Fredag 1.oktober 2021
Finally, as the life-saving restrictions which have held our collective breath are lifting, concerts are returning to our towns, and so it was high time that progressive rock brought together some of its cohort to breathe some life into jaded Oslo limbs. So, we had Progaften, arranged by Close To The Rain, held in Langhuset, a tall, triangular-roofed building echoing the Ishavnskatedral at Tromsø, and which is the largest indoor venue at Salt, the quirky collection of wooden buildings at Langkaia, offering food, music, dancing, and, on this evening, rain. Such is the popularity of the headline act, Wobbler, the concert sold out twice – once before the restrictions were lifted and then again immediately after, when the extra tickets were released.
First up were 35 Tapes, a band from Oslo influenced by progressive rock from the seventies. Their love of Genesis and Camel stood out from the contrasting rhythms and twelve-string arpeggios, but the synth lines also evoked modern electronica. The band was fronted by the two multi instrumentalists at the heart of the group, Morten Lund (Guitars, Lap Steel, Keyboards, Vocals) and Jarle Wangen (Bass, Guitars, Vocals), with support from an additional keyboard player and second drummer. Special mention goes to the third member of the band Bjørn Stokkeland (drums) who didn’t miss a beat through all the tricky time signatures and the kept the band together well. The music has a low-key, relaxed quality despite its lineaments, but the pace picked up at the end as Wangen span out a long, powerful guitar solo in the final measures of the last number, on a Gibson Les Paul which he seemed to have reserved for the purpose. 3,5/6
The atmosphere lifted a notch when Jordsjø came onto the stage. They started off with an up-tempo number, led by the guitar-playing of front-man and multi-instrumentalist Håkon Oftung. They begin with their signature style, a blend of progressive rock and folk from the seventies era, with shades of jazz fusion as well, laced with delicate, lyrical lines, played on flute and guitar, often with very similar voicings. They clearly had a few fans in the long house. As soon as drummer Kristian Frøland, the other part of the duo from Oslo, tapped out the first drum beats from “Prolog”, a cheer went up from parts of the crowd. There were shades of Mike Oldfield here too, with Oftung and his second stage guitarist layering complimentary guitar melodies over each other. Violinist Åsa Ree joined the band for the jazzy “Mjödürt”, also providing backing vocals. The last two tracks were obvious crowd-pleasers. “Finsk”, a fast-paced riff-based number, which culminates with a shifting cadence over a pair of notes played across three octaves, arguably the most progressive motif in the whole set, got a huge cheer. That just warmed the fans up for “Hulder”, whose opening riff was immediately welcomed loudly by the audience, who, a few moments later were on their feet for the band to take their last bow. 5/6
Wobbler, the main attraction, arrived at full tilt, with “From Silence to Somewhere”, the feted title track from their 2017 album, which is a rollercoaster ride of energetic ensemble playing, punctuated by moments of delicacy. It was in these kinds of moments that we particularly got to hear the beauty of the voice of front-man Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo. His voice has a truly rare clarity, especially in the higher registers, and the time away from performing has clearly done him no harm. Norway can rightly claim to be producing some of the finest vocalists operating in Europe, and Prestmo is part of this extraordinary cadre of Norwegian singers who are working today, along with Einar Solberg (Leprous) and Simen Valldal Johannessen (Oak).
The show would see Prestmo dancing around the stage, telling stories with his voice and his hands, leaning out to the audience, entreating, or gesturing up to the sky. When he’s not deploying his melodic talents, he was playing guitars, at one point standing face-to-face with lead guitarist Marius Halleland, who saw the first track out with a staccato edgy coda. That was just the first number and the audience were already on their feet. They continued with “Five Rooms” from their 2020 album «Dwellers of the Deep». Not letting up, this was another fast-paced number, sounding a little faster than it does on the recording, with Halleland, guest violinst Åsa Ree, and Prestmo doing ensemble vocals. The keyboards of Lars Fredrik Frøislie are central to Wobbler’s sound and song-writing, whether he is providing one of his intense, textured introductions, adding backing to more rhythmic ensemble playing, or standing out with one of his signature solos, of which he had three over the course of the next two tracks, “This Past Present” and “In Orbit” from the 2011 Rites at Dawn album.
Prestmo had earlier encouraged people to dance at the front, and by now a few entranced folk had drifted up. At the end of the piece, Prestmo asked the crowd “Er det godt stemning?” The crowd yelled back their accord. The pace slowed for the next piece, “Naiad Dreams” from «Dwellers of the Deep», which is a slower, more delicate piece, with Håkon Oftung leading on acoustic guitar. Oddly, though all the pieces tonight had more delicate, subtle, moments, this track felt more disjointed, less convincing than the others. But not to worry, because they closed the set with “Merry Macabre”. This was another intense, high energy piece where all the band got a chance to shine. Here, Martin Nordrum Kneppen’s drumming particularly stood out, pushing the band, driving the tempo, but also managing the transitions between the different sections of the piece. He was accompanied throughout by the constantly-moving, focused fingers of Kristian Hultgren on bass. Pieces like this remind you that Wobbler are, for all else, a rock band, drawing their musical energy from riff and rhythm. Hultgren laid down a groove while Halleland played thick wah-wah guitar, but then the music seemed to come to some kind of coda. But no – we were entering a dream, with Prestmo and Ree creating the atmosphere with voice and violin. Even a blistering solo from Halleland wasn’t enough to shatter it, and it was not until the final funk passage, which with the crowd dancing at the front had the flavour of a disco, that the set finally ended.
Majestic and magnificent. As always with Wobbler, they are all outstanding individually, and they are even more outstanding together. 5,5/6
Tekst: Alex Maines
Foto: Anne-Marie Forker