Stu Larsen

support Luke Thompson
author HES date 10/03/15 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

It's Tuesday in Copenhagen and the sun has sporadically warmed our faces as we wait for nightfall. The city will turn freezing but I doubt anyone will feel it in the warm confines of Lille Vega: Stu Larsen is in town and even though it's something the busy commuters will notice, today is a special day - for me at least. Stu Larsen is one of my absolute guilty pleasures, except it's not guilty really. And even as I try, I can't master a single worry that this will be a bad gig: Larsen is consistently better live than any of his releases (and they're pretty solid) - but if you're new here or haven't been convinced yet, follow us as we drift into a half-packed Lille Vega primarily inhabited by very, very young people.

All photos courtesy of philipbh.com

Luke Thompson

Luke Thompson is new to my ears, but I did manage to spin a jumble of tracks before the gig - he has a warm and welcoming voice and plays straight-forward singer/songwriter songs with an ethereal twist. A bit of this is lost onstage as he only sports a guitar tonight, but heaven knows that a guitar and a voice is more than enough to make some magic. He plays one of the best songs I stumbled into during the pre-show listen: "Slowboat to China" which is a wonderfully catchy, folksy track. But it's clear that the nerves are creating a veil of distance as his eyes continuously dart towards the ceiling.

Luke Thompson

But a bit of banter and a few laughs later this is almost gone - Thompson is obviously a great musician and vocalist, as he proves with an unplugged song using the body of the guitar as a bass drum, even managing to hit it every downstroke - something I've never heard before.

Towards the end as Thompson warms up to the crowd and vice versa, Thompson's voice grows darker and louder, bordering on yelling. The intensity weaves in and out in delicate ebbs and flows as Thompson switches between screaming, yelling out choruses and massing quietly through the verses of "Water" as he hammers on the strings in a cathartic crescendo. I wish we’d gotten to know each other like this instead.

7

Stu Larsen

Alright. There is a certain splendour about observing the world in all it's wonder and intricacy and potency. But if you take the time to really study its parts; letting the mountains turn to rocks and then again watch them turn to grains and reduce until they're the simplest mineral - it's still possible to find these most amazing patterns and nuances that you never saw when you were staring at the mountain. That's why good singer/songwriters are often more impactful when they are truly talented: They are that mineral stripped of all the visual aids of the mountain, only impressing with a combination of the most simple atoms. It can go horribly wrong. If just a single atom is out-of-place the mineral collapses - and so does the solo-performance easily.

Stu Larsen

Stu Larsen's hair is long and non-intentionally dreaded. His pants are tight. His beard is in combination with his wild mane covering up most of his face only leaving his clear, glassy eyes in sight really. From inside this wilderness protrudes a rusty voice that is both weathered but strangely young as the sparkly eyes. But his gentle voice is transformed into a piercing falsetto as he adds "oh no nos" or "uh uh uhs" as bridges or fillers, distancing himself from the mic so that only his natural voice fills the room, sounding incredibly fragile as if the wind temporarily took his voice and blew it around the room. During "King Street" - a story of a homeless man in urban Sydney, his voice changes to a massing preach during the verse about this man encountering a clergy. These small touches make every single song more than just 3-4 minutes of entertainment and turn them into stories as we listen closely and so quietly that a dramatic break in melody is so still that I can just sense my photographer's shutter.

Stu Larsen

Since Larsen's last visit, his first full-length "Vagabond" came out and apart from the regular storytelling-focus it also contains a few more upbeat songs like the swinging "Darling If You're Down" and Beatles-grand "Some Kind Of Gypsy" where the crowd is instructed to sing along to the "I need your love, I need your love, won't you give it to me?"-chorus as Larsen weaves in a canon-like version of the verse as soon as the crowd has caught on to the melody. Whereas instructed sing-along sometimes becomes a tedious task to please the performers ego, Larsen's humble approach of "I don't like singing this bit alone" works differently - like we're actually helping him out. These songs didn't work as brilliantly on the record as they do live and it is a testament to Larsen's focus: That the songs were created on the road, for the road. The "Jolene"-channeling single off his latest release "13 Sad Farewells" pleases the crowd as we enter the latter part of the show.

Stu Larsen

But the real magic, the one that I was talking about earlier on: The thing that makes the simple man+guitar equation ring out a more than positive result simply is the storytelling, thematically centered around the concept of "home" written by a man without one and here's the kicker: Not wanting one. Larsen and his gang are notorious men of the road - before he and Mike Rosenberg of the now ever-so-famous Passenger would pack their bags, kiss the dirt of their current origin farewell and live out of a suitcase as they sang around most of Europe, Asia and Oceania. These conditions create great ponderings like "I hate that houses become homes" or when leaving a lover for the next stop on the road "Maybe when I see you I'll feel like I've found my home" but secretly knowing there is no "home" for a vagabond: "Now I'm in Belfast and I threw away your letter". Larsen becomes this bystander to society, observing us through some pretty damn existential glasses.

Stu Larsen

His honest, albeit corny when described, lyrics sometimes just take you by surprise so profoundly that I see grown men tearing up and the goosebumps just line up - you can't hold back because of Larsen's empathetic presence on stage - so compelling that only Hannibal Lecter would stand back unaffected. This particular feeling is usually reserved for movies in pitch-black cinemas where you can secretly dry your eyes in your sleeve - but there is very little darkness to hide yourself in, in front of the small, lit stage and that creates a certain bond in the audience as I see several "It's okay bro I am tearing up too"-looks during heartfelt lyrics like those of "King Street", about a homeless man's mom crying herself to sleep every night.

These three elements of voice, composition and theme make the molecule that is Stu Larsen and the simple construction of only him and his guitar makes these nuances of the whole stand out like small glimpses of light in a crowded and busy life, where the road often beckons, but all we get to answer is a mortgage instead.

Setlist:

  • Seaforth Mackenzie
  • Cocoon
  • Far Away from Here
  • Ferry To Dublin
  • Some Kind of Gypsy
  • 13 Sad Farewells
  • The Mile feat. Luke Thompson
  • Skin & Bones feat. Luke Thompson
  • Darling if You’re Down feat. Luke Thompson
  • Paper Sails
  • King Street
  • San Francisco
  • This Train

Encore:

  • 14. I Will Wait No More

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