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Madrugada @ Bukta 2023

In Bukta’s twentieth year, Madrugada have returned and the slopes around the stage were full. Sandnessundet had a few boats anchored as well, their passengers hoping to hear the band while the nadir sun breathed between the mountains.

Saturday 22 July

Madrugada came to Bukta in 2004, christening the new, uplifting, koselig festival nestled among the trees on the Southern tip of Tromsøya. In its twentieth year, they have come back, and the slopes around the stage were full. Sandnessundet had a few boats anchored as well, their passengers hoping to hear the band while the nadir sun breathed between the mountains, lighting up the slopes and low-hanging cloud. 

The band came on to fine wind chimes and a deep red background showing footage of stark landscape, presumably from their native Vesterålen, imagery we’d more naturally associate with the «Chimes at Midnight» record. However, they started with a firm nod to their glorious past. Sivert Høyem stormed onto the stage last, a live wire of a man, to deliver «Salt» from their feted 1999 album «Industrial Silence». We’d have heard almost half of that impactful, award winning record by the end of the show. Høyem’s voice was by and large strong, sonorous, and loud enough to be heard over the crowd when the volume on his mic dipped. The final verse was delivered a cappella, the first of a number of bold moves they would make over the evening. «Belladonna» followed from the same record. Cato Salsa Thomassen has been a fixture in the band’s live lineup since around 2019, and this track was his first chance to stretch his hands, giving a wailing solo. His playing and delivery was a feature of the whole set. 

Continuing their hit parade, «Vocal» came next. The dynamics were excellent, impassioned playing, earnest vocals. «I will not be contained». If Høyem’s voice seemed a little thin at the top end in the early stages of the concert, the band, however, were tight as hell throughout. Jon Lauvland Pettersen (drums) was on particularly good form throughout the show, both on the snare in «Nobody Loves You Like I Do» and on the toms on later «Look Away Lucifer» from the 2008 «Madrugada» album. The former gave Christer Knutsen his only guitar solo for the evening, a throaty, gutsy metallic affair which helped bring that track to an explosive conclusion. For the undersigned, this track – admittedly a personal favourite – was the highlight. Det var jo topp

For the audience, the ildsjeler both local and visiting, you’d reckon the whole show was one long highlight. Høyem had his usual spotlight on the audience for «Strange Colour Blue», now a staple for their live performances, despite the pale evening daylight, and the mirror jacket was out for «Norwegian Hammerworks Corp.», its narrative delivered with all the hasty unease it warrants. For «The Kids are on High Street» from 2001’s «The Nightly Disease», Høyem made his way down into the pit and embraced the crowd, standing at the pit rail holding and shaking hands. They had the audience in the palms of their hands in both senses. «Majesty» followed, with a big cheer from the audience, who recognised the opening, tense organ measures at once, and here was their next bold move, drawing the song out and out, the band slipping away from the stage, leaving Høyem alone with his acoustic guitar, singing softly, yearningly «that spirit…. that spirit…. that spirit….». Some started to drift away, prompted I suppose by the prospect of the bus queues to the Sentrum, but those who remained had their hands in the air, clapping along to the last. Høyem waved goodbye to the crowd, but we all knew there was more to come. 

The concert resumed with «Blood Shot Adult Commitment» from «Grit», a deep groove driven by Frode Jacobsen on bass. The arrangement had a different vibe to the rest of the set, maybe a welcome change, showing the band’s variety in a concert where the sound world was largely the same across the tracks. This is no complaint – Madrugada are after all a band who deliver through the atmosphere of the performance, the quality of the vocals and the intrigue created by their evocative and direct lyrics. This is about music, not musicianship. 

Curfew was fast approaching, but with a piece of consummate showmanship, they put on «Dreams at Midnight» at kl 23:50, a few drops of rain falling, and then wrapped up with «Valley of Deception» which built to a huge ensemble climax, finishing at kl 23:59 to a massive cheer. 

As the sun dwindled to bare light over this year’s Bukta festival Madrugada (whose name in Spanish means dawn or «the hour before sunrise») proved the perfect bookend to this period of the festival’s history, an uplifting close at the false sunset. 4.5/6

Text: Alex Maines
Photography: Anne-Marie Forker