The Great Dictators

support Santiago
author LF date 22/01/16 venue Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN

On a cold Friday evening like this one, it's nice to be able to spend one's time with music that both fits the weather with dark and gloomy vibes while at the same time defying it with the heartwarming qualities that it also contains. I've had my eyes on this show for a while since I fell for the local dark indie rockers The Great Dictators' most recent album "Killers" in 2015 and, of course, I then jumped at the chance to check them out live as well for their first performance in 2016. The evening has appropriately been styled as an exploration in americana and we are faced with two good bands, the other one being Santiago whom I have very little experience with prior to this show, that have a very similar musical vibe but nevertheless provide us with two very different experiences tonight.

All pictures by Philip B. Hansen


After a slight delay in the time plan, the melancholic band Santiago take the stage calmly with their country- and folk-induced music. Despite a few problems in the beginning with the sound on their acoustic guitar, the early rendition of "Empty Houses" makes a firm impact, and the band quickly have, at least, the front rows of the audience surely hooked. Apart from regular drums, bass, and guitars, they also have a trumpeter who doubles as a keyboardist as well as a member playing a lap steel guitar. The music soon envelops us with its echoing, long notes from these instruments and it all makes for a very rich sound that seeps out into every corner of the room with a constant undertow from the rolling drums. The deep, delicate voice of their vocalist is captivating as he performs with an expression that comes across as powerful yet in a very vulnerable way. The other members of the band remain mostly anonymous, concentrating on playing their instruments, the guitarist being an occasional exception from this, as he sends big smiles to the audience and at one point seemingly channels his entire body into playing a deeply felt guitar solo.

The band plays for almost an hour but it doesn't get boring or bland as they structure their set very well, for instance contrasting the rest of their set by at one point leaving their vocalist alone on stage for a single song with just him on his acoustic guitar and harmonica. In spite of their mystifying appeal, though, the audience remains standing in an odd semi-circle around the stage, leaving a lot of space in between the band and themselves, and there's a constant buzzing of people talking through much of the set. This is a bit of a shame as the music is very delicate and it takes away from the total experience even though I am still successfully intrigued by this band that I didn't have much knowledge of beforehand.


The Great Dictators

The second band tonight have been a trio for a while now but recently included their live bassist as a full-time member as well and are now a foursome. On stage, though, they are five people, including a member playing the saw and an occasional glockenspiel. As they appear on stage one by one, they glide right into a powerful rendition of the intro track, "Holy Creatures", from their latest record. It presents to us from the very beginning two different facets of the band's music, namely the compelling, underplayed dark drive that underpins most of their songs, as well as how they break through once in a while to some different and dizzying dimension with noisy intensity and sudden screams instead of clean singing. It's as if their music is haunted by a ghost that's constantly looming around a corner and sometimes jumps out to face you full on when you were least expecting it. While it's one thing to witness this dynamic on record, it's an entirely different and thrilling experience to follow it live. They also simply have an exceptionally cool stage presence, playing intensely but with calm, knowing faces, and it all leaves you wondering what kind of universal secret they are aware of that you're not. The mystifying charm that was present before is thus only intensified through this band's set.

Vocalist Dragut Lugalzagosi seems to be looking interestedly into our world from his own plane of existence, being constantly active either dancing around or casually posing in different ways during his singing. Several times when his vocal duties are not needed, he steps down among the audience to spread out loving and thankful hugs for everyone who wants one. He seems to be genuinely enjoying himself for the duration of the set and expresses his own surprise as he suddenly announces almost in disbelief the arrival of their final song after a slightly shorter set than what Santiago delivered. They are however quickly clapped back on the stage to perform a one-song encore by an enthusiastic audience that just wants more. All in all, it has been a fine evening in the company of two very equally balanced bands even though I would not have minded to hear even more from the latter group who fits my personal tastes the best.

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