King Dude

support Bellhound Choir
author AP date 01/06/16 venue Beta, Copenhagen, DEN

Whilst the street parties of the annual Distortion festival started giving way to even worse barrages of wubwub bass inside Copenhagen’s clubs, those with an affinity for actual distortion had lots of opportunities in town as well to quench their thirst for some rock and metal music played live. Yours truly opted to bicycle toward the nearly sold out BETA for something a little more easygoing however, the chance to watch not only King Dude, but also a local act whose concerts I have been neglecting for too long in Bellhound Choir. There was dark and doleful folk-rock on the programme thus, and should you care to read on, you will discover from the subsequent paragraphs how each of the evening’s two artists fared — purely from a subjective standpoint of course.

All photos courtesy of Stefan Frank thor Straten

Bellhound Choir

There is something utterly magical about Christian Hede Madsen’s solo performance of “Slow Pain”, one of the most mesmerising and disheartening tracks off his latest album ”Imagine the Crackle”, here as the set opener. Even without the presence of his trusty cohort for duets, Camilla Munck, the song burrows its way straight into the heart and has us all stunned in silent awe — which, let’s face it, is exactly the state an audience should be in when watching the unfolding of art. Madsen’s subtle plucking of his Gibson Jaguar (not a Les Paul anymore, I am surprised to discover) and the sound of his gruff, booming voice engulfs the room in an atmosphere of utter dejection, even more potent than on record; so that when his two compatriots for the evening, an upright bassist and a drummer eventually assume their positions for the following “Havoc”, Bellhound Choir well and truly has our attention.

A great guitarist is easily distinguished from an able one by his penchant for improvisation, and this is exactly what Madsen does to the material live. The songs follow their intended structure to be sure, but none of the solos, none of the singing sounds exactly as it does on “Imagine the Crackle”. They take on an organic character, Madsen constantly reinterpreting himself and visibly, physically re-experiencing the emotions that must have gone into writing the LP. And as an audience, it is hard not to experience them as well by shutting one’s eyes and allowing the subtle vastness of that album to surround oneself through choice cuts such as “Selfloathing” and “Black Spot”, or the sex-dripping “Bad Dreams” which Madsen insists is going to be the trigger for some bedside activities for the couples in attendance later tonight.

The thing is, you really need to know and enjoy Bellhound Choir’s music in order to get the most out of it. Even the visual aesthetic requires that knowledge, as the performance aspect of a Bellhound’ show centers itself almost exclusively on Madsen’s face expressions, emotive body movements and skilful handling of his instrument. Things move slowly — there is no jumping or aping around; just one man baring his soul with such passion and conviction it must be the first time I have experienced people afraid to speak or even whisper at a concert. The show grinds to a halt with a fascinating abruptness as “Distant Horizons” is left purposefully unresolved, as if teasing and tempting us to turn up at one of Bellhound Choir’s future shows as well. And at least on my part, so I shall.

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King Dude

The best way to experience the phenomenon that is King Dude must be as a newbie, blue eyed and oblivious to the true nature of his concerts. Such is the spontaneity and darkness of Thomas Jefferson Cowgill’s humour that you just know the jokes will have lost some of their sheen come the second or third time. Nowhere is this realisation better personified than in Cowgill’s bassist — a bald shaven and girlishly charming lady to his left and a recent addition to his touring setup — who has seen and heard enough of his antics to succumb to disbelieving laughter only at Cowgill’s most shocking outbursts, such as waxing about murdering someone and wearing that person’s hair (on his chest, no less!), or dedicating the song “Rosemary” to Charles Manson, ”may he be exonerated soon.”

Indeed, a King Dude concert relies just as heavily on Cowgill’s strange, amusing, and altogether intoxicating personality as it does on the merits of his ‘Luciferian folk’, a term which fairly accurately summarises the style of the music. Imagine a confluence of Johnny Cash, Nick Cave and Tom Waits laced with comical Satanism, menacing yet pleasant, and sun entirely in baritone. The songs are divided into slow, moody ballads reminiscent of Cave’s “Wild Rose” such as “Desolate Hour”, and faster, catchier, stomping tracks like the opening “Black Butterfly” or the closing “Miss September”. The alternation of these two formulas creates an interesting, and captivating dynamic, of afflicted and well written songs that stand in stark contrast to Cowgill’s tongue-in-cheek (at least one would hope so…) banter and rapid emptying of a bottle of Jack Daniel’s in between. A bottle given to him by the venue staff after he asked for one glass, with eyes that spoke ”I know your kind”, if Cowgill is to be believed.

But as much as the spectacle focuses on the main man, his compatriots August Johnson, Tosten Larson and the aforementioned bassist deserve to be mentioned, too. Each plays with versatility, skill and charm, the guitarist / keyboardist (and violinist, on record) emitting a cool, Michael Fassbender-like swagger, the bassist looking looking impassioned and euphoric, like a person who has found her true calling and means to indulge in it whole heartedly. This is just a god damn good, solid rock show, an opportunity for laughter as much as for reflection; for rocking out as much as shutting eyes and breathing in the tunes. Minor criticisms could be offered about King Dude’s ‘two-trick pony’ approach to songwriting (or at least setlist construction) or his neglecting to return for the loudly demanded encore, but overall the consensus seems to be that King Dude came and triumphed, and sent the audience home in glee.

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