For singer Mike Williams, who’s double fisting a couple beers, that means putting one down to take off his backpack, contents unknown, while drinking the one he’s still holding. At one point Queens of the Stone Age’s “Tension Head” plays over the house speakers: “I’m feelin’ so sick—no more.” The self-canceling proclamation of misery in that lyric is inherent to the very act of singing the blues—by singing about something that makes us feel bad, we feel better. With all the bad stuff that Eyehategod are about to unload on a room full of people, however, that Queens song couldn’t be more wrong.

If you reversed the sound of a giant, rusted-out machine grinding to a halt, you’d get the opening number “Agitation! Propaganda!” The guitars of Jimmy Bower and Brian Patton whine between fits of aggressive chord chomps while Aaron Hill explodes off the drum set like he’s dropping bombs. The drummer matters here, as the gears turn and the machine gathers speed. Williams isn’t as much singing as he is retching, unable to spew more than a couple throaty syllables at a time. The violence of the music reflects the activity at the front of the stage, which seems to liquify into a mess of thrashing bodies.

Eyehategod (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

 

Things don’t settle down exactly. It’s more that you get on Eyehategod’s level, where the stickers on Gary Mader’s bass reading “THIS IS LA. / NOT L.A.” begin to make sense. “New Orleans Is the New Vietnam” is a power-to-the-people rager with an infectious central groove reminiscent of Rage Against the Machine back when they were first coming up in Los Angeles during the early ‘90s. Where both crackle with a fire for social justice, the difference is that neither Eyehategod’s production nor message cleans off the ashes: “Shoes don’t fit, you don’t fit / This shit don’t quit, we don’t fit.”

As they rattle off bangers like “Medicine Noose” and “Zero Nowhere”, Eyehategod make an impressive show of ending songs on a dime. It’s like they haven’t lost a beat in the prolonged absences of them playing together as a group over the years—they’re still as tight as ever. And this is all in spite of the fact that Williams is tying one on, big time. There’s a moment when the band nags him to decide on a song. Williams takes his time, mugging for the crowd a little bit. Eventually he agrees with their choice, “Revelation/Revolution”. Who knows if it’s an act. It’s kind of charming though. We want the guy to rock on.

You know you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid when the crowdpleaser is a song called “Sisterfucker (Part 1)”. For as filthy and destitute as Eyehategod’s themes can be though, their music is fun. In a live setting, it’s obvious that this is the result of a total partnership between friends. As we near the end of the 90-minute set, the songs go nameless, but they’re no less anthemic in their sense of triumph.

Huh, I guess they were singing the blues.

Eyehategod (photo by Morten Aagaard Krogh)

LIVE REVIEW: Jeffrey Lewis and the Jrams, Loppen, 25.01.13

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Jeffrey Lewis is a singer songwriter and comic book artist and writer, and that wordy description of his career is a pretty accurate summation of his work. Economical in everything but words, Lewis’ performance at Loppen is a mishmash of music and art, sometimes though-provoking and often amusing.

The latest incarnation of his ever-rotating band is the Jrams, featuring Caitlin Grey on bass/synth and Heather Wagner on drums, with both women chipping in with backing vocals, though there are none of the duets that feature on Lewis’ albums. Despite only arming himself with a sticker-plastered acoustic guitar, he still manages to shred away, distorting things into oblivion, flinging off his guitar strap and nearly taking out his synth before the end of the second song.

The set is upbeat, even though Lewis’ delivery is always even-keeled and sometimes leans towards melancholy, and even if songs like “Anxiety Attack” and “So What If I Couldn’t Take It” are darkly comic, if not depressing. The massive smile plastered across Wagner’s face throughout the set only emphasizes that the most serious moments are still meant to be fun.

The real treat in Lewis’ live shows are his low-budget films, which involve him standing on a chair with an over-sized comic book he’s drawn. His band plays a rhythm and he sings along to the pictures in his book. Last night’s films included a low-budget biopic on Watchmen creator Alan Moore and a chapter of Lewis’ ongoing “History of Communism” series, Part 6: Vietnam. Such is the educational portion of the evening.

And if songs about communism somehow gave no indication that Lewis is politically aware, there’s his latest single, “WWPRD” (What Would Pussy Riot Do) which he performed as spoken word. Most remarkably, he managed to silence the room with his screed on the value of artistic integrity (except for the intermittent cheers — who would have thought there would be anti-corporate types in Christiania?).

It might have made more of a statement to end on the ensuing punk rock spazz out, but in the end it’s an encore of the more gentle, folky “The East River” and “Reaching” that send everyone off back into the cold. Maybe that’s more appropriate; maybe songs about walking home are what you should be left with while making your way home.

Blouse | Loppen, Copenhagen, 26.11.2013

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Photo: Morten Aagaard Krogh (mortenkrogh.com)

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The National | Loppen, Copenhagen, 20.06.2013

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 Photos by Tom Spray (www.tom-spray.com)

The National (Photo by Tom Spray)

The National (Photo by Tom Spray)

The National (Photo by Tom Spray)

The National (Photo by Tom Spray)

The National (Photo by Tom Spray)

The National (Photo by Tom Spray)

The National (Photo by Tom Spray)

The National (Photo by Tom Spray)

The National (Photo by Tom Spray)

The National (Photo: Morten Aagaard Krogh)

The National (Photo by Tom Spray)

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