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LIVE REVIEW: Marissa Nadler, Ideal Bar, 30.09.2019

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Marissa Nadler live at Ideal Bar in Copenhagen

Marissa Nadler is an artist whose work contains multitudes in its subtleties. Her soft, ghostly voice and finger-picked guitars transcend folk music into something more spirited, more haunting, and clearly calling from another plane.

Her performance at Ideal Bar is a solo set with a six string guitar, a 12 string guitar, and infinite multi-tracking options. Nadler drives herself to distraction in her concern about the sound, repeatedly motioning to her sound guy and halting a song literally a note in over the tuning. “You can put this in your review,” she says by way of apology. “I just want to get this right so I can feel it for you guys.”

She’s too hard on herself, but it’s easy to empathize with her fixation. A musician can’t write songs with her nuances without some degree of fanaticism. And it plays out in interesting ways for audience members willing to home in on the details.

“All Out of Catastrophes” is the first song to illustrate the complexities of her songs. Nadler builds layer upon layer of looped guitars before turning her attention to her vocals. Far from simply echoing her own voice, she harmonizes and emphasizes different aspects of the verse with each round. It’s a direct insight to how she must record her vocals in the studio, a treat for nerds and a wonder for normal people. 

Adding to the ghostly quality of her voice is its unwavering softness, no matter how high a note she hits. There are a few moments when she lilts towards a country voice — a completely convincing parallel track her to have taken in her music and her lyrics — and you wonder if she’s repressing an urge or revealing another dimension. Knowing Nadler’s work, she could hint at this new element in future albums and performances, or quietly obliterate it; whatever best suits the songs.

LIVE REVIEW: Marissa Nadler, Lille Vega, 08.06.2016

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Marissa Nadler live at Vega

We’ve all been to the half-full show where the artist on stage begs everyone to come a little closer to the stage. If they’re very engaging, people come forward; if they’re not, the audience stays where they are and everyone feels awkward.

Marissa Nadler does not play these games. Instead she walks on stage at Lille Vega alone, picks up her guitar, and begins playing “Drive.” The audience immediately gravitates towards her.

There’s an uncommon amount of competition for musicians that night. Marissa’s audience have elected to see her instead of Muse or the Melvins who both have sold out shows nearby. This small crowd is dedicated; one person even corrects her about what album “Dying Breed” is on. It’s not surprising that they’re attention is rapt, nor to see them gently swaying as she sings. Even if you’re a newcomer to Marissa’s music, something about it makes you feel peaceful.

Her solo songs, all played on a semi-hollow electric — no acoustics, no 12 strings — highlight her voice more. To listen to her in this setting is to hear her voice as a separate entity from everything else happening. It floats not only over the music but over everyone else in the room. It’s the very evocation of “haunting.”

After a few songs she brings out her band, two of whom are openers Wrekmeister Harmonies (and highly recommended for lovers of vaguely droning rock songs and rich vocal harmonies). This portion of her set focuses on her new album, Strangers, released last month. Marisa’s voice melts into these arrangements, with guitar and viola or electric piano ready to swallow it up. It feels like a departure, and it’s only a small part of her set, but she proves that she can bring the same depth as when she’s on her own.

After this interlude she’s solo again, and focusing on older songs, because, as she said of Strangers, “a lot of you don’t know it yet, right?” She ends her main set with a cover of “Tecumseh Valley” by Townes van Zandt — which in her hands sounds as much a part of her catalogue as her own songs — and plays Leonard Cohen’s “Famous Blue Raincoat” for her final song of the night because she “came all the way to Denmark for one show [and had] to make it worth it.” It was worth it.

If you don’t really know Strangers yet or missed out on Marissa, never fear, she’s got plans to return to Copenhagen this year. No matter what else is happening, you’ve no excuse to make other plans.

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