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FEATURE: How Copenhagen Music Venues are Coping with COVID Closures

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Kurdish musician Mizgin performs at Alice Copenhagen as part of their summer concert series.

Sitting in the courtyard on Nørre Allé between Union and Alice on a sunny Saturday is a nice way to pass an afternoon. Mizgin is playing energetic Kurdish folk music from a small stage. People are seated comfortably in rows, clapping along, and enjoying their drinks from a bar set up in front of the entrance to Alice. 

The concert is part of a summer series of shows with an audience capacity of 50 people, spaced at a government-mandated safe distance with clear guidelines posted on every table. It’s Alice’s way of making up for what has been months of no live music — and an effort to deal with an uncertain future for live music.

“It’s a fine line of doing something that doesn’t feel awkward and doesn’t feel forced but at the same time is where you can go and enjoy yourself and engage with music and feel it’s an actual concert,” says Rasmus Steffensen, who is is responsible for PR and communications at Alice.

Since mid-March we have been wondering what post-lockdown, post-COVID life will look like. Post-lockdown, many businesses businesses around Denmark have resumed normal operations. The music industry, however, is in for a long haul struggle. 

Festivals asked attendees to keep their tickets until next year and sold support wristbands to fundraise in the short term. Bands and labels have been able to ask fans directly to buy music and merch and have released bonus material and streamed performances. But bands can’t tour right now, and concerts can only be held under very strict conditions, whether it’s the summer series approach taken by Alice, the ad hoc jazz festival held at Huset, or drive-in concerts.

What will become of local venues?

The number of people allowed to gather is being raised at regular intervals and Copenhagen venues are eyeing September with the hope of operating under normal conditions, but permissions for music venues and night clubs are still unclear.

The only thing we know right now is that we are in the Phase 4 opening,” says Ditte Sig Kramer, Head of Communications for Vega. “We don’t know what that means, basically.” 

Vega, which includes Store Vega, Lille Vega, and Ideal Bar, is trying to rebook concerts at three different room capacities without clear guidance on what those limits will be. Early drafts from the Minister of Culture have suggested standing room capacity for a concert will be about 10% of the norm, and seated capacity at 40%.

“In Store Vega, it means we would be able to accommodate 160 people,” says Kramer. “Usually we sell 1550 tickets. It’s the same in our smaller venues, in Lille Vega and Ideal Bar. It’s not the final draft we have seen, but basically, this is what we know right now. We’re not able to go through with one out of ten. It means we would have the same concert ten times in a row for the tickets we’ve already sold for everyone to get their concert. We would lose so much money.”

Alice, though a smaller venue, is uncertain as to whether they are small enough to be allowed to operate at full capacity or if social distancing rules will limit them.

“We’ve postponed some concerts and one of these shows is already sold out,” says Steffensen. “Do we have to cancel the show because it’s too popular? Do we have to move it to a bigger venue where people can sit with some distance to each other? There’s a lot of unanswered questions in this.”

Everyone we spoke to for this article accepts the importance of meeting new health standards so that concerts can continue and be safe for everyone. But a lack of clarity on what those standards will be has made all planning very tenuous.

“Of course this situation is nobody’s fault, and we are willing to share our part in taking responsibility for health, but basically, when we are out of 2020, we will have no money left. And that’s really critical,”says Kramer. “We entered 2020 in a really good state. We sold a lot of tickets already, had a really strong program for both the spring and the fall, so it’s really frustrating that by the end of this year we will not have much money left. It’s really complicated because we’re a big business and it’s a lot of money we spend on just rent and we have a lot of employees and everything that comes with running a big venue like this. So we’re just looking into some cloudy thing right now. We don’t know what will happen.”

In early March, Vega attempted to keep their shows going while adhering to restrictions by splitting concerts into two performances so that all ticket holders could see the performances they paid for. This tactic came to an abrupt end on March 11, when the lockdown took effect between sets. Big Thief, the band performing that night, played a few songs for fans who missed out on the sidewalk outside of Store Vega.

Delayed openings and gradual reopenings

For Vanløse-based venue Stairway, the lockdown has meant not only rescheduling concerts, but rescheduling their opening night: The venue was meant to open on March 27.

“It’s a life lesson in hard work to open a venue in this time,” says Jeppe Greve who books Stairway. “We have rescheduled all of the concerts we had planned. The Danish things are going to happen in the fall, and most of the international acts that we had booked will be rescheduled for 2021.”

Stairway find themselves doing the math on venue capacities even before a single set has been played on their stage.

“It’s a weird calculation because it’s hard for us to break even if we’re going to downscale the capacity,” says Greve. “The room is not that big. It can easily fit 350 people, but it’s just a square, there’s no balcony. If we are to downscale it to 50-60 people, it’s going to be really tough to do shows financially. It still costs money just to open.”

Even as venues reopen, there is still a question of whether there will be any bands to book. Though the coronavirus seems to largely be under control in Denmark, such is not the case everywhere, and international bands are facing quarantines, reluctant tour insurers, and new capacity limits that will make it harder to turn a profit.

“A lot of these bands, especially the American bands, when they come to Europe, they play maybe 20 shows,” notes Kramer. “So everyone is trying to reschedule a whole new tour and that takes a lot of work. Right now, there’s a travel ban for Americans into Europe. We don’t know about that. It looks easier within the European countries, but still, it’s really expensive to tour and right now it’s not really possible anywhere to have concerts at a capacity where it’s financially sustainable to plan a tour. So I guess we won’t be seeing any international bands really in Denmark for the rest of the year. We can of course hope that things will turn out differently, but it’s what I expect.”

Steffensen agrees. “A lot of agencies don’t want to build up a tour,” he says. “Le Guess Who? is canceled and we have a lot of spillover from events like that in the autumn because a lot of bands build up their whole tour around a few of these festivals. I think a lot of these acts we would usually get in autumn we will simply not be offered because they will not be going on tour when a festival like that is canceled.”

Though no disrespect is meant towards local talent, the consensus is that Copenhagen venues cannot survive on booking Danish bands alone — no more than Danish bands can earn a living by only playing shows in Copenhagen. 

“We are definitely rethinking how to do shows to attract people because I don’t believe that we can just go and book a Danish act and 350 people will show up,” says Greve. “Most of the acts that we reached out to already have shows in Copenhagen because they’re rescheduled. They can’t play that many shows in Copenhagen — no Danish band can do that — especially not the type of bands that we’re looking at. If we are going to climb the ladder a bit and do big shows, then the risk is relatively high, and we really need to have steady nerves to do that. At a capacity of 350, it’s an easy calculation of how much we can spend on an artist and still make money. Especially if people are already booked for Lille Vega and Pumpehuset in the fall. Not that many Danish bands can do Pumpehuset and then do Vanløse.”

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“There’s a lot of talk in Denmark that now we have to be in solidarity with the Danish artists, we have to present more Danish music,” says Steffensen. “Well, that might be the case for a while, but definitely it shouldn’t affect our overall ambition to reflect a global world. We don’t take quite as huge a risk when we open the doors as a huge concert hall. We have that advantage that we are small but we have the disadvantage that we have a very international program and can’t recreate our profile with local acts in the same way some other venues might be able to do. It might change our profile for a while, we might not take quite as many risks with overseas bands, but we will try as good as we can to get back to that when we can.”

Vega, which dedicates about 60% of their programming to international bands, is optimistic about the short term prospects of an all-Danish program. 

“It feels like there is a golden era for Danish music at the moment. There’s so much good Danish music coming out in recent years,” says Kramer. “We can program a lot of Danish artists and we’re happy to do that, but in the long term, we will need bands. It’s in our DNA that we present more than half of our program as international. We’re located in the middle of Copenhagen and we feel like we are an international venue with of course a strong Danish profile also and with a lot of emerging artists from the Danish music scene. Right now we just want to be able to open and present a lot of Danish music and then let’s see when we have some international bands playing.”

Holding tickets for someday

If crowds are allowed to return to venues, the demand is there. Would-be concert goers are not only keeping their tickets for postponed dates but also buying them for future dates.

The good thing that we see, even though we’re closed, is that people are really buying tickets for when we announce shows for the late fall,” says Kramer. “I have a feeling that people are really eager to get out and see shows and really want to support live music.”

“We managed to keep a lot of the program just with new dates,” Steffensen says of Alice’s bookings. “In general the audience and the musicians have been very supportive and very understanding of the situation. I know everyone is kind of in the same boat and it’s the same everywhere around, but I think in terms of people just keeping their ticket for the show when it’s moved to a new date that people have been very nice and supportive.”

It’s heartening that fans of live music have been supporting the venues they love, but buying and keeping tickets isn’t necessarily enough to support live music in its current state. And if venues can only open and operate at a limited capacity, they will not be able to recover quickly. 

“At the moment, venues are bleeding,” says Greve. “I’m relatively sure that we’re going to survive this because we haven’t even opened yet. We didn’t have to rebook 50 shows. I could imagine that other venues really are having a hard time at the moment. There needs to be some kind of funding otherwise we’ll see that within a year some venues will be closed down.”

Kramer agrees that venues need more than help from fans. She cites the recent, successful campaign in the UK for a bailout of cultural spaces as a model to be followed in Denmark. “Of course the situation is not as critical as in the UK,” she says, “but we’re getting close.”

The Danish government has extended support to businesses that have been forced to close during lockdown in the form of salary compensation for employees and tax breaks among other things. But these measures assume that venues will be able to resume business as normal when they reopen — not reduce their paying guests by 60-90%. Even tourism, once considered the industry with the bleakest outlook, is slowly creeping back with popular attractions reopening and increasingly available flights. Live music faces many of the same challenges of travel and large gatherings that tourism does, but there has yet to be a specific package to support venues. Even the cobbled-together bailout of SAS features some support from the Danish government. Alice and Stairway both receive funding from the Copenhagen municipality among other sources. Vega also receives some amount of government funding, though it is not their primary source of revenue. 

Because audiences haven’t had many opportunities to see live music yet — and certainly not on a large scale — there is also the question of how people will initially feel about going to concerts indoors with large numbers of people.

“So far, it’s not so much a question of if we will come through this urgent crisis,” says Steffensen “but of course the big question is how will it affect the industry we work with, how will it affect the pattern of the audience and how they will go to shows in the future? I think it will have a long-term effect that we simply cannot predict at the moment. In a strange way I think we might have an advantage as a smaller venue. I think people maybe will start to look more for small scale events. But of course all of this is pure speculation. But we can see that people are definitely waiting and they’re happy to have something to look forward to, so I don’t think that people will stop appreciating going to a concert.”

Copenhangen music venue Alice during their summer concert series during the coronavirus lockdown.
Seated gig-goers, clear signposting, and a picket fence to protect the stage at Alice’s summer series.

How venues proceed will be determined by what’s allowed come September, but the consensus is that bands and venues cannot return to booking and promoting shows as they  were as recently as early March.

“I hope inside of Europe there will be a focus on a bit more of a sustainable way of touring,” says Steffensen. “There is a growing awareness that has been bigger with the corona situation that we have to think of this in a different way. Because we present music from Africa, from Asia, many other places, flying will of course still be an integrated part of the touring industry, and we have to deal with that in some way or another. It’s definitely very important for us that we can still present music from these parts of the world.”

Kramer, however, notes that while the coronavirus has rightly been the focus of public policy the last few months, it has drawn attention away from another looming crisis: Brexit.

“We don’t talk so much about it right now because of corona, but the situation is that from January 1 if they don’t find a solution or negotiate some deal, then it will be really, really difficult for the British bands to come play in the rest of Europe,” she says. “If the situation is that you need to have a visa, it gets complicated and for smaller bands who don’t have the money to get these visas, there will be a lot of bands we will not be able to see here. That’s also a problem in the ecosystem of international bands touring in Europe. It doesn’t have that much focus right now, but January 1 is coming very soon.”

How concert goers can help

While much of the future of live music in Copenhagen relies on a contained epidemic and the attention of politicians, regular gig-goers can also support the spaces they love. Everyone we spoke with agrees that keeping tickets purchased for shows that have been postponed is a huge help, as is buying tickets for upcoming gigs. Alice has their membership program and an online shop selling t-shirts and old gig posters, Vega also has merch for sale, and Loppen has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help fill gaps. But everyone we spoke to sees more public-facing, community-oriented solutions as part of venues’ long term health and survival.

There’s of course buying tickets, that is the main thing because it tells us that there is a crowd when we open up again that will come and visit,” says Kramer. “But also, speak out that venues and festivals are important to people’s everyday lives. It’s not just granted that Vega or other venues important venues in Copenhagen and the rest of Denmark are there. Speak out to politicians that venues are important to you and your everyday life.”

Greve understands how gigs and show spaces are an important part of daily life; much of Stairway’s strategy for their planned opening September 3 centers around working with existing communities.

“We’re here to do stuff with people in Copenhagen and we’re really interested in working together with different groups of people who want to do shows,” he says. “It’s the way that we’re doing shows at Underværket. We’re really getting in connection with groups that wouldn’t necessarily attend a show. It’s a bit unconventional for venues to do it that way, but to us it makes a lot of sense to work not only with agencies but also with small DIY groups who are interested in music and culture in general, because they usually are super well organized and they’re really having a lot of knowledge about certain genres and which bands to book.”

Steffensen agrees that people need to be constantly reminded of the value of music and venues, especially after having a break from them. “I think it’s super important that we keep on talking about the importance of this,” he says. He also feels that using a community to spread the word about a venue can be as valuable as buying a ticket.

“As soon as things open up, it’s cool if you buy a ticket for a show, but maybe also think about it as a present for another person,” he says. “Give them a present of live music, not only because of the money we get from it but also it’s a great way to get new people to discover a place like this. I still think Alice is a quite unknown place in Copenhagen, even for people who would theoretically be interested in the music profile, people who go to Roskilde and hear an African group or some experimental music there. 

“The support of actual music fans who talk to their friends about music is a better way to reach new people,” he continues. “In the future, we will need all the support we can get from that. I really hope that when venues like Alice can reopen that people will remember to stay curious about discovering new artists. It’s not so difficult to sell tickets to a Thurston Moore show but there are a lot of other shows that are very difficult to sell tickets to and we still think it’s super important that we keep doing these kinds of shows because that’s a part of why a place like Alice needs to be in Copenhagen. People stay curious and I think that’s the best thing to do. And they can support us, but I think they will find they can also give themselves an unexpected present.”

LIVE REVIEW: Metronomy, Store Vega, 29.10.2019

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metronomy live copenhagen

Metronomy’s concert at Store Vega is their first headline set in Copenhagen in five years. It seems that the city has missed them. The venue is not sold out, but it’s reasonably full for a Tuesday night and for a space far larger than they’ve played here before. The band have the following day off and have declared it a Friday night. 

The audience are willing to comply. Encouraged by the dancing on stage — best directed by bassist Olugbenga Adelekan — the crowd are moving. Half the songs for the evening come from their new album, Metronomy Forever. The band are practiced enough to pace the set, all but alternating song for song between new and old. The effect is perfect: The band are energized by the new songs and the crowd is stoked on the familiar.

While Metronomy aren’t big on pageantry, there are oddities that make there show a unique experience. The keyboardists have their rigs on wheels, and, when left alone on stage for “Boy Racers,” slowly creep them from opposite ends of the stage to meet in the middle. There’s a surreal bit where, to match atmospheric music, frontman Joseph Mount suggests that there could be animal calls to match the mood. “We’re near the sea. You might hear a whale. Or a seal,” he suggests with a keyboardist supplying the appropriate sound effects. What the audience call back is an odd cacophony of what may or may not be animal sounds. But everyone seems pleased with their contribution.

It’s interesting that Metronomy, now 20 years on from Mount’s initial concept of the band, still feel like they’re playing with new ideas as performers. Band members switch up instruments and drift on and off stage as they’re needed. Half the band are wearing white, Neu! inspired jumpsuits and the rhythm section have coordinating chambray shirts. And there’s enough dancing on stage of various levels of slickness to prevent the energy in the room from even dipping. The band have remained reliable in terms of their output, but as they’re playing bigger stages it feels like they’re still looking for ways to push themselves.

On a final note, when Adelekan was introduced by Mount, a woman in the front row ran her hands down his leg. Adelekan took it in his stride and the woman appeared to be quite inebriated. Nevertheless, and just in case it needs saying: Don’t grope performers on stage. It’s never okay.

Photo by Mai Vanilli.

LIVE REVIEW: Courtney Barnett, Store Vega, 04.11.2018

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courtney barnett live at store vega copenhagen

It’s incredible that Courtney Barnett hasn’t played in Copenhagen before. With her songs a staple of P6 over the last few years, her set at Store Vega is over due. The room is packed and getting impatient by the time the lights go out in the main space.

Barnett builds the mood by coming out to a dimly lit stage strung with fairy lights and opens with “Hopefulness.” She powers through her set from there, scarcely pausing to catch her breath. You can’t fault her for energy, the endless tumbling stream of witticisms that she somehow never trips over, the swaying, stumbling way she plays her guitar when she’s not singing.

It seems unfair in that light that Barnett’s music is often branded as slacker rock, but having fleshed out her band to a four-piece again does something to refute that. The addition of Katie Harkin (previously of Sky Larkin and Barnett’s live band with Kurt Vile) on keyboards and second guitar is not just integral to playing the new songs but brings a different perspective to the older ones. Barnett cedes control of “Elevator Operator” to keys for the intro and gives the song a very different flavor.

Barnett is very selective about the songs she plays; older songs like “Avant Gardener” and “Lance Jr.” make the cut whereas single “No One Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party” is skipped in lieu of covers. The covers she chooses, however, feel notable as unique pieces of her set rather than just novelties. Opener Laura Jean comes out with her saxophone to help out with the Go-Betweens’ “Streets of Your Town,” and Barnett is solo for Gillian Welch’s “Everything is Free” (which fits lyrically very nicely beside her songs “Are You Looking After Yourself” and the strange sing-along “Depreston”).

“Anyone make a new friend tonight?” she asks towards then end of the evening. “Person next to you? No? Doesn’t always happen.”

If she wanted to spend more time in Northern Europe to learn about the personality quirks that stop people from talking to the person next to them, I’m sure the audience would turn out every time for her experiment.

LIVE REVIEW: Franz Ferdinand, Store Vega, 01.09.2018

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Franz Ferdinand live at Vega Copenhagen

Franz Ferdinand are the art art rockers with the hits. Over the years, they’ve held their ground on the indie rock charts and on the festival circuit, and now 15 years after they first said they wanted you to take them out, they’re finding ways to evolve the keep playing the hits.

Their show at Store Vega is the first time their new line-up has come to the city, with a new guitarist and synths now a permanent rather than occasional part of their performance. It reflects the synth pop direction their music has been moving in over the last few albums, phasing out their straight post-punk crunch. The new line-up has also allowed singer Alex Kapranos to leave his guitar to the side more often. Not that he was ever a stagnant performer, but the twirls, the jumps, all of the theatrical movements have been amped up as he’s allowed to take his mic and move around.

Franz Ferdinand live at Vega Copenhagen

But crucially, among all the charm and posing, is fun. Franz Ferdinand are unabashed fun. The set is high energy on stage and off; the floors vibrate as the crowd matches Kapranos jump for jump during “The Dark of the Matinée.” The play to being rockstars — calling themselves rockstars (in the context of rockstars being “lazy fuckers”) — but then not falling to clichés of saving “Do You Want To” or “Take Me Out” for the encore or even the last song before the encore.

Franz Ferdinand understand their audience. They understand that they can pace a show with the biggest hits in the middle of the set. They understand the dedication of the people who come to see them: Kapranos shouts out the kids on the rail who traveled from other countries to be there and people know the words to new songs like “Always Ascending” and “Lazy Boy” like they know all the classics.

It’s with this understanding of their audience and a bit of rockstar posturing that the set closes with a stretched-out version of “This Fire.” First it’s an extended, noise-filled solo that draws it out, then it rolls into a farewell from the band to the audience (complete with that thing where everyone squats down on the floor and then jumps up when the music hits a crescendo). They are rockstars. They love the pageantry, they love the adoration, and they clearly love what they are doing. The audience clearly loves it, too.

LIVE REVIEW: Johnny Marr, Store Vega, 19.05.2018

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Johnny Marr live at Store Vega Copenhagen

Johnny Marr is one of the greatest guitarists of his generation, but he’s only come into his own as a solo artist in the last few years. His visit to Store Vega, however, suggests that he’s now at home in this role. Half of the set is songs from his forthcoming album, Call the Comet. You can stream a couple of the tracks now, but it’s mostly unavailable.

But Marr knows that you know him from a particular time and place (or maybe from one of the other dozen bands he’s played with in his career), and everyone in the audience seems keen just on being in his presence. They’re excited about the new material, they’re just as happy to rock out to “Easy Money” as any 80s classic.

Marr also has a very low-key personality that lends itself well to what feels more like a promotional exercise than your average tour. He has a few guitar god stances to pull, but seems to quickly become shy about them. He expresses his mixed feelings about streaming as he introduces his latest single, “Hi Hello,” asking the audience to buy it even if it’s only a bit of plastic. There is a jangle to his new songs that brings to mind his work with the Smiths, and an evident but not heavy-handed political bent that jives well with being the guy who told off David Cameron.

And there are unexpected moments such as“Getting Away With It” from his project Electronic. While he seems to reach for the notes that Bernard Sumner hits on his own, the focus on guitar compared with the atmospherics of the album version breathes a new energy into the song.

But in answer to the inevitable question,”Is he playing any Smiths songs?” the answer is yes. They are interspersed from “Big Mouth Strikes Again” as the second song to show closer “There Is A Light That Never Goes Out” (sold to us as the weirdest singalong ever). It’s nice that they’re threaded throughout the set instead of presented as a block or a treat in the encore after listening to Marr’s solo work. And while his is not the voice we associate with the Smiths, he does a pretty good Morrissey impression; his voice takes on a throatier quality for those songs. And after watching Marr mess with his tuning pegs for effect while playing “How Soon Is Now,” there’s no point in ever watching any other performer fumble their way through that song again. So good news for all you Smiths fans who cringe every time Morrissey speaks: We definitely don’t need him anymore.

LIVE REVIEW: LCD Soundsystem, Store Vega, 08.09.17

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LCD Soundsystem live in Copenhagen

It has been a topic of conversation for weeks, even months. LCD Soundsystem’s three night affair at Vega finally puts an end to one of the dullest summers in recent memory with an explosion of colour and disco-balls. Half an hour before the beginning of their Friday night set, those who attended the previous night’s concert are being eagerly quizzed about what songs to expect. The response is always the same: no matter what they play, expect one of the most fun shows you’ll see all year.

There’s a lot of fake outrage when a band reunites, a sense that they are desecrating their own past in order to satisfy their ego, wallet, or rapidly eroding sense of self. In the case of James Murphy and co, these concerns were laid to rest during their reunion tour last year, and the acclaim around their fourth album, American Dream, further cements the notion that they must just be physiologically incapable of producing anything bad.

You can see their painstaking attention to detail in almost any aspect of the evening. From the fact they begin at a chronometrically-precise 9pm, with drummer Pat Mahoney taking the beat from the end of Shit Robot’s DJ set, to the perfect oldies/newies balanced structure of setlist, the dedication LCD Soundsystem demonstrate in their live shows cannot fail but to engender fanatical devotion in the audience.

The enthusiasm starts on stage, in the way Murphy interacts with Mahoney during their percussion sessions, the general wine-swilling bonhomie of friends who have honed their enjoyment over two decades. With the kind of empathy for the audience that only comes from years of fandom, Murphy is almost apologetic for playing newer material, but he needn’t be, as a fair number are singing along word-for-word to new singles like Tonite and Call the Police. And realistically, any band who can dispense with their most well-known song ten minutes into their set has to be confident in the quantity and quality of their output.

Towards the end of the evening, the Friday after-work booze-up is starting to make its boisterous presence felt, with beer flying around the room during the breakdown of Dance Yrself Clean (the irony is not lost on me or my Tuborg-drenched shirt). But there is also some time for subtlety, a much appreciated addition being the presence of Gavin Russom at the centre of the stage, producing some fantastic drones from the middle of her fort of modular synths.

“We will now play three songs. Then we will go downstairs, come back, and play four more songs.” It sounds parodic but this is more or less how James Murphy speaks, with a refreshing absence of any bullshit. Sentimentality is something you’ll have to inject into the songs yourself, but as the boards creek under the weight of All My Friends, it looks like most people here don’t have much trouble with that.

LIVE REVIEW: The Kills, Store Vega, 09.06.2017

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The Kills live at Vega in Copenhagen

There was a time when being the cool kids from East London would have gotten a band some mileage, but that time was at least a decade ago. Thank goodness that the Kills, as they continue to soldier on, have long since given up on that schtick.

If anything, the energy of the pair is the standout of their show at Store Vega. They manage to take up a lot of space as only two people, and Alison Mosshart in particular doesn’t stop moving for a hot minute. She’s forever throwing her body around and flinging her hair in a way that would have put the entire grunge era to shame. In between songs, she paces around in circles like a caged animal as though she needs to keep herself moving so she can physically launch her body into the next one.

The Kills live at Vega in Copenhagen

Jamie Hince seems content to let her be the visual focus and spends the set is a continuation of guitar licks and swapped instruments. There are a few occasions where a song could have ended earlier, without Hince’s extended riffing after the rest of the band cut out, but these bleeds help prevent the dead air that would have ensued with their otherwise non-existent chatter.

The focus of the evening is on tracks from their latest album, last year’s Ash & Ice, and the enthusiasm for the new songs is as real as for the older tunes (even if pre-recorded strings for “Siberian Nights” just don’t have the same impact live). Though the album has it’s mellower moments, the live set was picked to be straight high energy. “Echo Home,” one of the more subdued new songs, ends up being much more energetic live thanks to a more pronounced backbeat provided by the backing band.

It’s this relentless energy, and the pleasure the band seems to take in their own music, that makes the evening so unexpectedly fun. It’s nice to see Hince and Mosshart crack smiles, and to see moments of genuine affection between the two of them. It’s a glimpse into the future for jaded indie rock kids everywhere: Careful or you may start enjoying yourselves.

LIVE REVIEW: Yann Tiersen, Store Vega, 28.09.2014

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Photos by James Hjertholm

Yann Tiersen is the curious sort of solo artist who doesn’t give the impression of being a solo artist. His live show, like his records, is often dominated by guest vocalists. He is very present in his performance, and yet watching him on stage at Vega, it would have been easy to forget that the gentleman at the piano or playing the violin was the one leading the band.

As Tiersen’s records are filled with guest vocalists, prerecorded vocals feature throughout the set. The show opens with Aidan Moffat’s disembodied brogue on “Meteorites,” though it’s disappointing when the former Arab Strap frontman doesn’t appear on stage when the rest of the band walks out.

Flanked by four other multi-instrumentalists, Tiersen and his band unceremoniously put down and pick up instruments throughout the set. There is so much equipment on the stage — previously meant to be crammed into Lille Vega — that it is a miracle that they can move so seamlessly, that they can move at all without tripping instruments or people.

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While there are classically influenced songs scattered throughout, the focus of the evening is far more on his electronically fleshed out songs. Synthesizer and marimbas in particular make up much of the texture of the songs, in addition to the more anticipated piano. The mostly respectful audience (who still ignore the request that photos not be taken) recognizes the melodica substituted in for accordion on “La Dispute,” featured on the Amélie soundtrack, and freaks out at what would probably have otherwise been a pretty mellow turn. But they are all quick to hush up in these few especially quiet moments.

For the few songs with live vocals, Tiersen doesn’t sing on his own, but instead allows his voice to be blotted out in harmonies — sometimes four vocals deep — from his backing band. When there are vocal solos, they’re provided by one of his sidemen. It allows Tiersen to take up his violin or to shift from his piano to a synthesizer or a guitar, and it speaks of an ear attuned to other musicians’ strengths. But it’s not the behavior you’d expect from a solo artist.

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LIVE REVIEW: Oh Land, Store Vega, 12.12.2013

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The second of Oh Land’s two homecoming shows is a jubilant evening. It’s the kind of evening where spirits are high and the audience can be encouraged to clap along — even to sing along — with minimal provocation from the artist. Everyone is just into it.

Even opening the show on a mellow note, sitting at the piano for “Cherry On Top,” is greeted with enthusiasm that’s equalled when she rolls into the more directly dancey “Pyromaniac”. That’s because Nanna Øland Fabricius herself is a performer in all of the best, most over-the-top senses. She’s the type who will thrash around behind her piano (or at least chair dance — everyone who has their headphones on while at work knows what I mean), throwing up her arms she’s going to do a trust fall with the same energy that she uses to bounce around the stage when not being the piano.

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She shows her vocal range often by stripping back arrangements for quiet intros that burst into rousing pop numbers, and with songs like “3 Chances,” performed primarily  with just her and guitar, allowing her to demure at the microphone. Her backing band can’t be undervalued either, not just as musicians, but also as vocalists — in particular, Katrine Enevoldsen matches Fabricius in strength, and the difference between having live backing vocals of that calibre versus a prerecorded track is huge.

Between songs, Fabricius is chatty, cracking jokes, teasing her American guitarist in Danish and then having to translate for him, and upping audience call and answers into elaborate, operatic scales. Nothing about Fabricius is too earnest, and that’s key. Even during her more serious songs, she still has a smile on her face, which is why she can pull off a lot of the hands-in-the-air, palms aloft moments. You readily believe that she’s just as cool as she is goofy. As a live performer, there’s more than one angle that she can play, in precisely the same way her songs span the sensitive and sweet to the straight up pop tunes.

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LIVE REVIEW: Trentemøller, Store Vega, 22.11.2013

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Whatever the opposite of a cult of personality is, that’s what Anders Trentemøller is. Seeing him lined up with his band in a perfect row, it is not immediately apparent that the man behind the keyboards is at the helm of this dark, almost ambient rock.

It’s not until 40 minutes into the set when Trentemøller’s bandmates have fallen away and he is left alone on stage with his synths and a glockenspiel to play “Miss You” that it’s really clear who is at the center of the project creatively and not just physically.

In fact, Marie Fisker, who provides all of the lead vocals for the evening (she also sings the vocal on “Candy Tongue” on Lost) as well as playing guitar, could easily be mistaken for the band’s frontwoman. She spends more time playing to the crowd than Trentemøller himself, who only occasionally stalks out from around his keyboards to contort his wiry frame.

Trentemøller (Photo by James Hjertholm)

But Trentemøller’s set is much more about atmosphere than rock star performances. There is something restrained in the entire band’s performance. The energy is evident, but everyone keeps him and herself relatively confined to their respective spaces, though maybe that’s because there’s just too much gear to worry about knocking over. Trentemøller himself attacks his synths as though he’s longing for a more mobile instrument to allow him to get some of that energy out.

Which may sound surprising if what you were expecting was the delicate, introspective beauty of Lost. When some songs are three guitars deep, it’s inevitable that those instruments will overtake the nuance of some of the composition, but no one seems disappointed. Judging by the vibe in the room, people are here to dance in their own similarly restrained ways. They’re ready to accept loud guitars and glockenspiels in equal turn. They are pleased with their un-rock rockstar.

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