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February 2020

LIVE REVIEW: Moor Mother, Alice, 21.02.2020

in Blog/Live Reviews by
moor mother live at alice in copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

It’s been close to a whole three years since the last time we caught up with Moor Mother, Camae Ayewa’s solo noise and spoken word project. In the meantime Ayewa has been keeping busy, releasing records with Irreversible Entanglements, ZONAL, and last year’s Moor Mother release, Analog Fluids of Sonic Black Holes. One thing that has very noticeably changed in the intervening years is the size of the crowd, which has doubled since that night in 2017.

The sonic pallet is still dark, twisted and pained, opening on a distorted, bassy synth drone, and accompanied a lonely, skittish violin. Ayewa’s vocals are low and urgent, more declamatory than rhythmic. “After Images” breaks into a martial kick drum, and marks the tension point between the punk confrontational part of Moor Mother and the gothic, reflective part.

Samples are also an integral part of Ayewa’s music, but they aren’t used in the looping manner of hiphop or techno. Instead the voices of the likes of Paul Robeson appear as ghostly presences that sit uncomfortably next to the noise. They could appear almost nostalgic next to the apocalyptic cacophony, if it weren’t for the obvious histories from which they speak.

The emphasis on time having stopped, of time being “held captive”, is embodied in those clips from spirituals and blues, and appears to situate Moor Mother very much in the Afro-goth tradition outlined by Leila Taylor in Darkly: Black History and America’s Gothic Soul.

But as mentioned above, there’s also a great physicality to Ayewa’s performance. Towards the end of the set she disappears into the crowd, purposefully stumbling into people, tying the crowd up in her mic cables. But that confrontational side is also tempered by empathy, a quick “are you ok?” as soon as the track draws to an end.

As if to disprove any assertions of bleak pessimism, Ayewa ends the evening by completely turning face, with a very short impromptu DJ set. Something like an exorcism at the end of this industrial séance.

LIVE REVIEW: Isobel Campbell, Hotel Cecil, 14.02.2020

in Live Reviews by
isobel campbell live at hotel cecil copenhagen

“Thank you for remembering me,” says Isobel Campbell. “We didn’t do any press, so we worried only five people would show up.”

Looking around a reasonably full room at Hotel Cecil, this seems like classic understatement, a part of the performance from a singer-songwriter whose nearly-25 year career involved stints in a beloved indie rock band and a multi-album collaboration with a titan of alternative rock, to say nothing of her five solo records.

But Campbell has kept a low profile in recent years. Her latest album, There is No Other…, released this month, is her first in almost 10 years. The new songs are a feature of the evening, the 60s inspired folk patterns drawing out her whispery vocals.

Opener Nina Violet is backing her on viola, bass, and guitar, but where she really shines is on vocals. They perform several songs from Campbell’s collaborations with Mark Lanegan, with Violet taking over Lanegan’s vocals. In particular, Violet’s lead vocals on “Seafaring Song” and “Something to Believe” not only highlighted her abilities in a way her own songs don’t, but adds a completely different dynamic to Campbell’s songs; the harmonies become soft and rich, freed from the gravel of Lanegan’s timbre.

This performance is not part of a wild Friday night out. Most of the songs are quiet enough that you can hear Campbell’s guitarist tapping his foot while he plays and the most intense moment of the set might be the harmonics she plays on her cello for the outro of “Thursday’s Child.” But while Campbell is warm and teasing between songs, it’s the gentleness of her voice that draws everyone in, and that gentleness carries through the whole set.

Campbell reveals that her final song is the first one she ever wrote, back when she was 21 years old. She doesn’t mention that it was for the band where she got her start, nor does anyone in the audience seem to be demanding songs from a group that Campbell has now been out of far longer than she was ever a member of. Still, the delight in the room when she begins “Is It Wicked Not To Care?” is palpable. And it’s a consistent, low-key way for her to bring the evening to a close.

LIVE REVIEW: Beak>, Loppen, 02.02.2020

in Blog/Live Reviews by
Geoff Barrow and Beak> live at Loppen Copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

Bristol-based, kraut-rock-revivalists Beak> have finally shipped to Copenhagen, which means Loppen is heaving on a Sunday night. Lead by Geoff Barrow (him off Portishead), Beak> combine synths, bass and drums to create occult floor-stompers, pub psych and giallo-inspired soundtracks, sounding at times like Goblin after a really hard night out, at others like Tangerine Dream on a very tight budget.

What at first looks like a huge row of amplifiers turns out to be a light display, in equal measures trippy and tongue-in-cheek, as befits the three men on stage. Opening with “The Brazilian”, with its detuned synths and mastodontic descending bassline, we are projected into a 70s Italian crime movie, before settling into the hypnotic groove of “Brean Down”.

As synth player Will Young (no, not THAT one) downs a comically large can of Faxe, Barrow and bassist Billy Fuller read out negative youtube comments for their song “Eggdogg” (the highlight: “This is literally the worst combination of sounds in the history of the world”).

Beak> live at Loppen Copenhagen

In a live setting it’s much harder to separate older and newer material, since the evolution of Beak>’s latest record, 2018’s “>>>“, lay primarily in a much increased attention to production details. But the fluttering synth in “Allé Sauvage” is ever more frenetic live, and the caveman stomp of “Wulfstan II” is more brutal than ever.

Beak> really thrive in this setting, and even if their declaration that this has been their best concert in Denmark is a joke, it’s also a demand to check back in when they are next in town.

LIVE REVIEW: Richard Dawson / Burd Ellen, Alice, 31.01.2020

in Blog/Live Reviews by
richard dawson live at alice copenhagen

Photos by Amanda Farah

Brexit day must be a strange time to be touring abroad as a British musician. From most you’d expect a bit of sheepishness (even a Leaver would feel a bit out of place, surely) and despondency. But tonight Richard Dawson and support act Burd Ellen deliver a blinder that breaks through the shackles of the present.

It’s a sold-out night at Alice, with a good proportion showing up early for Burd Ellen, in no small part buoyed by their set at Fanø Free Folk Festival last summer. The Scottish goth folk duo expand on their traditional repertoire with samplers, fiddles and DIY (and very literal) sound-sculptures. Gail Brogan (also of Pefkin) adds the eery backdrop for vocalist Debbie Armour’s fantastic voice, nowhere more clear and wrenching than in their rendition “Sweet Lemany”.

burd ellen live at alice copenhagen

Richard Dawson’s uniquely brutal fingerpicking guitar style and darkly funny lyrics have steadily gained him a substantial following since the release of his breakthrough album, Nothing Important. Since then the Newcastle-based folk singer has released a more acoustic-leaning concept album set in Northumberland after the retreat of the Roman Empire, as well as his latest record, 2020.

This is Dawson’s first concert in Denmark, so we can’t make any direct comparisons to his performances before he “went electric”, but the tracks from 2020 demonstrate a new rhythmic urgency. Accompanied by drums and bass, opener “Civil Servant” is a fuzzed-out song of complaint from the titular character, skipping work to avoid having to explain to “another poor soul/ why it is their Disability Living Allowance will be stopping shortly.”

Bleakness is everywhere in Dawson’s work, which means every little joke counts just that bit more. There is an audible chuckle at the mention of “the man in the vape shop” in “The Queen’s Head”, but the climactic moment comes with “Jogging”, starting with its Stooges-esque caveman stomp. This is Dawson at his emotionally complex core, a tale of someone suffering from anxiety who takes up jogging as a way to cope. The catharsis of the chorus matches musical euphoria with gnawing doubt: “I know I must be paranoid / but I feel the atmosphere / round here getting nastier.” The jogging might work, but that doesn’t stop the place from getting worse.

It’s a lyrical downer but physically exhilarating, and without doubt one of the best sets Alice has hosted in its two-year history. We’ll be needing a lot more Richard Dawson in the years to come.

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