Linnea Dale, Mining in Yukon, James Morrison and Highasakite
Ahhh, to be young again.
It struck me the moment I entered Frognerparken, attending the last day of Norwegian Wood: There is something wrong with the crowd. As an avid festival goer since 2000 I have noticed, the audience have gotten younger and more drunk. I, on the other hand, have gotten older and more sober. I am not even thirty, but when I look around at the crowd I feel ancient. Maybe it is that paradigm shift brought on by the commercial horror that is Roskilde. Festivals are a place were people actually PAY to camp and drink/get stoned. The music takes second place in this race to ruin the body. So imagine my surprise when I see that the Norwegian Wood crowd is not a horde of blonde teenage zombies, they are chubby overweight balding men in their 40’s. And they brought their children!
The sight puts me in a good mood. This is my first time attending Norwegian Wood, the highly successful rock festival held annually in the heart of Oslo. No camping, no half hour walk between stages. Just one big stage, one small stage, hot dogs, expensive drinks and a general feeling of lowered shoulders. Not everything is fine and dandy. The promoters have made some shockingly amateurish moves for a festival that has been going for 20 years. If you plan to leave the festival area (god forbid!), you have to stand in line for about 45 minutes in front of a tiny kiosk, then pay 35 kroner to get a stupid little band. Grumbles were heard all around, as if the money to music ratio wasn’t high enough already. Also, I could not find a SINGLE poster that announced what bands went on at what time. Oh wait, you have to stand in line to get a program. At the same fucking kiosk! Give me a break people. It is fine to have a chilled out hippie attitude, but this borders on unprofessional, man.
Linnea Dale: Get close to the beauty on stage
The opening slot on the main stage on a Sunday is a ruthless one, usually reserved for up-and-coming local artists who have to bite the bullet, and pretend to be thrilled to play for a handful of photographers and a dozen teenagers. Though, to call Linnea Dale up-and-coming is not really specific enough. She gained semi-fame by making it to the finals of Norwegian Pop Idol in 2007 and made a fair amount of cash being the guest vocals on Donkeyboy’s two greatest hits: “Ambitions” and “Sometimes”. Not bad for someone who is just 21. After a short break from music she is now ready with her debut album, Lemoyne Street, produced by Øystein Greni from Big Bang.
As she walks on stage an absurd scene unfolds to my left. The small horde of loud, obnoxious tabloid photographers start taking pictures of each other, hollering and laughing. Suddenly, a lady in her 40’s notices the artist and gets a desperate urge to make the crowd move towards the stage so she can get good crowd shots. She gets up on a fold-out chair and shouts: “Come on, get closer to the stage. She (meaning the artist) is really beautiful”. Great. THAT is why I go to see a pop show. Cause the singer is hot. Thank you, tabloid photographer for setting feminism and female artists at least one step back.
Linnea seems nervous as she walks on stage, quickly ducking down over the piano. As the band strike up the first song, she leans back a little. She has a steady crew of experienced studio musicians backing her, the vintage amps and organs don’t lie. It is a little bit hard to tap into where Linnea wants to go with her music. The lukewarm reviews of the album have commented on the lacking strength of her songs and lyrics, the lack of a true direction. It really comes out in the live setting, the uncertainty. Voice-wise and piano-wise she seems influenced by the softer side of Tori Amos, maybe with a little bit of Joni thrown in there. The intent seem to be mellow Californian pop, of the background radio variety. Sadly, she never makes it to the golden coast.
The band tries to keep it afloat. They are quite talented and entertaining to watch, especially the jazz drummer who moves like a spastic marionette, intensely focused on every beat. As a unit they show experience, something that can’t quite counteract Linnea’s inexperience. Maybe it is a little too early for the artist to go this big? Maybe she could have worked longer on individual songs? Cause the songs are really the big issue here, not her voice or her performance.
The only song that really stand out is the Lust For Life rip-off “And then the sun comes up”. It has undeniable toe-tap potential and might just be a minor summer hit. Too bad none of the ballads can follow this example, the rest of the tracks just fade into the background. Even producer Øystein Greni can’t save the show as he makes a guest appearance, playing a guitar solo WAY too loud, almost to cover up weaknesses of the track. As the set begins to end, a respectable crowd has gathered, but like me they are all sitting down and like me they only seem half-content with the effort. Sorry Linnea, this might not be the right time for anonymous California piano pop.
Mining In Yukon: This Saturday. On the Discovery Channel
Some band names just sound too much like TV-shows. These young men from Tromsø up north were flown down to show their stuff on the small stage as the last tones from Linnea’s piano died out. The keyboard player has that Death Cab-haircut and lo and behold: We are in for some melodic indie rock. I am only being partially sarcastic here, I actually have a weak spot for the melodies of Death Cab for Cutie. Thus, Mining in Yukon quickly begin to sound good. They have only 25 minutes to convince a crowd that has already left to buy beer, so time was of the essence.
While the band have yet to find their style, they do have some great things going for them. First of all they have three distinct vocalists in the keyboard man, the bass player and the guitarists. The songs which feature different leads also have different styles of singing and playing. It boils close to pleasant when the guitarist rips out the power-pop-riffs that I am a complete sucker for. I wonder if they have listened to the Posies? I would be willing to get a small amount of money on that.
While I give points for melody I have to subtract some for post-rock and prancing. We are all quite tired to instrumental post-rock build ups by now because EVERYONE does it. Sure, it is probably very fun to play, but it is oh so predictable. Please please, stick to simpler pop songs. Prancing is only okay if you are The Rolling Stones. Stage antics like lying on the floor while playing keyboard and moving out beyond the monitors to rock out only create a slight wave of nauseating extreme akwardness among us reviewers. Maybe we are stuck in the Norwegian jante lov (Don’t believe you are something you are not), but I feel like rock star prancing should be reserved for…you know…rock stars. Still, an important band to watch if you like your rock Death Cab-ish, which I do.
James Morrison: Mmmmmm licorice
You might think this review is about English pretty-boy soul crooner James Morrison. Ohhhhh no. You are mistaken there my friend. It started out with a hint to Morrison. The name was unknown to me before the festival, probably because I stay away from pop radio and the charts. How could this man draw so many people the main stage? Is he the son of Jim Morrison, channeling the spirit of his long dead father? The word soul shows up in the program. Is he an experienced, heart-broken old geezer with lots of integrity? The screams of a hundred young women stop my train of thought, I look up to the main stage and it becomes clear. Ahhhhhh, he is HANDSOME.
This seems to be the Bieber of radio-friendly soul pop. He looks like a Coldplay understudy, he flirts constantly with the women up front and he when he sings…. Let me put it like this: It is as if you took a stick of butter and forced it down my throat. Forget Amy Whinehouse, forget Duffy. This is the worst “revival”-music you can ever subject me to. I will gladly stand up and be one of those guys who say: “Remember when soul actually used to have soul”. Christ, Morrison is such a soft rocker that he could melt ice cream at a distance. This sounds exaggerated and theatrical, but I actually have to physically turn away to avoid his smug face and his soothing voice.
And behold, as the moth to the flame, I see my salvation. The licorice stand. It beckons me, it glows, it offers up it’s bounties with open hands. I run over, stock up on sour apple, melon and strawberry. I take a huge bite of the licorice and suddenly I can block out James Morrison. Tears start to roll down my cheeks as my system adapts to the licorice overdose. Who knew that happiness was available in this living hell? So that is were the story ended, in a corner of the park as far away from what’s-his-face as I could be, clutching my sweet sweet candy. Luckily, it was over in an hour.
Highasakite: Introduction to introverts or pop to shut you up
You have heard me praise weird indie band Your Headlights are On several times on this site. Singer Inger Helene Håvik is my favorite voice in modern music right now, she is like Björk with a secret melancholic soul quality. One of the few singers who can actually give me goosebumps when she opens her mouth. Luckily, as I have not gotten to see her main band as much as I like, she shows up with her side project at Norwegian Wood. Highasakite is a collaboration between Inger Helene and hard-hitting Pelbo-drummer Trond Bersu.
They both studied music in my home town and through the last couple of years I have seen them grown on stage as innovators and experimental musicians. Emphasis on that last bit. Highasakite is not exactly mainstream pop. They are very hard to place. Inger Helene plays an instrument that looks suspiciously home made. A cross-breed between a lap steel guitar and some sort of harp. Trond has a sample pad with massive 80’s drum sounds in addition to his kit. They are flanked by what looks like a roots guitarist and a sombre keyboard player with a setup that he probably stole from Depeche Mode in 83. So, we have sort of the decade pinned down. The sounds are twenty years old, but it is not the stadium rock of the synth heroes. It is extremely introverted, very focused.
The Norwegian Wood crowd are withdrawn, they don’t know what to think. Where do we clap? Do we clap and hoot? Faces are sombre and awkward, true copies of the faces on stage. Finally we are faced with a band that let the music speak for them, there is no between-songs banter, not even a thank you. Maybe you have heard the single “Indian Summer” on the radio and liked it. Live, the band is louder and a little less upbeat. The steady instrumentalists look focused, careful not to drag focus away from the microphone. Here, like in Your Headlights, Inger Helene makes for a very strange front-woman. She almost hides behind the microphone, her face a neutral mask, neither happy nor sad. She doesn’t sing loud, but it is clear enough to shut up the loud festival crowd. An impressive feat.
Watching the band, I forget where I am. Even forget to eat my blessed licorice. After 20 minutes it is over and the band leave almost without a word. I am slightly annoyed, and want more. But it is always good to leave a show wanting to see the band again, not feeling like you got an overdose. It might take the public some time to warm to a band like Highasakite, this is not your normal fare, but when they do I am sure they could please crowds everywhere. Even abroad.
Not the most challenging and wonderful day at a festival I have ever had, but I enjoyed the casual vibe of Norwegian Wood. I had to run before Sting took the stage, sad that I could not have witness that little nostalgic trip first hand. The Best of Sting was the first CD I ever owned, back in 1994. As I walked out, against the stream of everyone walking in, I hoped that Norwegian Wood would be more daring next year and go for some more challenging bands. I am sure that would not kill the Norwegian public.