The Blue Van

support Stella
author MN date 15/10/21 venue Lille VEGA, Copenhagen, DEN

The annual Kulturnatten, a Friday in October commemorating culture in Copenhagen, returns after an international hiatus caused by the long, tiresome pandemic that is thankfully in its denouement at last. Art, indeed performative art in the form of live shows, can finally return to its rightful place at the arena of physical and social intimacy. So, in pursuit of something uniquely cultural, I signed up to review the esteemed Danish rock band The Blue Van. A relatively new discovery of mine, The Blue Van have intrigued me ever since I was told that their live shows are brilliant. Furthermore, through my initial preparation, I have come to find that their studio recordings, especially 2008’s “Man Up” and 2010’s “Love Shot” will continue to make spins in my repertoire of newly found classics. As my first real rock show in two years, I am giddy with excitement and ready to venture towards what I consider one of the best venues in Copenhagen, namely Lille VEGA. The place is buzzing with excitement as we await the first act, a group called Stella.

Stella

Prior to any concert review, I find it important to make a concrete effort in exploring whatever support may be on the bill for the evening. Unfortunately, the organizers of the event never revealed to the audience who would be performing. Usually, the special guests are a band, often upcoming, that are endorsed by the organiser for their talents. It is usually also a way in which newer bands find precious minutes in the limelight to reach a broader audience. I have countless experiences of special guests becoming favourites of mine as a direct result of their supporting a headliner. Even though I have no prior knowledge of Stella, I nevertheless have my eyes peeled and my ear canals tuned to welcome Stella to the stage. Stella is a duo consisting of a vocalist and a guitarist, who also wields a set of pedals that controls the percussion backtrack. With clear influences from Florence & the Machine, Stella wields a sound of melancholy with a deep alto voice. Songs like “Drug of Love” and “Bloodkisses” showcase good original composition and a cool presence. It is clear, however, that their lack of resources, such as a full backing band, really makes Stella fail at connecting with most of the crowd. Furthermore, the sound calibration sounds a bit murky and unfocused. I have no doubt that Stella have some talent, but their performance tonight, as a whole, never really captured the attention of yours truly. The performance also felt rushed.

The Blue Van

At the stroke of 9pm, the lights dim and we stand ready to welcome The Blue Van. With a gorgeous monochromatic light backdrop, the silhouettes of the quartet appear as they launch into “Heavy Load”, one of the heavy hitters from their recent record “From Responsible Sources”. Released in 2020, it can come as no surprise that The Blue Van are aching to showcase their recent efforts on the stage, therefore I predict a strong presence of songs from their latest record. “Eyes Filled with Starlight” is also played, another curious new track that sees The Blue Van take equal measures of Mr Bungle’s Mike Patton-esque vocals, blended with a contemporary indie sound in the vein of The Shins. The Blue Van are off to a strong start. The sound is crisp, clean, focused and the virtuosic duo guitars of vocalist Steffen Westmark and guitarist / master of keys Søren Christensen warrant a special mention. These guys play tighter than the wires of a suspension bridge. Fans of blues guitar music should find plenty to salivate over. Speaking of salivation, the canine-inspired monster track “Beg Like a Dog'' presents another grand highlight, really pushing drummer Per Jørgensen in focus for his merciless pounding, rattling the rib cages of all far and wide. The whimsical “Star Pharmacy” continues the festivities as people really start to dance around.

In terms of interaction, The Blue Van seem like seasoned performers, aiming for a calculated and grounded approach to crowd banter. It truly feels like The Blue Van are performing for a bunch of old friends. It is witty, informal and truly charming. A notable detail is when Steffen grants a crowd member to share something “real” with the audience by stepping on stage and telling a story. A heartwarming sequence that involved a fan telling her story of battling addiction and how The Blue Van have provided musical solace throughout her tough times. An aura of empathy and love permeates the crowd. “There Goes My Love” from the group’s breakthrough record “Man Up” is performed to ensure waves of late naughties nostalgia. The organ keys of Søren Christensen sear through the newer track “Chameleon”. It is emphasized and, in my opinion, truly cemented how strong their new record is on the live stage. The rock show continues with the catchy “Silly Boy”, a true sing-a-long, followed by the eclectic, ‘60s-psychedelia piece “Young Rebel” in which quirky guitar melodies accompany Westmark’s insistent and sharp vocal line. “Mama’s Boy” and “Man Up” are also performed to the great enthusiasm of the crowd. Another memorable segment is the performance of “Back to Zero”, which transports you back to a different age, a refreshing surfer-like soother, reminiscent of The Beach Boys. The initial set is finished off with the aforementioned “Man Up”, which includes one of The Blue Van’s most tasty riffs to date.

Are we done yet? I think not. Clocking in at a little past 10pm, it is expected that we will see more of the lovable quartet. After a shorter break, the boys reemerge with the ballad “The Singer”, another notable entry from the new record. It comes as no surprise that the show is capped off with the mega hit “Love Shot”, in which a contagious chorus has people singing along with energy till the last second. I could not have asked for a better return to the live arena than a concert with The Blue Van. A true rock’n’roll show that values professional execution, interaction and consistency. The setlist was well selected and distributed, my attention did not falter once. The Blue Van have somehow passed by my radar before, and I am truly surprised that they don't perform in larger venues given their appeal. All the same, I am happy I got to witness them in the intimacy of a small venue with what seemed like a dedicated crowd of fans. As a point of criticism, I could easily have enjoyed a longer set. It's a Friday night and their set finished after an hour and 20 minutes. Despite my continued thirst for rock’n’roll, it was still a brilliant show that deserves a high score. Check them out if you haven't yet!

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