Fu Manchu

support Hjortene
author AP date 06/03/18 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

There are few better ways, apart from travel, to warm yourself up in the winter than with some Southern Californian stoner rock. As such, it is no surprise to find Pumpehuset almost sold out on this bitterly cold Tuesday evening, the main entertainment for which is to be provided by the Orange County-based veterans of Fu Manchu, who are touring to promote their latest album, “Clone of the Universe”, which came out last month. It is far from their best work, but the prospect of hearing all the classics again has nonetheless inspired a sizeable audience to make the trek here so that against my expectation, the concert is to take place in the larger upstairs room — quite the upgrade from Fu Manchu’s previous appearance in the country.

All photos courtesy of Michael Hyldgaard Løgtholt

Hjortene

The proceedings kick off courtesy of the local trio Hjortene (translating to The Deer), who waste no time in justifying why they were booked. Not only does the band’s heavy, fuzzy take on stoner rock sound extremely similar to Fu Manchu, the three musicians also perform with the same sort of tireless vigour; hair swinging, instruments thrashing and the volume of their amps cranked to a hair-raising level. But although critics both in Denmark and abroad heaped considerable praise on Hjortene’s eponymous début album in 2014, in my opinion it is not the quality of the songs they air tonight that makes the greatest impression. A number of the tracks do stand out by virtue of their capacity to bring the audience to collective headbanging, but above all it is the showmanship of the three musicians that leaves a lasting mark. They have attitude as well as ability — something that dawned on me already in 2014 — and they use these traits to quite literally plough through their 35-minute set, pausing only to dedicate the song “Weber” to any owners of that brand of barbecue in attendance. The concert is intense and hard-hitting, and even though most of the material ultimately fails to edge itself into my memory, it offers plenty of reasons to go watch the band live again at the earliest opportunity. And judging by the first and sixth tracks (the titles of which unfortunately escape me), there is some potential in the trio’s songwriting capabilities as well — sufficiently so to look forward to an eventual sophomore album.

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Fu Manchu

Fu Manchu thrives on consistency — both in terms of the style and standard of their records, and the rowdiness of their live performances — and so it comes as no surprise to anyone to witness the quartet in fine form once again. The band makes sure to deliver a litany of classics early on so as to ‘onboard’ the audience and, presumably, prepare us for the new songs, of which there are four on the setlist. The storming “California Crossing” (off its namesake 2001 LP) reminds us that although the quality of the band’s output has lapsed somewhat since their golden era in the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, Fu Manchu used to piece together some of the most phenomenal riffs that the genre has seen, while the lazy groove of “Weird Beard” (taken from the band’s celebrated 2000 effort, “King of the Road”) inspires a number of patrons to defy the ‘no smoking’ rule before proceeding to work their neck muscles to the tune of “Evil Eye” (off 1997’s “The Action Is Go”) immediately after. The stoner-fest is well and truly underway then, and, egged on by the enthusiasm of the crowd, the four musicians continue their energetic demeanour unabated. This is a band that loves to rock out and more than three decades of experience have furnished them with the ability to play their songs tightly no matter how wild their antics grow.

As I had expected, new material such as “(I’ve Been) Hexed” (which, ironically, is one of the standout tracks on “Clone of the Universe”) and “Nowhere Left to Hide” pass by without much fanfare, coming across as little more than filler. That is not to say that they result in a muted reaction though; on the contrary, the elements of Fu Manchu’s fanbase attending tonight seem to be pretty indifferent about which tracks the foursome has chosen to let loose. Of course, the applause is more zealous and the cheering louder when the likes of “Hell on Wheels” and “King of the Road” are announced — after all, they are true classics of the genre. But for me personally, it is the even older “Cyclone Launch” (with its trippy wah-wah solo) as well as “Strato-Streak” (with its cool, muted psych-segment) off 1996’s “In Search of” that provide not just the consummate highlights, but also the vital difference to make tonight’s concert stand out from the very similar showing that Fu Manchu gave in Copenhagen three and a half years ago.

Those are the old highlights, that is, as the concert unquestionably reaches its climax with “Il Mostro Atomico” — the stoning, 18-minute space odyssey off the new album — which concludes the ordinary set as a scintillating ode to the art of jamming. You can tell that the four musicians, too, feel that they outdid themselves when this mammoth composition flowed out of them in their rehearsal space, such is their total immersion in it. Gone is the wild energy with which they approach every other piece in their repertoire; in its place is a quartet completely lost in the moment, relishing the narcosis that only a masterpiece of stoner rock can provide. So spine-tingling is this finale that neither the classic “Boogie Van” nor the ditto “Saturn III” in the encore manages to sound quite as immortal as they tend to do. Perhaps, for a change, they might have served better earlier in the set? But no matter, this is a minuscule concern in a concert that once again cements Fu Manchu as stoner rock royalty and probably has much of the audience scrambling to find the next opportunity to see the band live.

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Setlist:

  • 01. Eatin' Dust
  • 02. Clone of the Universe
  • 03. California Crossing
  • 04. Weird Beard
  • 05. Evil Eye
  • 06. (I’ve Been) Hexed
  • 07. Mongoose
  • 08. Cyclone Launch
  • 09. Hell on Wheels
  • 10. Nowhere Left to Hide
  • 11. Strato-Streak
  • 12. King of the Road
  • 13. Il Mostro Atomico

— Encore —

  • 14. Boogie Van
  • 15. Saturn III

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