fredag den 23. november 2012

Alaska warms the cold Danish night

Allan Mutuku-Kortbæk
**** (4 stars out of 6); November 20 at Lille Vega
On his own or with a band, Jonas Alaska is the man (Photo: NRK P3)
From time to time I must admit that I get bored of the heavy melancholic mood that hangs over most singer/songwriter gigs in the middle of the dark and downright depressing Danish winter.  I approached Tuesday's concert at Lille Vega expecting an evening of cheesy songs about lost loves and failed ambitions only to be pleasantly surprised by a dexterous assemblage of touching songs in the songwriter tradition fused with jolly spells of rich instrumental rock. 
Faroese-Canadian songbird Lena Anderssen was on the warm-up duties for Jonas Alaska as part of her promotional tour for her latest albumLetters from The Faroes. Anderssen played a short, albeit entertaining, set that included tracks such as ‘Stones in My Pocket’ off her award-winning album, Let Your Scars Dance, exiting the stage as she'd come onto it, humbly and with a smile on her face. 
The night's main act, Jonas Alaska, stepped onto the scene armed with his guitar and sporting his recognisable gentlemanly hat and proceeded to break the ice with a short solo performance before his backing band swarmed around him and lifted the venue’s mood.  Alaska's backing, which included his brother on the drums, were the perfect merry antidote to some of the more melancholic solo tracks of the evening and the contrast between both moods made for pleasant listening. 
At one moment, I found myself dancing and swaying to heavily instrumental Bluegrass boogies and at another, stood completely still in a contemplative mood, numbed by solos of songs such as ‘October’, a track about losing a friend at a young age. The evening peaked with Alaska's performance of the up-tempo ‘In the Backseat’ – a tune off his eponymous 2012 album that sounds even better live.  
It's difficult to say whether Alaska is best as a solo performer or backed by a band, though in both capacities his vocal range, charisma and the ease with which he plays are very impressive. He also sounds strangely similar to Coner Oberst of the American indie band Bright Eyes, which can only be a good thing.  The audience at Vega were certainly spellbound by his musicianship on Tuesday evening, so much so that he re-appeared not once but twice after the curtain call, first with a cover of Neil Young and thereafter with a take on ‘Swine Flue Blues’, a spoof of Bob Dylan's ‘Tombstone Blues’. 

mandag den 19. november 2012

Orbital at Vega

Orbital: As good today as they were two decades ago

Allan Mutuku-Kortbæk
***** (5 stars out of 6); November 14 at Store Vega
With this kind of press photo, you can't see that the brothers have aged in the past two decades – and neither has their sound
Rewind the clock to the late 80s/early 90s in the UK. Practically every major news tabloid is crammed with one headline after another documenting the cultural phenomenon that has become known as 'Acid house'.  The rave scene is at its primordial best, propelled by a nation of discontented citizens who are changing England's reputation as a nation of hooligans to that of one nation under a groove.  Bands like Tangerine Dream, 808 State and Orbital are at the forefront of the musical and cultural revolution, playing a blend of space-age electronic music that's heavy on the use of short, often-looped samples and squelchy synthesiser inputs. 
Now, fast forward a good few years to Wednesday night at Store Vega. Orbital are on stage performing to a venue that's far from sold out.  Phil and Paul Hartnoll, the two brothers who make up the band, seem as energetic as ever as they step onto the pitch black stage with their characteristic bright torches on either side of their heads. A few white flashes later, and the brothers have tucked themselves behind a massive array of analogue instruments, flanked by an elaborate series of light devices and smoke canisters that form the colossal spacecraft-like stage on which they will perform.   
‘Time Becomes,’ the opening track of their eponymous 1993 album is the first of many good tunes on the evening as the looped sample of a Michael Doorn line from Star Trek shatters the silence. This is followed by a series of short tracks in quick succession during which samples from Belinda Carlisle's 'Heaven is a Place on Earth' and Bon Jovi's 'You Give Love a Bad Name' do their bit to woo the commercial-music appetite of the Danish crowd. 
Midway through the show and Orbital are in fifth gear. The songs are longer and more driven and the light show that accompanying them is out of this world. The stage is aflame in a kaleidoscope of clashing colours and neon beams that criss-cross the fog-filled haze. Down below, the crowd, most of whom are in their 30s and 40s are awestruck, much like this reviewer. The last time the floor reverberated as it did on Thursday night had to be back when dubstep mammoths Skream and Benga performed in 2010, so credit is due for the brilliant acoustics on the evening. 
The show ends as it started, with the Hartnoll brothers exiting the pitch black stage after the curtain call, their faces alight with the content of two seasoned veterans of the electronic music scene. If Orbital are as good as they were in Vega on Wednesday, I can only wonder what they must have been like when they first burst onto the scene at the start of the 90s.