Loney Dear (4/5/2009)
It is so ridiculously obvious why the kids are flipping out about this impressively under-the-radar Nordic crooner. It doesn’t matter if gnat-attention-span hipsters can’t name his influences, the history that brought us to now. It doesn’t matter if they forget the album tomorrow (though it’s clearly their loss). What does matter is when amazing music comes forth. What matters is keeping it in our hearts once the fair-weather fans have moved onto the next big college radio hit.
When I was coming up, Polyvinyl was a key player among emo purveyors. These days, the nice Illinois-based label folk have expanded to include distant cousins of the much-co-opted genre. Loney Dear, alternately known as Swedish multi-instrumental Emil Svanängen, plays a strange mix of heartfelt crooning and synth. On Dear John, his second major U.S. release, following Sub Pop-released 2007 Loney, Noir, Loney Dear is in top recorded form.
In person, Loney Dear is a more handsome, thinner, sufficiently Aryan Perez Hilton, thankfully also missing the boorish manners and cum jokes. Lille Vega—conjoined twin of the larger Vega next door—is not a hidden club with no sign, for in a city the size of Copenhagen, that doesn’t usually work for very long when everyone who is anyone knows everyone else. Despite being along one of the city’s main drags, Vega brings some of the best shows in town. I flashed my passport and was in the door, camera tucked in back pocket of my partner’s not-so-skinny jeans. My partner and I did not wear the requisite faux Keffiyehs and high tops, but thankfully my man was on hand to translate the bands’ Swedish mumblings between songs.
Opener Marching Band—whose MySpace made me a believer before they took the stage—stole the show as duo Erik Sunbring and Jacob Lind had turned quintet with a backing band for the affair. Bearing no resemblance to kids in matching uniforms who like to feel each other up at sleep away camp, the two did make a visually unlikely pair. Erik, in a sports jacket and tight pants, bounced to his own music on one side of the stage. With shoulder-length hair grazing the top of his wolf-emblazoned brown sweatshirt, Jacob did his own whistling while vigorously tapping various sound machines.
As they packed up after an incredibly short set, the room filled up in anticipation of the headliner. There are two ways this can go, I thought, for it is what I always think. The band will either mimic their own album with eerie precision, or the man about to take the stage will in no way resemble the crooner on the CD. The latter isn’t generally a problem for me, since why show up to hear the same tracks you have at home? Live versions are passed via bootleg for a reason. And yet, if it were ever possible to mangle a live performance of one of the year’s most celebrated releases, I believe it happened before my eyes.
Loney Dear, much as I hate to admit it, was a disjointed, confusing mess. Svanängen staggered onto the stage as the volume was cranked so high that even the most seasoned concert-goer began stuffing plugs into their ears. Perhaps I should not blame Svanängen as much as the folks in the sound booth. Has your face ever vibrated, independent of your body, from being too close to an amp? Have you ever felt as though your teeth and brain might shake loose and end up lying next to the empty Tuborg bottles at your feet? When an acoustic song began, I sat down on a bench to try to calm my nerves, frazzled by the shift in sound, praying this coherence was not temporary. But after one verse, the bass and pounding drums rejoined, and any semblance of listenable music was gone. Unless you’re following the Dead in a van, one should never feel as though being high for a concert would make it a better experience. If I smoked, I’ve have sought refuge in the lobby’s eight-dollar-a-pack machine.
It didn’t help that the only female among the ten-plus men that took the stage all evening was relegated to playing a tambourine and, occasionally, hitting a cymbal. “They can’t even give her a full drum set? All she can do is play the theme from Shaft.” To make things worse for our lone lady musician, by song two, the crazed Loney Dear front man had stolen her tambourine and would pound on her keyboard from his upside-down vantage point while she was forced to merely stand there and watch. I get that the dude is a “multi-instrumentalist,” but could he try to focus instead of meandering around, stealing the other kids’ toys? Straining to hear vocals behind the deafening bass, I could barely make out the album’s best track, “Airport Surroundings.” My head was starting to hurt. Badly.
I will admit that my partner and I exchanged nods before exiting the building, long before anyone else had considered doing the same. Danes are a reserved bunch, and I saw no disgruntled stares as many stayed to hear the band finish. I wondered how they really felt as I breathed in the cool spring air, away from the shaky mania of the club. My headache started to lift; safely on the streets, not a moment too soon.