Crippled Black Phoenix

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author AP date 14/12/15 venue Lille Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

This past Monday, the time had come to close another year of concerts, with this particular occasion clocking in as my 41st since the onset of 2015 (not including festival shows). That figure is consciously lower than in previous years as other life obligations continue to demand more attention in my everyday, but it nonetheless roughly signifies a concert every nine days, and looking ahead, 2016 does not appear as though it should decrease that rate. What attending shows so often does affect however, is that one inadvertently assumes the role that difficult-to-impress grinch, and the threshold for what constitutes a successful performance rises every time. There is a flipside to this of course: namely that outstanding live acts are much easier to spot, such as the multinational ‘supergroup’ Crippled Black Phoenix, upon whom the honour of concluding the gig year was bestowed. Disheartening though it must have been to discover that just 85 people had bought a ticket in advance at a venue with space for another 315 patrons, the stoner-flavoured post-rock septet managed nonetheless to beat the dire circumstances and send me into the holidays with fireworks.

Photos courtesy of Stefan Frank thor Straten

Crippled Black Phoenix

Initially, there is an unease to be felt in the way the seven musicians hurriedly walk onto the stage and launch into “Rise Up and Fight” without introductions. During this, and the following two songs, I stand with my arms skeptically crossed, only momentarily impressed by a rather sluggish beginning. But as soon as pianist Daisy Chapman assumes lead vocal duty for the beautifully crushing “Brain / Poznan”, the concert enters an upward spiral to which we all fall captive, with the loud volume and crisp mix accommodating to the fullest the range of guitar tones from frontman Daniel Änghede’s SG, Justin Greaves’ hollow-body, and Jonas Stålhammar’s Flying V. Add to that Chapman’s inspired work on the piano, Mark Furnevall’s contributions with synths and backing vocals, Niall Hone’s rumbling bass licks, and Ben Wilsker potent percussion, and you can imagine how all-encompassing, how evocative Crippled Black Phoenix sound in the live setting.

Even more staggering it becomes when Greaves’ longtime collaborator Belinda Kordic joins the outfit on stage to deliver a more fragile variant of singing for “Human Nature Dictates the Downfall of Humans”, “NO!” and “Childhood’s End”; especially the first of these — an initially depressive, Portishead-esque piece that eventually soars into an uplifting crescendo — is absolutely gorgeous, though the heavier “NO!” can certainly hold its own, too. It just works, the moody lighting, the band members’ immersion in the music, and with each passing song it seems ever more difficult to look elsewhere. Contrary to many of the shows I attend, there is no casual chit-chat to be heard here as all eyes are fixed the ‘Phoenix’s not hugely energetic, but nonetheless convincing performance.

Once the aforementioned “Childhood’s End” winds to a conclusion, one almost expects the pinnacle to have been reached early on, but no. The set presses on in a riveting manner all the way through and the audience, yours truly included, faithfully bang their heads along until the humbling “444” and “We Forgotten Who We Are” near the end have us all paralysed by the sheer virtue of their power. These tracks are A-list post-rock, and a lesson in how to build layer upon layer of atmosphere and melody, and then unleash all of it in a dramatic and invigorating, but also terrifying whirlwind that has every spectator speechless. Trust me, I am not alone in making such hyperboles: Änghede himself deems tonight’s show a surprise, the gig on this tour that he will remember in an emotional voice as the whoa-ohs from the latter mentioned song continue to resound in the room courtesy of a very dedicated 85 people.

In the encore, with the time counter now well past two hours, a touched Änghede then leads his compatriots into “Burnt Reynolds” and the faster “Maniac Beast” to place the cap on a surprisingly triumphant concert, all things considered. One can only imagine what this group is capable of in a sold out capacity, but judging by how much they are willing to give to an audience at quarter capacity, it would not be overshooting it to believe they must rank among the best post-rock bands to watch live. It would, however, suit them well to perhaps trim some of the less impactful tracks like “Black Light Generator” or “New Dark Age” that merely rank as ‘solid’ the next time and focus on those that are more obviously to the crowd’s liking. This is a minor point of critique however, and certainly no one saw me with a grimace, let alone itching to get out despite the length of the concert, and how late the hour eventually grew. A fantastic way for me to wrap up a year in music!

8

Setlist:

  • 01. Rise Up and Fight
  • 02. Black Light Generator
  • 03. Long Live Independence
  • 04. The Brain / Poznan
  • 05. Human Nature Dictates the Downfall of Humans
  • 06. NO! (pt. 1)
  • 07. NO! (pt. 2)
  • 08. Childhood’s End
  • 09. New Dark Age
  • 10. Born in a Hurricane
  • 11. Troublemaker
  • 12. Fantastic Justice
  • 13. 444
  • 14. We Forgotten Who We Are

—Encore—

  • 15. Burnt Reynolds
  • 16. Maniac Beast

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