Blues Pills & Kadavar

support Stray Train
author AP date 03/10/16 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

With both artists now housed by Nuclear Blast, it was only a matter of time before the label urged Blues Pills and Kadavar to join forces and head out on a co-headlining tour. Both bands seem to be on tour constantly regardless, which means saving some euros on the logistical costs, and with the artists widely regarded as two of the brightest stars in the 70’s rock revival scene, wrapping them into one package was always going to mean bigger venues and better turnouts. Certainly that was going to be the case in Denmark, which has always held the bands in high esteem and faithfully showed up to their concerts in numbers despite the frequency of their visits. Needless to say, the anticipation hangs thick inside Pumpehuset’s larger (and sold out) upstairs room as I arrive just in time for the opening act.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Stray Train

That the Slovenian five-piece walks on stage to the tune of AC/DC gives me a good hunch of what to expect. And quite right: the band’s musical style is quickly established to be commonplace hard rock — the sort that, when played with sufficient gusto, can never really suck, albeit that it will never cause heavy ripples either. Indeed, Stray Train’s music is much like Buckcherry’s or Crobot’s sans the bombast, with vocals that mimic those of Myles Kennedy. On paper that must sound like a festive cocktail, but regrettably, this former barroom cover band could hardly come across as more generic or clichéd in its denouncement of ‘fake chicks’ in “Plastic Princess”, etcetera.

In technical terms the performance is sound — tight and disciplined — with especially frontman Luka Lamut’s pipes and convivial attitude impressing. But with songs that sound like rehashes of rehashes and a peripheral showmanship (that is: guitarists Jure Golobič & Boban Milunovič, bassist Niko Jug and drummer Luka Čadež) which offers little beyond the occasional impassioned lip-syncing of a guitar solo, it is so difficult to latch onto any of the actual music. And as such, Stray Train strikes me above all as a band without the ambition to develop a personal style; one of those outfits that you regularly see opening for AC/DC in their hometown, or kicking the program off on Hellfest’s main stage; that do a decent job but leave little by way of a lasting impression.

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Kadavar

Kadavar, though, is not plagued by such lacks, and at this point it has become a theoretical unlikelihood that the Berlin, Germany -born trio will ever stage a mediocre performance. But the interesting thing is how earthy and understated they remain amidst their skyrocketing success. There is no fanfare — just a bassy rumble in between Stray Train’s set and theirs, and a customarily nonchalant entrance to the stage before busting out “Come Back Life” off 2013’s “Abra Kadavar” with a breezy effortlessness. Relentless touring has ensured that the three musicians play in a kind of subliminal symbiosis, with a groove that is impossible to shake off once it burrows into your body. Kadavar always tends to test the limits of the venue’s sound system by playing at a confounding volume and tonight is no exception, and as usual, the bone-rattling wall of sound unleashed by the setup nonetheless manages to preserve the integrity of each instrument and Christoph ‘Lupus’ Lindemann’s voice. It sounds raw, and just the right kind of grubby, but none of the colourful psychedelia or Lupus’ reverb laden singing is lost.

When a band tours incessantly, it risks alienating core fans by cause of repetition, but the curious thing about Kadavar is that no matter how many times you catch them live, each concert feels special. One of the main reasons for this is that the trio seldom regurgitates a setlist. There are four alternate choices compared to the band’s most recent appearance in Denmark tonight, including an unforgettable rendition of the rarely played “Fire” as well as an outstanding interpretation of The Beatles’ classic “Helter Skelter” at the end, and overall the picks are more balanced across the three records now it is no longer necessary for Kadavar so rigorously to promote 2015’s “Berlin”. The band’s wisdom in this regard means that it always feels like the first time, watching them live.

No description of a Kadavar show is complete without a mention of the visual aesthetic of course. What makes this band so unique is its shunning of traditions: each member shoulders an equal amount of weight in the music, ergo the three line up in a row, with drummer Christoph ‘Tiger’ Bartelt in the centre. This is crucial, because Tiger is, for all intents and purposes, the most enthralling of the three to behold, his perpetual headbanging and almost hysterical pounding of the skins rivalled only on occasion by Lupus’ bouts of mania in instrumental segments. I swear, I could stare at the whirlwind that is Tiger for hours just to witness the million, electrical fan-assisted metamorphoses of his enormous mane. Bassist Simon Bouteloup aka. ‘Dragon’ is a little calmer, keeping his antics stylish, yet authoritative, but then it is the collective showmanship, with each musician contributing his own unique aspect, that makes Kadavar such a riveting live band.

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Blues Pills

One feels empathy for Blues Pills needing to solidify their own claim to the heritage rock throne after Kadavar, but knowing full well the grandeur that this international outfit is capable of as well, it seems reasonable to expect another captivating show from them. But as soon as the title track to the newly released “Lady in Gold” LP is aired, it feels like the ‘Pills have given up before even getting started. Not only is the volume inexcusably low — the mix is also flat as a pancake, and just vocalist Elin Larsson seems to have turned up; guitarist Dorrian Sorriaux, bassist Zach Anderson, drummer André Kvarnström and whoever is charged with organ and additional guitar on this tour, could not look less interested. There is no shame in having an off-day, but the indifference shown by the four musicians tonight is frankly insulting.

What averts total disaster is Larsson herself, whose soulful singing, maracas and tambourine rattling, and jumpy, hyper-energetic demeanour provides the only semblance of actual showmanship amidst the misery. But even her astonishing talent is not enough on its own to salvage the personality from ballads such as “Little Sun” that under ordinary circumstances tend to be given magical renditions in the live setting. How a band of Blues Pills’ calibre could have regressed to such dismal showings is beyond me, but there is the creeping sense that maybe, the media circus which always seems to lift Larsson onto a pedestal whilst overlooking the other half of what makes Blues Pills tick has left an irreversible mark on the four instrumental musicians. Certainly the impression I get of the ‘Pills tonight is more in the vein of, say, Elin Larsson and the Pills — and her insistence on manning the piano and delivering “I Felt a Change” solo does nothing to alleviate it.

Judging by the hurried execution of pivotal tracks such as “Devil Man” and “High Class Woman” throughout the concert, the deteriorating circumstances are not lost on Larsson or her band, either. No one is having a good time, and as the minutes clock in, so, too does Larsson’s energy and continuous smiling start to look increasingly farcical, or at the very least superficial. Once the gig eventually fizzles out, one should feel grateful that Kadavar’s half of the co-headliner was such a success; otherwise the disappointment at one of the autumn’s most hyped concerts would have been total, and the whole thing would have felt like a complete and utter rip-off.

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