Anna von Hausswolff

support Of The Wand & The Moon
author AP date 24/01/19 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

Anna von Hausswolff clearly has a large yet latent fanbase in Copenhagen. Only a handful of people stayed to watch her masterful concert at A Colossal Weekend in 2017, and as such, I had been expecting a meagre turnout for her headlining show at Pumpehuset as well. The amount of bicycles stacked up against the walls outside and the queue spilling out of the entrance tell a different story, however, and upon entering the venue, it becomes obvious to me that the concert is in fact very nearly sold out. The crowd is a mix of old and young, hipsters and metalheads united in a fascination of the Swedish composer and multi-instrumentalist, whose music is so hard to define as belonging to any particular genre. For the support duty, she has handpicked the Danish neofolk outfit Of the Wand & the Moon, whom she considers her heroes having watched the band live at the former Jazzhouse in Copenhagen almost six years ago.

All photos courtesy of Adriana Zak

Of The Wand & The Moon

Although the word ‘catchy’ is not something one can use to describe the music of this six-piece led by the former Saturnus frontman Kim Larsen, they are so easy to like. Larsen’s baritone singing has a soothing, narrative quality about it that draws you into the band’s dark and moody soundscapes, while connoisseurs will also be in thrall of Larsen & his cohorts’ exceptional compositional skill. His voice and folksy acoustic guitar melodies are at the centre of it all, but these songs would sound so barren were it not for the keyboard flourishes, electric guitar bursts and trumpet soliloquies that fall in and out of the music, not to mention the subtle yet hypnotising rumble and fuzz of the bass and drums. Of the Wand & the Moon’s performance here is neither energetic nor energising, but each musician nonetheless handles their role with nerve, contributing in equal measure to the enveloping nature of the music. Indeed, rather than just watching the show, one feels part of it — like a bit-part character in Larsen’s storied lyricism — which in turn makes the songs feel relatable and, above all, cathartic. The elegant lighting plays a role too, reaching its climax in the final piece of the evening in tandem with the instruments coalescing in a cinematic, life-affirming crescendo. It is a shame the band is such a rare sight in Denmark’s gig circuit but at the very least, the waiting time in between their infrequent concerts helps to build anticipation, tension even, that can then be released through these evocative, all-encompassing performances.

8

Anna von Hausswolff

As soon as Of the Wand & the Moon’s show ends, the venue fills with windy ambiance that grows louder every minute, building the atmosphere and raising tension until strobe lights begin to flicker in the background like distant soundless lightning. Amidst the flashes of flight, von Hausswolff and her band of session musicians can be seen entering the stage and shortly after, swathes of dramatic melody from her organ announce the beginning of “The Truth, the Glow, the Fall” off her latest opus, 2018’s “Dead Magic”. This droning, ambient piece is an untraditional way to kick things off and if it were a less dedicated audience von Hausswolff was playing to, it would likely siphon out some of the attendees. In terms of setting the tone for her concert, however, she could not have picked a better song; her beautiful voice, the growing tide of melody and the occasional bit of drumming all creating an impression that something is looming just around the corner. That something is “Pomperipossa” off 2015’s “The Miraculous”, which strikes a stark contrast to the opening track with crashing cymbals, a melody that might as well stem from a classic horror movie, and disquieting howls by von Hausswolff. She masters an impressive range of vocal styles from glass shattering falsetto in the opening track to singing so delicate in “Ugly and Vengeful” that it has everyone frozen for fear of disturbing her or breaking the deafening silence that hangs between her words. This is the final moment of serenity before the heavier second half of the song rolls forth and the show pivots into the sort of material that has earned von Hausswolff the adoration of rock and metalheads among all the other breeds of music fan she has in her thrall.

As the percussion, which has been very subtle thus far, shifts into powerful ritualism and the bass and electric guitars turn to distortion, von Hausswolff’s vocals follow suite, growing more frenzied by the second as she becomes possessed by a witchy dance routine amidst flickering beams of ominous red light. The onset of this hypnotising passage was the moment that bound me in von Hausswolff’s spell in 2017, and it still has that same on me effect now — and judging by the cheering that erupts once it has wound to a conclusion, it has that same effect on everyone attending tonight. Von Hausswolff then descends from her station for “Källans återsuppståndelse”, to play the harmonica soliloquies and sing some of her most mesmerising vocals yet tonight, up close and personal with her most devout fans. For the following “Mysterious Vanishing of Electra”, she picks up a 12-string acoustic guitar to assist in bringing to life the experimental neofolk style of that song, but once again, it is her vocalisations that steal the spotlight. The way she crowns her rolling falsetto exclamations with bouts of mad laughter is as fascinating as it is unsettling, paving the way for the startling monolith of a crescendo in which the track concludes — and when she applies some strain to her powerful singing in those final moments, the crowd once again looks totally aghast. But although both “The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra” and “Ugly and Vengeful” deliver some of the strongest highlights of tonight’s set, it is without a doubt “Come Wander with Me / Deliverance” (taken from the “The Miraculous”) that tingles in my spine the most. It sounds as though the band deliberately falls out of sync multiple times, letting the song fall apart into a fever dream of broken toy sounds, before converging in a beautiful, cinematic ending that leaves the audience roaring in elation.

Although knowing what to expect from Anna von Hausswolff this time around means that I am somewhat less awestruck by it than in 2017, her performance tonight is nonetheless special. Neither her music nor her style of showmanship is everyone’s cup of tea, but if you have even the slightest interest in all things prefixed with ‘art’, ‘avant-garde’ or ‘experimental’, then she is certain to pry your mind wide open with her eclectic and imaginative approach to creating music that does not conform to any one genre. Indeed, it would be surprising if anyone seeing von Hausswolff live for the first time tonight left the concert without feeling a sense of awakening. Stunning show.

9

Setlist:

  • 01. The Truth, the Glow, the Fall
  • 02. Pomperipossa
  • 03. Ugly and Vengeful
  • 04. Källans återuppståndelse
  • 05. The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra
  • 06. Come Wander with Me / Deliverance

— Encore —

  • 07. Gösta

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