Where: The Mid
When: April 21st, 2011
Grade: 4.5 out of 5 meatballs
Reviewed by: Patrick Johnson
Going into the Trentemøller show at The Mid on April 21st, I had some apprehensions. First of all, I'm only a casual fan, really only discovering his music for the first time last year, which left me curious as to whether my lack of intimate knowledge of his material would have any bearing on my enjoyment of the show. The other concern was the venue. Most of Trentemøller's US live dates have been at major festivals (Ultra, Coachella) and a quick YouTube search of his Roskilde set reveals that a festival is an ideal setting for his band's frenetic live show. Add to this trepidation about The Mid itself, a venue I don't particular care for (I'll spare you a rant about the bathroom attendant and overly priced drinks), even though they seem to be getting impressive electronic music bookings. By the end of the night, though, most of my concerns proved to be in vain.
Arriving a little after ten to a sparsely populated venue, I was able to catch almost an hour of Decimel's fairly standard tech house DJ set, which had the gawky, sober audience awkwardly trying to get loose (opening DJ sets are always hotbeds of self-consciousness). At this point, it seemed most everyone in attendance were electronic music diehards, but as Decimel's set wrapped up, the place began to fill with the frat-like yuppie scenesters that the Mid seems to attract, creating an odd and perplexing mix. If it gets more parties soundtracked to Trentemøller and less to Skrillex, I guess I can't complain. Following Decimel was Dorit Chrysler, a gorgeous and mesmerizing theremin artist. Her set was captivating, using the theremin as a backdrop for some sultry torch songs as well as more standard sci-fi inspired soundscapes. She seemed to acknowledge the novelty aspect that is inevitably linked to the theremin while still utilizing it as a real, expressive instrument. Unfortunately, much of the crowd seemed to focus more on getting a few quick snapshots than the actual performance.
photo by Andrews Holbrook from his phone
Although often pegged squarely with the electronic dance music tag, Anders Trentemøller's work is an undefinable mixture of several genres. He is plagued with a musical restlessness that is evident through the various back alleys of popular music from which he draws his sound: techno, electro, minimal, maximal, house, trance, post-rock, soundtracks (at different points I heard traces of spaghetti westerns, classic horror, b-grade sci-fi, and spy films), surf rock and other beach music, music box melodies, synth pop, jazzy lounge singers and so on and so forth. This restlessness isn't just limited to his appropriation of styles but also manifests in the way he composes his music. Many of his tracks are rambling, meandering musical journeys, often ending up at a completely different place from where they started. It's a miracle his songs don't collapse into incoherent messes, but there's enough common threads running through them to make their wanderings seem purposeful and not just aimless. In fact, this approach adds an air of exhilarating unpredictability to his music. In a live setting, this can occasionally lead to brief lulls, but they're necessary, meaningful lulls that work to accentuate the more balls-out moments as opposed to the band just losing the thread. Still, during some of these periods, I noticed the attention of many in the audience start to drift.
Any lapses in interest were short lived, though, as Trentemøller's band attacked the set with precision and ferocity. Yet they never overwhelmed the delicate melodies that are the emotional core of Trentemøller's music. This show was a sterling example of how to incorporate electronic and conventional rock instruments into a live set and make it seem like a natural fit. Anders, despite being boxed in by his array of synths, was very animated, bouncing around excitedly and acting it up for the audience. That isn't to say he was showboating, though, as every member of his band had a chance to shine. His band consisted of guitarist/vocalist Marie Fisker, guitarist/bassist Mikael Simpson, guitarist (yes, that's three) Lisbete Fritze, drummer Henrik Vibskov, keyboardist/vocalist Josephine Philip, and occasionally, Dorit Chrysler providing support on theremin. The rhythm section was a monster and added a sense of urgency to Anders' digital meanderings that sometimes go missing on record.
photo by Chess Hubbard from her phone (yes, UR Chicago are all fans now!)
After setting up and letting the anticipation build while warm lights and fog flooded the stage, the band finally emerged to open with "The Mash & The Fury," the first track from 2010's Into The Great Wide Yonder. Playing behind strands of paper hung from the rafters that gave off the appearance of the band performing in some kind of massive, primitive cage, they tore through the spacious spaghetti western surf guitar tinged opener, a slowly developing piece which gradually swelled into an almost overwhelming cloud of static and fury. Following that stunning opener, "Shades Of Marble" continued with the moody soundtrack vibe, albeit taking a more low key approach that climaxed with some synthetic strings. The band's female singers had a chance to captivate the audience with two noirish torch songs not too far removed from trip hop's glory days: Josephine Philip on "Even Though You're With Another Girl" and Marie Fisker on "Sycamore Feeling." Picking up the pace a bit, "Vamp" bounced along on a wave of squelchy electro funk. A few of tracks ("The Very Last Resort," "Miss You," "Take Me Into Your Skin") from his debut, The Last Resort, showcased the more insular, tender side of his sound, although they still contained enough intensity to keep things lively. The main set finally climaxed with one of the highlights from last year's record, "Silver Surfer, Ghost Rider Go!!!," which is absolute insanity live. This song is the pure distillation of rock 'n' roll cool amped up into overdrive, carried forward on a wave of handclaps, surf guitar, and theremin. It sounds like the bastard progeny of "Miserlou," electro house anthems, and every b-movie soundtrack you've ever heard in your life. The band gave a blistering performance of it and the audience responded appropriately, the dance floor turning into one throbbing swell of frantic bodies. They ended the night with an encore of "Moan," which was almost, although not quite, as ecstatic as "Silver Surfer," leaving the audience stunned and craving more when the band finally departed for the evening.
So while I still think their show is perfectly suited to a large, open air environment, and while I still kind of don't like the Mid, Trentemøller and his band proved that they can dominate any space they take on. Though I may not have been amongst the truly devoted before this show, you can be sure I'm a convert now.