While the established Scandinavian rock festivals, such Hultsfred and Roskilde, are struggling with decreasing numbers of visitors, new festivals are popping up in every other little town up and down the long narrow country of Sweden. We have Siesta! in Hässleholm and Popadelica in Jönköping and then of course Way Out West in Gothenburg. For a third year in a row Way Out West sold out, attracting over 25 000 visitors. Come rain or shine Slottsskogen, the focal point of the festival and the favorite picnic spot in Gothenburg, was the place to be this weekend. Like previous years (see our review of last year’s festival) the show began on the Thursday with concerts in seven different venues spread out over the city. With hour long queues it was with sharp elbows, journalistic determination, and the patience of Mother Teresa that Webcuts managed to get in to Kajskjul 8, Parken, Trädgårn and Annedalskyrkan.
Way Out West – Various Clubs, Gothenburg – Thursday 13 August 2009
First out on Kajsjul 8’s stage was Theodor Jensen, better known for playing guitar in Broder Daniel and his latter project The Plan. If the crowd was expecting songs from The Plan they were soon to be disillusioned, Theodor stating early on that he was only to play songs from his forthcoming album, Tough Love. Judging from the concert Tough Love will consist of a variety of styles, shifting from rock ‘n’ roll to soul, the latter evidenced by the Swedish soul diva Titiyo doing a guest appearance. The band consisted of many familiar faces with members from Soundtrack of Our Lives and Tape. Despite these experienced musicians and his energetic stage presence Theodor failed to captivate the audience. Closing with his recent single “Songbird”, whose similarities to his work as The Plan didn’t go unnoticed by this reviewer. After Theodor it was time for the “secret act”. It wasn’t much of a surprise to see Timo Räisänen, already on the main bill, a mere fourteen hours before his scheduled appearance in Slottskogen. The crowd cheered but Webcuts was not as amused. While the Gothenburg audience does love Timo ,and vice versa, and while the show itself was decent, it was an totally unimaginative choice for a secret act.
The latest addition to the club venues was Parken, recently opened smack in city centre, where mainstream music usually dominates. St. Vincent proved herself to be a formidable one-woman show at the venue. Opening with a stripped down reading of recent single “Actor Out of Work”, she flipped the switch between the unadorned girl and guitar charm of “Marry Me” which she claimed was influenced by the TV show Arrested Development to the foot stomping workout of “Marrow” from her latest album Actor, which had her throwing down Jimmy Page riffs over a Daft Punk “Da Funk” beat. Even Miss Clark’s cover of the Beatles “I Dig A Pony”, still couldn’t top this. Alternating between two microphones as if channeling two separate personalities and standing on the balls of her feet to give that extra ounce of passion, St. Vincent had us enthralled.
Gothenburg band Fontän made the audience dance with the combination of energetic ’80s style guitars and heavy beats, with suited Parken’s cheesy interior, taking us back to our teenage years. The duo energetic sounds are captivating and it’s hard to keep you feet still. Fontän is definitely one of the highlights on the Thursday night.
Just when we were about to give up the queue started moving possible due to divine intervention. Thank heavens it did because a better venue for El Perro del Mar than Annedalskyrkan (an old huge church) would be hard to find. The stage is set just in front of the alter and the combination of Sarah Assbring’s sweet voice, sad lyrics about lost love and the soft beats from her talented backing musicians playing under the huge crucifix would make even the staunchest unbeliever start attending church. Sarah doesn’t try and please the audience with small talk and has a somewhat introverted stage presence but her emotions and voice fills up the whole church. Rasmus Hägg from Studio joins in for “Change of Heart” and “L is for Love” but it is her gentle version of Lou Reed’s “Heavenly Arms” and the soulful, self-critical “God Knows (You Gotta Give to Get)” that give us goose bumps.
Way Out West – Slottsskogen, Various Clubs, Gothenburg – Friday 14 August 2009
Quickly making our way on-site with the sun on our backs, we head over to the Linné stage to see the first band of the day, Brooklyn’s Vivian Girls. Having warmed to their harmonious noise earlier this year, we’d been looking forward to hearing what they’ve been up to in the interim. With a new album Everything Goes Wrong due next month, hopes were high, but there’s something about the girls presentation that still seems amateurish. The slightly leaden vocal harmonies (especially on “Wild Eyes”) often jumped the rails and the new material which showed them moving beyond the short, sweet punk songs of their debut offered little real progression. Sure, they’re longer, but there’s still a deficit of memorable tunes. “Tell The World” pulled things from a nosedive and the set-closing instrument swap reinforced their ’doing it for kicks’ attitude. We’re still not a firm believer of the hype.
Still at Linné which is filling up to the brim despite being fairly early in the day and it is time for the first of Way Out West’s bearded men to come out. Bon Iver seemed to be the initial pick for many and what better way to slowly start a busy day then with Justin Vernon’s melancholic voice and soothing guitars. The somewhat sad but harmonic “Flume” is the first song which is followed by other treats such as “Creature Fear” and “Skinny Love” from For Emma, Forever Ago. While many singer-songwriters often look like they have the weight of the world on their shoulders Justin Vernon seems genuinely happy to be playing and even offers several smiles. Towards the end of the show the pace increases and the guitarist starts beating the drums like a mad man building up to a great finale where Vernon gets the audience to sing along in “The Wolves (Act I and II)”.
When Zach Condon cancelled half of his tour last summer (including Way Out West) many were disappointed including Webcuts. But when Beirut enters the main stage this year, where acts such as Neil Young and Grinderman have previously played, the past is all forgotten. When the first chords of “Nantes” are played our feet start moving involuntarily. But then the excitement fades and the show never reaches its full potential. Maybe it is the lack of percussion or energy from the band in a combination with Zach’s seemingly half hearted effort. All the songs are there: “Postcards from Italy”, “A Sunday Smile”, “Elephant Gun”, all of which we love but we know the band can do better.
Grizzly Bear have to compete with Beirut and Band of Horses for an audience, not an ideal situation, and the tent never quite reaches its capacity. The band might have done better on a club stage at night than in the middle of the day, since the show seemed more like an afternoon nap than a roaring act from of one of the seemingly most interesting bands on this year’s roster. Hit song “Knife” sounds amazing though and reminds us just why we are here in the first place.
Best legs of the festival go to Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine. Walking on stage in black high-heels and gold sequined hot pants, attention was torn between her fiery locks and siren song and that bedazzling hip shake. In what was already a festival with some serious female domination, Florence commanded the stage and was a forceful presence — if only this could be said for her music, which at times reached for lofty Kate Bush-like heights like on “Rabbit Heart” and the White Stripes one-two punch of debut single “Kiss With a Fist” and its rampaging follow-up “Dog Days Are Over”, but the rest of the material taken from her album Lungs failed to address the same urgency or attraction, but then again, she could’ve been singing the phonebook and that would’ve been alright with me.
Swedish pop queen Robyn puts on a grand show with many surprises and guest artists, such as Lykke Li, the boys from Röyksopp, Kleerup and Sweden’s most famous dentist; Dr Alban. The show was the talk of the day and Robyn showed us just how many move she masters and her wide variety styles. Flamingo has never look more beautiful than with Robyn under a confetti rain.
Sweden’s Laakso has gained more confidence after Markus Krunegård was last year’s Swedish pop wonder. Laakso will probably never succeed the lead singer’s popularity but they will always be a playful and intense live band, the show at Linné is no exception. It’s a shame though that the band doesn’t play more from their brilliant debut album I Miss You I’m Pregnant.
With probably the highest expectations of the festival, Antony Hegarty from Antony & the Johnsons enters the Flamingo where thirty plus classical musicians and a conductor are waiting for him. Antony looks nervous and his voice sounds frail during the first song but he soon regains his confidence. The orchestra and Antony work wonderfully together but still it never quite reaches its full potential. While it doesn’t sound like there is a whole Symphonic Orchestra up on stage it’s still powerful and beautiful. The combination of the strings, the intensity in Antony’s voice and his quirky personality tugs at your heart. But as Antony said “everyone is looking better in the dark or at least with a bit of shade” and maybe it would have been a more unforgettable, not just memorable, experience if he had played at dusk. But there can be no arguing — Antony is the Messiah of Way Out West.
Wilco furthered the Americana cause that Bon Iver and Band of Horses started earlier in the day, doing their best to warm themselves with the audience, Jeff Tweedy commenting on how attractive the audience was (a lone Swede cries out “bullshit!”) and introducing their “Jesus Etc” as a song they’d found being performed in Swedish on Youtube, but more was needed that day than just a “Shot in the Arm“ or “I’m Trying To Break Your Heart”. Where Calexico would effortlessly perform on the same stage the next day with a set befitting a festival environment, including covers of Joy Division and Love, Wilco seemed to fill a vacuum, but only barely. The country balladry meets Sonic Youth noise breakdown of “Via Chicago” from their 1999 breakthrough album Summerteeth being the saving grace of their set.
Glasvegas delivered what was in my opinion the performance of the festival. Bathed in smoke and white light, Glasvegas were the ultimate rock band that evening. Dressed in black, adorned in leather jackets and immaculately styled quiffs, it felt like you were watching The Clash in 1977, more so with singer James Allen’s resemblance to Joe Strummer. Starting the set with “Flowers and Football Tops”, the soaring lead track from their debut album, they pulled the right poses and hit their marks from the start. With an infallible run of singles to follow, with “Daddy’s Gone”, “It’s My Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry” and “Geraldine”, Glasvegas were a paralysing presence. With a surprise reading of The Korgis’ “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometimes”, Glasvegas stripped the tune of its emotional depth and reduced it to an angry, sullen barage of noise. Overcome by the rapturous reception from the crowd the moment they walked on stage, Allen was left speechless. Closing shop with “Go Square Go”, its football chant of “Here We Fucking Go” was ringing throughout the park via thousands of faux Glaswegian accents.
After a lengthy wait the show finally starts with dark beats and monotonic electronic sounds. Two green laser beams shines over the audience and Karin Dreijer Andersson traps the crowd in a dark mysterious mist. In a theatrical manner the Fever Ray gig takes us to dark places and before Karin sheds her costume she looks like she belongs in the story Where the Wild Things Are. The concert is not much different from the Karin’s earlier shows this year but for those who’s never seen Fever Ray before it is a real treat. The laser show and the use of old fashion lamp shades create a far more interesting performance compared to most other live acts of the day. Few artists pay so much attention to detail like Fever Ray and the end result is mesmerising.
Skipping out on the Arctic Monkeys, we hear their cover of Nick Cave & The Bad Seed’s “Red Right Hand” fading off in the distance and approve, albeit in theory, and consider walking back, but the Stay Out West portion of the festival looms with more enticing alternatives. Half of the Webcuts team head over to catch Andrew Bird at Annedalskyrkan, but after an hour in line waiting, (and with what will be a recurring theme to many trying to gain access to the club shows), they give up, yet on the other side of town at Trädgå’n, we flash our pearly whites and press credentials and wander in.
Old bands never die, they just work out which album is regarded as ‘the classic’ and perform it in full. Once a novelty, it now seems a worn-out proposition with Echo & The Bunnymen the latest adoptee. “This is the greatest album ever played” claims Ian McCullouch, and all Liverpudlian arrogance and bravado aside, his confidence falls somewhat flat. Ocean Rain, the album in question, released in 1984 was hailed as a masterpiece at the time, but without the sublime “The Killing Moon” tonight rendered with an eight piece string section — which comes close to replicating the beauty of the original — McCullouch’s lofty claims wouldn’t entirely bear repeating. A second set which covered all points from their history, with the very new (“I Think I Need It Too”) and very old (“Rescue” and “The Cutter”), this was a night of nostalgia in excelsis. With the clock ticking past 4 am, all we needed was for the Bunnymen to bring on the dancing horses to carry us home.
Text: Craig Smith, Lisa Hallquist, Tommy Karlsson
Photos: Craig Smith, Lisa Hallquist