Photos by Johannes Leszinski
Photos by Johannes Leszinski
Photos by Johannes Leszinski
If John Grant’s professed love for Denmark is an act, it’s a damn convincing one. It’s not the first time he’s been on the stage at Store Vega, or spoken about how much he like the country, the people, and the “dope language” (and he speaks enough languages for this to be plausible). It’s not the first time that he’s told a crowd the story about naming the song “Queen of Denmark” for the country just because he likes it, even though he admits it has nothing to do with Denmark at all.
Some of that could be part of a script, but there is a mutual affection that circulates around the room. John Grant clearly loves what he does. His interactions with his band show how much they love what they do as well. Grant spends his songs wiggling and strutting about the stage, sometimes moving in a relaxed modification of the Robot and, as when he performs “You & Him,” gesticulating like his inner pop star is ready to burst out.
Though Grant has moved more into the electronic side of pop with his latest album, Grey Tickles, Black Pressure, when he pulls out stripped back songs like “Glacier” or, from his days with the Czars, “Drug,” his voice rings through the room and silences everyone. Because of this, the mix could have used more vocals in the louder songs, as the lower frequencies he works with compete too much with his range.
Asking for more vocals is asking for more of a good thing, though. When a technical problem threatened to derail “Black Belt,” and Grant suggested to his band that they just move on, the crowd protested, clearly hearing what wasn’t meant for them. And he listened again when an audience member called for “Outer Space.”
When Grant does play “Queen of Denmark,” everyone in the room treats the song like it’s their own, hugging the people they came to the show with and singing the last line of the song when prompted. It’s a strange warm and fuzzy feeling for song whose chorus suggests, “you bore the shit out of somebody else.” The love in the room was undeniably mutual.
As an aside, openers Fufanu were an odd fit for the evening, not sharing much in common with Grant other than his adopted home of Iceland. But the duo, fleshed out to a full band of androgynous, baby-faced boys for the tour, have an intense energy. Their singer twitched across the stage for half an hour to loud, electro-supported alt rock. They’re worth watching out for.
Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh
Over the last fifteen years Deerhunter have distinguished themselves for uniting a passion for the weird and exoteric with an ear for classic pop hooks. From the noise experimentation of Weird Era Cont. to the back-to-basics garage-rock of Monomania, the band has always had a knack for incorporating eclectic influences without ever appearing derivative. And with a frontman as adorably charismatic as Bradford Cox, it isn’t surprising that I am being squeezed in every direction by the audience at Støre Vega.
But though they might be an engaging live act, Deerhunter are certainly an uncompromising group of musicians. Part of the anticipation of seeing them is not quite knowing what direction they will take. They gave us a taste of this with their newest release, Fading Frontier: preceded by the balls-out funkiness of “Snakeskin”, and opening with the comforting jangle of “All the Same”, the rest of the album takes a much quieter, subdued approach.
Tonight we find this strategy reversed. Bradford Cox is opening for his own band, under his Atlas Sound moniker, with a half-hour set of contemplative keyboard pieces. Accompanied only by a sampler, Cox fills the room with droning synths, looped beats and the odd sound of birds. It’s certainly an interesting side to Cox, reminiscent of his work on the soundtrack to the documentary Teenage, which was showing in the lobby of Vega before the show. But it’s not exactly an act to get the audience’s blood pumping.
But of course, once the rest of the band takes the stage, there are plenty of chances to get the circulation going. Despite some initial issues with the sound, Deerhunter quickly gather momentum as they cover some of the catchiest parts of career so far. From Halcyon Digest‘s “Desire Lines” and “Revival” to Microcastle‘s “Cover Me (Slowly) / Agoraphobia”, the set consists of some of the best psychedelic indie pop written in the last two decades. And although some elements of their set conform their tradition, for instance how “Nothing Ever Happened” brilliantly transitions into a cover of the latter half of Patti Smith’s “Horses” , there are still surprises in store.
Tracks like “Rainwater Cassette Exchange” are re-imagined in a more rhythmically interesting, almost afro-beat flavour, giving the set a consistent feel, despite drawing from so many different ears of Deerhunter’s career. Towards the end the band transitions from pop tunes to more extended jam sessions. The aforementioned “Nothing Ever Happened” is extended to almost 20 minutes, miraculously never losing any of its focus and energy. Equally engaging and demanding, Deerhunter once more prove to be a highlight in anyone’s gig-going year.
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.
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.
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:
Recently described by Pitchfork as ‘the weird quiet kid in the corner’, Kurt Vile is not the type of musician to exhibit boisterous showmanship and overt self-assurance during his live performances. That’s OK, though – because that’s not what you’re going to a Kurt Vile gig for. More likely you’re there to drift along to his flawless blend of lo-fi, psych rock and folk that has shaped his six solo albums and have earned him a solid and respected name.
Vile’s work is underpinned by inimitable guitarmanship– his experiments between electric and acoustic (as well as the banjo) constitute a refined body of work on their own. The problem with Vile’s genius technical ability is that it diminishes any fluidity and pace during his live shows. During the second song in his set in Aarhus, Vile works the crowd with a flawless rendition of his latest single, ‘Pretty Pimpin’’. Yet the audiences’ growing enthusiasm is only to be quelled by a prolonged interval of guitar tuning and amp adjusting. This can be forgiven at first; the fact that Vile switches to a new guitar after each of the first five songs makes you appreciate just how sophisticated his sound is. Yet the constant breaks in the show soon become wearisome. As Vile focuses on how to adjust and perfect his sound, he loses any potential contact with the audience. Exasperated looks between Vile and his band the Violators may signal technical difficulties beyond their control, but Vile has been slated too many times for his inattentiveness to the audience during his live shows for this to be a valid excuse. By mid-set, the gig has failed to pick up any speed and, for a musician as proficient as Kurt Vile, a more cohesive live sound should be delivered faultlessly.
“I’d much rather levitate” sings Vile on his most recently released album, B’lieve I’m Going Down. The problem is that his audience is left behind him, still stuck on the ground.
Kurt Vile & The Violators. Photo by Steffen Jørgensen (photo.stffn.dk)
Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh
It’s fair to say that Julia Holter has become something of a contemporary cult figure for the Here Today staff. In fact, checking the side bar on Spotify, I can see that at the moment of writing at least three friends are listening to her. But what is it that hooks us? From the insular minimalism of Ekstasis, via the disquieting swirls of Loud City Song, and finally to the harpsichord-dominated psych-pop of her latest album, Have You In My Wilderness, the L.A. singer-songwriter is hard to pin down to anything other than her voracious and sparkling personality.*
If you have only accessed Holter through her records, her live presence will come as a surprise. No mystery, no ominous lighting, just a cheery young woman with a mass of thick hair and a laid-back band. For this tour Holter is joined by a bassist, a violist and a wise-cracking drummer. The use of strings lends quite a different effect from last time I saw her, when she was accompanied by a small but brash brass section (making the song “Horns Surrounding Me” almost literal). Which is not to say that the set is all airy-fairy sweetness, but rather that this evening discord is sown slowly and suggestively, rather than forcefully.
After some initial technical difficulty, the band begins with a song “about dying on an island,” as Holter herself puts it. The song in question, “Lucette Stranded on the Island”, is full of quiet, lush melancholy, showcasing the band at their sweetest. No matter how dark the subject matter might be, Have You In My Wilderness is without a doubt the brightest of Holter’s work, epitomized by the bobbing bass line and drums of “Feel You” (which, we are reminded, does not sound completely unlike the word “failure”).
There are other moments of brilliant dynamism, particularly on the song “Horns Surrounding Me”. Though the horns in question are nowhere to be found, the ominous, driving piano riff does a good enough job of evoking the paranoid desire to run away. As the drums pick up on the alternate beat to the piano, the pace seems to increase, and the viola starts to wail. But the real highlight of the evening is “Marienbad”, with its haunting opening arpeggio and medieval-sounding vocal harmonies. There is an escapist element to all Holter’s music, albeit an escape into something disquieting, but the minimalism of this song seems to highlight the space in the room. Have we escaped back into the present?
*Yes, I am aware that she has released records prior to Ekstasis
Photos by Morten Aagaard Krogh
“Hey guys, any good concerts this week?” You bet. As the days get darker and colder the gigs keep piling up. To help you sort out your musical priorities, we’ve come up with our recommendations for the next five days.
Wednesday, November 4
Julia Holter, Vega
Always a favourite at Here Today, Julia Holter’s latest release, Have You In My Wilderness has received universal acclaim. If your dream hangout spot is the Road House from Twin Peaks, welcome to your new musical obsession.
Thursday, November 5
The Prodigy, Tap1
Do we really need to tell you why the Prodigy are worth seeing? Weren’t you around when the video for “Firestarter” was playing everywhere? Jeez, live a little.
Shilpa Ray, Loppen
If you haven’t already shaved the top of your head and colored the remaining hair green in tribute to the Prodigy, you can opt for a more quiet evening with Shilpa Ray, who did this wonderful duet with Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.
Friday, November 6
Chelsea Wolfe, Loppen
The dark queen of doom folk is back again with Abyss. Halloween really isn’t over till Chelsea’s passed through town.
Mercury Rev, Koncerthuset
These indie heroes of the 80s and 90s are still going strong with their newly release The Light in You.
James Chance and the Contortions, Jazzhouse
NY NO WAVE! KILL YR IDOLS! God knows how or why they are still playing, but how can you not be into a little contortion?
Saturday, November 7
Put on your best canadian tuxedo and point your Mustang south towards Amager Bio for longhaired-wonder Kurt Vile.
(If you are in Århus you will have the chance to experience Kurt Vile at Voxhall on the 4. of November.)
Kuku and Blixa Bargeld, Jazzhouse
Honestly I can’t think of many reasons why you wouldn’t want to see Blixa Bargeld doing anything, anywhere. Just the other day I watched a video of him making risotto on German tv. Worth it.
Sunday, November 8
Son Lux, Lille Vega
No one goes wild on a Sunday, so why not chill with Son Lux instead? Also, is this what people mean by chamber pop?
Thurston Moore, Store Vega
Or else head round the corner to Vega’s larger venue and check out Sonic Youth-founder Thurston Moore. Then again I haven’t read Kim Gordon’s autobiography yet so I dunno whether I’m supposed to be ok with him or not.
Patty Waters, Jazzhouse
Believe it or not, Jazzhouse does actually host jazz gigs every now and then. “Priestess of the avant-garde” should be all the endorsement this jazz innovator needs. Jazz (and did I mention jazz?)
The last time Godspeed You! Black Emperor played in Copenhagen we were seated in plush velvet theatre seats, trying to reconcile their apocalyptic symphonies with the bright lights and cheer of Tivoli outside. But tonight the venue is much more appropriate. The wooden roof of Christiania’s Den Grå Hal towers above us, the air is chilly, and the nauseating smell of burnt sugar is thankfully absent.
The evening starts with the looping guitar drones of Bhutanese musician Tashi Dorji. Hunched over his instrument, face obscured by a black hoodie, Dorji abuses the strings into producing a wall of sound that grows to painful levels. Several audience members retreat outside to smoke and save their eardrums for the main event.
After the slow initial buildup of “Hope Drone”, GY!BE immediately settle nerves by launching into the first two movements of “Storm”: never fear, ladies and gentlemen, we will not be denied the classics. You can tell by the nods people give each other at the beginning of each song that albums like Lift Yr. Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven! and F#a#infinity are deeply ingrained since adolescence, but when GY!BE play one doesn’t have so much the sense of reliving younger days, but of tapping back into something that always felt timeless.
The middle section of the performance is taken up by the full playthrough of the band’s latest album, Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, which features some surprisingly upbeat sections. The first, “Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!'”, for all its initial stoner-rock plodding, eventually starts to sound not entirely unlike a weird, drone-y performance of “Norwegian Wood”. Try listening to them back to back, you’ll see. In quieter moments, such as “Lambs’ Breath”, your eyes are drawn up to the projections behind the band. Possibly the only band in the world to have their own dedicated projectionist, GY!BE are illuminated by loops of grainy 16mm footage. A lonely stag on a dark road, fields of corn, Revivalist churches, cop cars, factories on fire.
People my age have grown up in an era obsessed with post-apocalypical stories, but when someone uses that word, I never think of Mad Max, or The Road, or zombie movies, but rather the cover of F#a#infinity. And as the band concludes its two-hour set with “The Sad Mafioso” section of “East Hastings”, it seems obvious that for many of us these aren’t allegorical warnings, but perversely exciting possibilities.