We Låve Rock 2021 (Lørdag)

Lørdag 9.oktober 2021

As usual from the We Låve Rock family, this was a well organised and attended event (about 200 people), with a warm, friendly atmosphere at Sekkefabrikken Kulturhus, Slemmestad. We here at Norway Rock Magazine were made to feel particularly welcome, given a couple of spots in the dedicated press area, and were able to sit back and soak up a five-course meal of prog, having arrived in time to see five of the six bands who played on Saturday. Så, et stor takk fra oss to our hosts.

Infringement, a five piece Oslo-based group treated us to the whole of their 2019 album “Alienism”, played almost as a theatrical piece, starting with vocalist Hans Andreas Brandal inducting us into the Gentmire Institute, and inviting us to let our “consciousness seek asylum and let the healing begin», while the lights flashed like electroshock therapy. The theatrical element kept Brandal and the second stage vocalist Stian Delbekk Johansen busy, acting out the roles of doctors and patients by turn, while the band showed off their chops.  Stig André Clason (guitar) led the band well, but his solo on “Therapy”, lyrical, melancholic, and strong in style was particularly worth calling out. Bård Thorstensen (keys) was a constant strong presence, whether he was adding textures to the bands grooves or playing blistering solos, or just creating fills to aid transitions between different parts of the music. For the last part of the album, “Delirium”, Brandal came back on where a horrific three-faced mask, and cavorted around the stage like a lunatic.  This 16 minute finale to the album was, perhaps unsurprisingly, the stand out part of their set, the shifting musical styles and atmospheres well navigated and executed, driven along by excellent drumming from Kristoffer Utby and thumping support from stand-in bass player Emil Olsen, bringing the set and the story to a close, while Brandal writhed in pain, clutching his head through the keyboard solo and bridge back to main theme and the vocal finale.  We had three encores, the best of which was he deep groove of “Midlife” of their debut “Transitions” album.  This is a band on the up, a confident and bold performance and much appreciated the crowd. 4,5/6

Next up were Oak, from Oslo, a four-piece presenting well-crafted, lyrical, dynamic songs, playing a selection of tracks from their much-loved debut album “Lighthouse”, four spenende tracks from their second “False Memory Archive”, and a chance to hear two songs from their anticipated forthcoming album “The Quiet Rebellion of Compromise”. They started with their gritty album and concert opener “We, the Drowned”, with vocalist and keyboard player Simen Valldal Johannessen taking no time to get his voice up to full volume on the chorus “….whatever you desire”.  There were some initial technical problems with some of the backing apparatus, but det spilte ingen rolle and just gave Johannessen time to show off his prowess as a pianist, filling the time with improvised passages, and as a repartee-front man, chatting to the audience, talking about the themes for the new album, the instrumentation (“Shall we go with Euro-piano…?”), or the band’s history. The band then hit their stride in “Perceiving Red” from “Lighthouse”, clearly a crowd favourite.  Multi-instrumentalist Øystein “Billy” Sootholtet on bass (and additional keys) kept the band on a tight lead here, standing over by the drumkit, glancing around, orchestrating the band’s communication.  Then our first chance to hear some new material, with “Dreamless Sleep”. This is a subtly different style of song to the earlier work, and something of a new musical direction is apparent. The atmosphere and texture is immediately denser and darker, with wailing guitar and delicate contrasting vibraphone style keys, and the vocals pitched high in a narrow range, rather like a soul or gospel singer while the guitar played complimentary lines underneath, both evoking the restless insistence of the track.  With the power and clarity of his voice at the higher end, here Johannessen showed why he belongs among the Den hellige treenighet of Norwegian vocalists, with Andreas Prestmo (Wobbler) and Einar Solberg (Leprous). For a piece that is only recently written and mixed, it sounded incredibly polished. The song concluded with Stefan Hvinden (also of Pymlico) twisting and torturing his guitar with whammy bar and feedback to create a caustic painful din taking the song into its final stages. This was very well received, and they took this confidence and energy into the next track “Munich” from “Lighthouse”.  The other new track was “Guest of Honour”, which again showed some diversity in musical influences, being more of a ballad than some of their earlier work, supported by high guitar swells, with a triumphant chorus.  That had been preceded by “Psalm 51” the closing track from “False Memory Archive”, a personal favourite for the undersigned, and an excellent ensemble piece, showing the band at their best as writers and performers. As with a number of the tracks in the show, the band clearly felt free to play with them little, changing the voicings, or adding more extemporised passages here, as on the later “Fire, Walk with Me”, which had more of a Peter Gabriel vibe on tonight’s performance. Sigbjørn Reiakvam’s drumming is an equal musical presence in the band, which he showed with his outstanding cymbal work on “Psalm 51”, or, as on the next piece “The Lights”, a dark 10 minute monster (“our longest documented song”, says Johannessen), with his clipped, precise shuffle and snare playing, pushing the band along like something from a Portishead number. Or by representing all the force of the ocean in the final number, “The Sea”. They have to end with this, as they so often do, the song charging to a conclusion with Hvinden adding his force from his guitar with whammy pedal and delay, bending over his instrument, fading out with grating feedback and echoes to a huge cheer from ildsjelene packed into the front half of the auditorium. Outstanding. 5/6

In common with Infringment, Tammatoys opted to present a whole piece end to end, their 2020 album “Conflicts”.  With three guitarists and a stand-by upright bass, the seven-piece only just fit onto the stage at the Kulturhus.  Vocalist Kjetil Bergseth needed some space too, for his posturing and gesturing, stamping around the stage like Bono or Fish, making a statement with and about the music, lining up the mic stand as a rifle to pick off members of the audience.  So, there’s teateropptred here, too, as you’d expect from a concept album which has a clear message.  The band were tight and knew their material well, moving from song to song almost without pause, letting the music, and the supporting visuals and audio effects, do the talking from the gloomy stage.  Guitarists Simon Dolmen Bergseth and Ragnar Utby occupied the front corners of the stage, and both had opportunities to deliver excellent solos, on “The Conflict (part 1)” and “Downfall” respectively.  They were ably supported by the third guitar of Bjørn David Dolmen, adding force to the rhythm section and extra lead lines. The set closed with “Time”, the final track on the album, which started with some sublime upright bass playing from founder Øystein Utby, and concluded with the vocals and drumming of Martin Utby working together to bring the set to a climactic finish, to enthusiastic applause. 4,5/6

Meer’s new album “Playing House” has had acclaim from all quarters,  for its accomplished blend of orchestral progressive rock and pop music sensibilities, and they played almost the whole album over the course of the set. For an eight piece, they managed to make a low-key entry to the stage for the first track “Picking up the Pieces”, but that’s where the “low key” stopped, with siblings Johanne and Knut Kippersund on vocals owning the stage from the minute of their arrival, particularly on the second number “Across the Ocean”, a rousing and obvious crowd-pleaser. While the vocals are often in duet arrangement, each of them had their chance to take centre stage, as Johanne did on “You Were a Drum” and “Lay It Down”.  There are signs of modern r&b, drum and bass, and pop in the music here which she turned her voice to easily.  She also had a chance to go “full Tina Turner” on the band’s cover of “Here I Go Again” by Whiteshake, an unashamed moment of rock performance, but the band gave the music their own twist, shifting the harmony and arrangement to fit their style. Knut on the other hand had the lyrical, emotional, playful “Child” and “All at Sea” where his singing at a lower register really stood out for its richness. Those two tracks also showcased the use of pizzicato strings to create rhythm and texture, which is a feature of Meer’s music.  “All at Sea” was also an early ensemble highlight, opening with beautiful echoing guitar lines from Eivind Strømstad, supported by the string section. “She Goes” got a strong performance, and it shows the quality of the set that they could put it fourth.  Morten Strypet on bass got the band shuffling along, in contrast to the tight, straight , faultless drumming from Mats Lillehaug, and the groove has the whole band jumping around the stage for the chorus. Knut had said how delighted the band were to finally play for the WLR audience, and you could feel the joy. No review of a Meer set can omit a mention of pianist Ole Gjøstøl whose playing lifts the closing sections of the sinister “Honey”, another strong ensemble piece, the finale pulling the earlier musical themes and performances together for the last chorus. But Gjøstøl got his biggest moment on the closing number “Valentina in the Sky” from the bands eponymous 2016 album, where he is able to show the full range of his technical ability, rolling out massive architectural piano like a Grieg concerto, with powerful support from Lillehaug, who had likewise reserved his most dramatic performance for the end.  The band take a bow to huge applause from the full house, who were on the feet. Well, they were already, but they had indeed been lifted. 5/6

Så er det jo på tide med en liten dessertMagic Pie is an institution as well as a band, with only guitarist Kim Stenberg remaining from the original line-up.  His love of the music he has written over the years since 2001 when the band started and the dedicated following of the fans, who stood up to the front rail of the auditorium, has kept the band going and going, as members have come and gone. The band came onto the stage to a montage of album imagery and snippets of their music and a rousing cheer. Eirikur Hauksson (vox, rhythm guitar) takes centre stage now, obviously loving his participation in the continuum of “The Pie”. They played the first three tracks from their Circus of Life epic, “Welcome”, “Freakshow”, and “What if…” over the course of their set, reinforcing the evening’s impression that large-scale, epic, thematic prog is still de rigeur, still what people want to hear. This was interspersed with the unashamed homage to hard rock ballads “Table for Two” from their latest “Fragments of the Fifth Element” and “King for a Day” off the album of the same name, which was greeted by huge cheers and head-banging from the Pie faithful. That number also stood out as an example of a common thread to the musical performance – outstanding duet-line playing between Stenberg and Erling Henanger on keys, that and the ensemble vocals from Stenberg, Hauksson, and bassist Lars Petter Holstad.  The set closed with an extended version of “P&C” from “Fragments of the 5th Element”, musicians singing about themselves, about the rock-and-roll lifestyle, and years behind.  Seems appropriate for a band which has seen so much of life. 4,5/6

Tekst: Alex Maines
Foto: Anne-Marie Forker

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