Wang Wen

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author LL date 18/01/18 venue Ideal Bar, Copenhagen, DEN

China's leading post-rock band Wang Wen started their career in 1999 and in these first weeks of January, they just finished recording what will be their 10th full-length album in a studio in Iceland. Even though this is their Danish stop on a European tour celebrating their 9th album "Sweet Home, Go!", we thus get a couple of older tracks as well as one even newer song on the setlist tonight. For me, to witness this talented band live has been long overdue and as I make my way to the show, I'm excited to see how many other Danes feel the same way. In Ideal Bar's small setting about 30 guests appear so while the place never feels crowded tonight, the show does feel both cozy and intimate. This is also the kind of loose impression I get from the fact that the band members walk on stage about half an hour after the announced start of the show, perhaps just pushing the schedule due to the lack of a support band for tonight's proceedings.

All pictures by Rasmus B.S. Hansen

Wang Wen

On record, the band utilizes lots of different guitar sounds as well as strings, horns, and various synth effects, all of which I'm excited to see happen live in front of me. They start their set with a recording of the eerie vocal acapella track "Reset" from their newest album and set the tone already before they actually appear. The six members of the band then manage to fit their six members onto the Ideal Bar stage with an entire corner for their horn player's three instruments (what I judge to be a trumpet, a cornet and a small kind of tuba-looking one) although they do not have live cello or violin with them here. As they break into the atmospheric "Netherworld Water" from their most recent album, both their one guitarist and their bassist weave the sound out of their instruments with bows, the latter of which I haven't seen anyone do before. The guitarists are sitting down for most of the show, allowing especially the middle one of them to reach down to his pedal board to turn some knobs for menacing reverb effects from time to time.

They continue with the majestic and characteristic riff of "Red Wall and Black Wall" which on record has a very tight sound that feels like it reels in their more atmospheric tendencies. Live its steadfast rhythm certainly cements it as very different than the song preceding it but it's also folded out as they play through it very organically and the guitars bend and whirr a bit more in this open space. One of the main joys of listening to Wang Wen for me is the richness in their compositions and in their choice of a million different effects that make sure new curious sounds are always appearing. I'm especially happy to hear my own favorite "Lost in the 21st Century" open with its quirky, wobbly intro figure. The song plays tonight as a jazzy kind of jam that stands out in the overall setlist and is also deservingly received with great applause and even a short cheer after its done.

Two older songs especially stand out in the latter half of the set tonight, the first one being the beautiful "Lonely God" from their 2012 album "0.7" that has some especially prominent cello parts that are delivered to us through the backtrack. It is followed by what I'm pretty sure is "Eight Layer of Hell" from the 2014 album "Eight Horses" that stands out in its very well-crafted ominous sounds that culminate as their middle guitarist bursts into screamed vocals which is a rare appearance on their mostly instrumental tracks. A new song is introduced with the comment that it might be the last time they perform it in exactly the version we will hear tonight, as it has changed character during their recent recording session in Iceland. It is a somewhat more light and open track than the more gloomy ones that often crowd their song catalog so far and as I find is the case with many of their compositions, it manages quickly to establish a mood that is just slightly different than in many other post-rock songs. This, of course, bodes well for the upcoming release.

The last song of the set opens up with a big soundscape and later delves into an expansive trumpet melody that might mark it as "Heart of Ocean" although I'm slightly unsure of this. As the group leave the stage with formal bowing and thank you's, the crowd claps and cheers for a short while before they reappear for a final encore performance before finally repeating their formal and gratuitous bows. Overall, it is a great set by a band that is visibly enjoying performing their songs and weaving the soundscapes carefully together. The intimate confines and lack of high ceiling that is found in more conventional concert spaces don't allow for the more swooping compositions to really open up the place, I find, but there are still magical moments where the emotions poured into the music find their way from the musicians to our ears as well as our hearts.

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