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April 2015

LIVE REVIEW: Refused, Pumpehuset, 29.04.2015

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Refused (Photo by Amanda Farah)

Photos by Amanda Farah

The reunion cycle for bands is pretty predictable: First swear you’ll never reunite, then get back together playing venues and festival stages larger than at any point in your initial career. Everyone will hold their collective breaths and pray that it’s not an embarrassment, then proclaim it a triumph, possibly with tears in their eyes.

Refused are now at the point of starting over, despite all protestations from their camp. Their show at Pumpehuset was the beginning of a new tour to promote a new album — their first in 17 years, out in June — playing with a new guitarist (who happens to look like Billy Crudup in Almost Famous) and opening with a new song.

What is the same, however, is the essence of why anyone cared that this band was coming back. They are as loud and as tight as ever. Frontman Denis Lyxzén has the same startling, sustained levels of energy, dancing, jumping, instigating the crowd, spitting water, though gingerly sipping hot tea while the band plays.

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The audience is full of an energy that borders on violence, with the first stage diver appearing only minutes into the opening song, the new track “Elektra” (Note to all would-be stage divers: Make sure, unlike this first diver, that there’s someone to catch you before you jump).

Refused debut three songs from their new album, Freedom, the standout of which is “Françafrique,” with its dancey, disco rhythm and Shape of Punk… crunch.

It would be easy to let the moving target of Lyxzén distract from the rest of the band, but if the band as a whole did not equal each other in energy, if there weren’t a certain number of kicks and jumps framing the stage, then the singer’s slick dance moves would just make him look a fool.

But the sweaty man in the nice suit who jumps into the crowd for main set closer “Tannhauser/Derrive” and is immediately swallowed up by flailing bodies doesn’t look foolish at all. We can debate all day about punk ethics, selling out, and authenticity, but as of right now, there’s no denying that what they’re doing is a good time.

Body count:

Stage divers: 12

Crowd surfers that made it to the front: 2 (one of which got to the stage, then dove off of it)

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.


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.


LIVE REVIEW: Moon Duo, Stengade, 22.04.2015

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Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (

The West-coast psychedelia of Moon Duo, full of prehistoric riffs and driving rhythms, has packed Stengade on a Wednesday night. The former duo, now a trio with the addition of a drummer, are riding the waves of glowing reviews for their latest album, Shadow of the Sun, a work which adds real meat to the band’s sound.

Certainly the inclusion of John Jeffries on drums adds heft and urgency to the live sound, relentlessly propelling the band forward. Tonight his presence is heard rather than seen, as his drum kit is completely obscured by a thick screen of smoke. But no matter, the audience at least has the satisfaction of being able to see Ripley Johnson’s Rasputin-esque beard and the effortless intricacies of the wonderful Sanae Yamada on keyboards.

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The band begin with album-opener “Wilding”, a fast, twitchy psychedelic pop song, something like a sped-up Suicide track. Skilled though the band clearly is, their strength is in their simplicity, the devotion to three-chord rock’n’roll riffs, and more importantly, to the perfectly sculpted sounds of organ and guitar. It’s music that sounds familiar, yet completely current and urgent. Their latest single, “Animal”, perversely has their drummer imitating a drum machine, over which they layer a chugging horror-theme of a riff.

The room is packed, hot and filled with smoke. Sweat trickles down as heads bang and girls do that thing where they shake their hair from side to side (have you noticed this seemingly gendered pattern, boys nodding and girls shaking their heads?). Hardly a second to breathe between each song, the set flashes and burns out after just 50 minutes, concluding our travels in the murky magical land of Moon Duo.

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.

LIVE REVIEW: Purity Ring, Lille Vega, 19.04.2015

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Canadian synth-pop duo Purity Ring have packed Lille Vega this Sunday evening, treating their audience to a visual show of impressive proportions. Two months after the release of their second album, Another Eternity, the band seem comfortable in their reputation for pretty, shimmery electronic pop.

Though Purity Ring are known for the care and thought they put into their stage appearance, in person the effect is magnified. The stage is dressed like a Disney winter wonderland, draped with hundreds of balls of light, dominated by Corin Rodderick’s outlandish instrumental set up, essentially a sampler triggered by hitting bizarre illuminated diamond-shaped cocoons. It’s only a step away from Spinal Tap’s alien pods, but it certainly adds an interesting visual element to what is normally a rather dull-looking instrument. All the while singer Megan James is using her mirrored gloves to throw beams of light across the room.


Understandably, the set leans heavily towards material from the latest album, a mixture of harsh beats and bass with sweet effected vocals. Songs like “Push Pull” and “Dust Hymn”, already anthemic, are pushed even more towards bombast by the visual accompaniment. At one point Megan climbs onto the podium and begins beating a gong, which, of course, lights up when struck. Eyes and ears are not allowed to relax for a second.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that all this audiovisual stimulation is a way for compensating for Megan James’ slightly awkward and shy stage presence, and indeed when she pauses to thank the audience her nervous laughter is noticeable. But it might also be a little ridiculous to expect even more from a band that has clearly spent so much time and effort into making their live concerts memorable. And as the evening comes to a close with “Bodyache”, the band’s latest single, it is clear that the audience definitely got what they came for.

LIVE REVIEW: East India Youth, Jazzhouse, 17.04.2015

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Photos by Amanda Farah

Last time we saw East India Youth in Copenhagen, he was opening for Factory Floor at a more or less deserted gig at Vega. Already a year and a half ago, when all Will Doyle had to his moniker was the Hostel EP, we recognized an artist on an undeniable ascent. Now, after two albums and a nomination for the Mercury Prize, East India Youth is the main act.

As a live act, East India Youth is a testament to passion and virtuousity. Doyle stands alone on stage, surrounded by keyboards, laptops and drum machines, a bass guitar around his neck and drum sticks in his hand, like a sharply dressed Wizard of Oz, controlling his fantastical universe from the shadows. The set begins with “The Juddering”, a glitchy instrumental that slowly emerges from static into lush synth orchestrations, before transitioning into “Turn Away”, his latest single. Doyle’s voice soars above the background, reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys’ Neil Tennant, clear like a choirboy.

east india youth 1

East India Youth shifts between the angelic and energetic, electronic and analogue, experimental and anthemic. There is a restlessness at the heart of his music, though that has evolved from Total Strife Forever‘s austerity into the warm colours of Culture of Volume. That transition is reflected in the live renditions of older songs like “Heaven, How Long”, which effervesce with random modulations.

It’s unfortunate that at the height of “Hinterland”, which has the whole room nodding and twitching, the sound suddenly cuts out. After a few minutes of jumbling around with wires, a chance for the audience to catch its breath, Doyle is back online, launching back into the track with even more abandon than before.

The set draws to a close after less than an hour, not nearly enough to do justice to the amount of material produced in the last 18 months. I am a little disappointed not to have heard “End Result”, my favourite track from the last album, or the wonderfully cheesy “Beaming White”, but that’s just an excuse to catch another East India Youth gig as soon as possible.

LIVE REVIEW: Retox, Jazzhouse, 16.04.2015

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San Diego’s Retox, an off-shoot of hardcore oddballers The Locus, are a slightly surreal presence in Copenhagen’s Jazzhouse. People swill cocktails and politely nod along as the band tears through their set with violent precision. The stage is dominated by Justin Pearson sweating and spitting in his little leather jacket, looking like Adam Levine’s slightly troubled younger brother. That is probably why Asia Argento, nodding along in the front row, chose him to play a part in her new film, Incompresa. 

The band’s last album, Beneath California, combines the speed and violence of hardcore with meticulous precision and off-kilter riffs. Some of the subtleties of those tracks are lost when played live, or are at least undetectable under the force of sheer volume and speed. Song titles like “Die in Your Own Cathedral” and “Death Will Change Your Life” might lead you to conclude this is a rather angsty teen band, but there is an underlying humour behind them. Consider that Justin is almost 40 and has a song called “Disappointing Grade”.

The highlight of the evening is the encore. The guitarist comes back on stage and starts creating ominous textures with guitar feedback (a skill he has been exercising throughout the set), before being joined by the whole band for a single beat, a final guitar stab, cymbal crash and scream, ending the ‘song’. It’s both a parody of their brevity, but also the logical, satisfying conclusion to it. But I can’t help thinking it’s also a reference to the fictional band Crash and the Boyz from Scott Pilgrim Vs the World, and had to stop myself from yelling “It’s not a race, guys!”

LIVE REVIEW: Calexico, Amager Bio, 14.04.2015

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Photos by Johannes Leszinski

Where are you from? Where are you going?

Amager Bio on a drizzly Tuesday. A diminutive blonde woman plays a lap steel guitar on a stage that surrounds her in shadow. Seated and dressed in white, she arches over the instrument in her lap, running the slide over the strings with one hand while she plucks them with the other. Her wispy tremolos are accompanied by a nylon-string acoustic guitar, the maraca rhythms of a drum played with brushes, and a cello.

Maggie Björklund doesn’t introduce herself until the last song of the supporting set, after someone in the audience calls out for the name of her band. Earlier, before a song she described as “film musik,” she had encouraged us to substitute our own narrative, as the film had yet to be made. It isn’t entirely fair. Björklund’s music conjures images of desert vistas at dusk where the mind can go wandering. It’s airy and expansive, but there’s little to draw your attention. Sometimes when the band crescendos toward a climax, you wish the lap steal would snag like a pinched nerve. But no—Björklund’s resigned to a mood. It’s music by the bonfire. At least it’s warm.


Calexico’s set opens with “Cumbia de Donde”, a track off their new album Edge of the Sun where the Latin reference points are front and center, and that seems to be the point. “I’m not from here/ I’m not from there,” sings Joey Burns in a call-and-response interplay with trumpet player Jacob Valenzuela and guitarist Jario Zavala (“De dondé eres?/ A dondé vas?”). It’s instantly infectious, and it helps that the capacity-crowd is super responsive. Syncopated rhythms get your shoulders popping on the off-beat as you join in the refrain: “I’m in the moment and I’m on my way/ I’m on my way.”

After nearly 20 years, Burns and drummer John Convertino remain the driving force of Calexico, and much of their success is credited to a wholehearted embrace of the collaborative spirit. Though neither Sam Beam nor Neko Case are present to sing their respective parts on “Bullets & Rocks” and “Tapping on the Line”, you’d think the touring band was comprised of other contemporary heroes of alternative country you just hadn’t heard of.


Valenzuela and Zavala in particular are standouts. Zavala, a powerful axman, is in kind blessed with natural charisma. During the elegiac “Maybe on Monday”, a song about a departed love, he manages to whip the crowd in whoops and cheers with a searing solo on baritone guitar, totally earning the applause break and mean mugging all the while. Valenzuela is a less showy performer, who gets his moment with a beautiful solo vocal performance of “Inspiracion”, a song he wrote for 2008’s Carried to Dust.

Calexico’s always had a nack for capturing a sense of place. Even when they’re paying tribute to other bands from other eras, with faithful covers of Love’s “Alone Again Or”, R.E.M.’s “The One I Love”, and The Minutemen’s “Corona”, their set is charged by an ambiance that transports you. As with their namesake, Calexico’s music is a port of entry to the sounds and themes of the American Southwest, where the steady warble of slide guitar and horns hold your soul in the borderlands of darkness and light. Toward the end of the set, on “Not Even Stevie Nicks”, Burns takes us “into the blue, into the blue”. The song then builds magnificently into a familiar tune—Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”. Though they may have “the wound that the sun won’t ever heal”, I’ll always “Follow the River” when Calexico’s in town.


LIVE REVIEW: White Hills, Loppen, 14.04.2015

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Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh (

My first visual experience of White Hills, probably shared with a majority of the audience at Loppen, was their appearance on the Jim Jarmusch vampire flick, Only Lovers Left Alive. In a scene towards the middle of the movie, the leather-clad vampires are being serenaded by the band in a grungy venue in Detroit. When the set ends, someone asks Tom Hiddleston’s character if he wants to meet the band, and is answered with an emphatic negative. The reason is evident enough: the band looks fictional–bassist Ego Sensation sporting a tight, ruby red outfit and see-through bass, and frontman Dave Weinberg writhing around in a 70s polkadot shirt, the spitting image of Alice Cooper–, cannot sustain itself under the harsh scrutiny of the daylight world.

But this evening’s encounter on the borders of reality is worth it. White Hills’ latest LP, Walks for Motorists, quite apart from having a fantastic title, is also a satisfying evolution in the band’s explorations of dark psychedelic rock. As if to acknowledge Jarmusch’s endorsement, Ego and Dave have added elements of goth and no-wave into the mix.

Spirit of the space age, Ego Sensation

Perhaps the most obvious of these influences can be witnessed on album and set opener, “No Will”. Its riff is lifted wholesale from legendary goth-rockers Bauhaus’s single, “Dark Entries”, and the chant of “No will!” matches perfectly the “Dark entries!” chorus. But in spite of these musical appropriations, the tone of many of these tracks, particularly evident in Dave’s vocals, is more akin to Killing Joke, full of sexual aggression. All these elements are reconfigured to fit the long-form space-rock of White Hills, resulting in something I’ve been referring to as stoner-goth.

In a gig setting, songs from different albums tend to approach uniformity, particularly within this genre. I could try enumerating the songs in sequence, but to do so appears a little fraudulent. There are of course exceptions, like the aforementioned “No Will” and the Swans-esque “Wanderlust”, but to experience a band like White Hills is to abandon a sense of time for the duration of the gig. Instead of listening to a song as a series of discreet sounds in sequence, one tends to perceive the music as a series of shifting and modulating textures.

By the end of the set I am elated that the band has not collapsed in front of me in a dust of rock and roll archetypes. We have climbed up White Hills, and have returned safely. My only regret is not bringing sunglasses to the gig.


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