Jenny Hval and Iceage played Nordic Heritage Museum on Thursday, May 10, as part of the organization's inaugural Nordic Nights event. Both acts, though quite different in approach and tone, demonstrated the great range of talent and coming out of modern Scandinavia. The sharp bombast of Iceage provided a stark contrast to the lurking menace of Jenny Hval's live show, but this contrast made sense in the attractive new Nordic Heritage Museum performance space that could function equally well as a chapel. This space provides a welcome addition to the city's music venues, especially if it continues to book some of the most exciting musicians coming out of the Nordic regions.
Released in 2016, Jenny Hval's Blood Bitch introduced Hval's music to a broader audience, although it is an uncompromising meditation on menstruation and 1970s giallo horror films. This was the latest in a string of equally fascinating solo releases from Hval that revolve around similar themes. Hval will release The Long Sleep EP later this month, and earlier this year put out an EP as Lost Girls in collaboration with bandmate Håvard Volden, who played alongside Hval at the museum.
Accompanied by Volden, frequent collaborator Zia Anger, and a giant, inflated clam shell, Jenny Hval took the stage, looking like a chic blend of Die Antwoord's Yolandi Visser and the 1950s representation of alien life. Hval's live set alternated between abstracted, elongated renditions of her recorded material, and coy conceptual art, occasionally resembling stand-up comedy. Blood Bitch standout tracks "Female Vampire" and "The Great Undressing" were both performed, Hval's voice veering from a whisper to a gorgeous arc. Hval's onstage presence was eerily calm, despite her complete control of her surroundings.
Several songs into the set, Hval placed a balloon underneath her shirt in homage to the visibly pregnant Anger. The two proceeded to dance a mixture of jazzercise routine and fertility ritual, a fitting accompaniment to "The Great Undressing." Soon after, Hval crooned while being enveloped by the giant, inflatable clamshell. These theatrical elements managed to not overshadow the clarity, humor, and intelligence of Hval's vocals and musical arrangements. Even during a lengthy diversion/presentation about the Norwegian alphabet and the letter "å," Hval remained a singularly intense and charismatic live performer, mixing humor and horror at a level which few other artists have the capacity.
Following a short break, Iceage took the stage and launched into several tracks from their brand-new album, titled Beyondless. Beyondless has been discussed as a comparatively polished record for the Danish band, who frequently blur the line between calculated chaos and shambolic punk. As if to quell the worries of anyone who doubts their intensity as a punk act, Iceage sounded tight, yet constantly on the verge of collapse. This balance is integral to the band's charm and success thus far.
Iceage is touring behind their fourth record, and third LP on indie stalwart Matador Records. While at this point quite experienced musicians, who have flirted with significantly larger appeal (including a collaboration on Beyondless with noted pop star Sky Ferreira), Iceage continues to sound like a group of nihilistic teenagers playing in a poorly lit DIY space. Frontman Elias Ronnenfelt is beautiful enough to grace magazine covers, yet is a wonderfully messy frontman, slurring lyrics while increasingly drunk, squinting out at the crowd. During "The Lord's Favorite," the music video for which has over 800,000 views on YouTube, Ronnenfelt lurched headfirst into the crowd, who barely stopped him from slamming his head into the venue floor. Ronnenfelt's self-destruction, while perhaps curated, is thoroughly engaging to watch, and acts as an alluring anchor to the band's music.
Iceage's setlist mostly focused on Beyondless, although it included at least one track from each of the band's proceeding releases. These new tracks blended seamlessly with older material. "Thieves Like Us" and "Take It All," were both set highlights, continuing Iceage's flirtation with rockabilly and tropes of Americana music traditions. Another highlight was set closer "Catch It," which extended into a lengthy dirge. Like many punks before them, it seems Iceage's greatest secret is that they are, in fact, quite good musicians. Even as their act relies on the fleeting beauty and unprofessionalism of youth, one is left to wonder if Iceage will one day wake up truly famous, forced to navigate this contradiction.
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