The Horrors

support S.C.U.M
author TL date 12/11/11 venue Loppen, Copenhagen, DEN

Despite their name and their at times rather odd sense of style (one's got to wonder if some cynical label man was behind the band's early promo shots), the British quintet known as The Horrors don't really have anything to do with goth or emo or whatever else you might have thought when you first saw them or heard their name. It's much simpler than that really, with the band's debut LP "Strange House" casting them with a noisy, retro, horror-tinged post-punk sound - One that I've yet to find very appealing to be honest. Fortunately, the guys in the band have grown as musicians since then, developing a side to their band on their two following albums "Primary Colours" and "Skying" that's much less noisy, and much more of an eerie, psychedelic take on British indie rock. This has proven a good move for them, as both "Primary Colours" and "Skying" received great reviews across the board, so why I wonder, are they only booked to play at Loppen tonight? The place is as packed as I can remember having seen it, and I've been here a lot. I guess it's preferrable though, to us all being at Vega with half a mile between each of us, I just have to remind myself of this, as I struggle to not knock over someone who looks like they walked out of a clothing ad in Soundvenue, every time I want to either move or take a swig of my beer.


While one could spend the whole night cracking jokes about hipsters however, I choose to rather close in on the stage to check out the support band S.C.U.M, likewise a British quintet, whose bassist Huw Webb is the little brother of The Horrors bassist Rhys Webb. As the five rather bohemian looking musicians come on stage and initiate their artsy, heavy-on-electronics, indie-rock however, singer Thomas Cohen quickly notices that things are not good with his in-ear system, nor seemingly with his monitor. The band soldiers through the first song regardless however, while the audience gets a good chance to notice that the mix isn't exactly spectacular in the speakers that are facing them. Cohen's vocals, which sound a bit like a mix of Brian Molko (Placebo), Matt Bellamy (Muse) and Brett Anderson (Suede) are almost inaudible, and with less than fifty percent of his notes coming out, making any sort of sense of what's being sung is entirely impossible. Moreover, as low as the vocals are in the mix, they're loud as a jet engine compared to the guitar, which is consistently deafened by the omnipotent keys and electronics delivered by Samuel Kilcoyne and Bradley Baker. Long story short, S.C.U.M sound less than pretty tonight, something that initially seems to bother them more than the audience, who seem to not be quite sure what to make of this all. Eventually, the band seems to resign to make the best of it though, with Webb occasionally attempting to smile it all off, and Cohen delivering his singing with some queer moves that seems like a bit of a challenge aimed at the crowd, as if he wants to provoke them into paying attention and maybe rocking out a bit. With a short set and the sonic issues never brought under control however, S.C.U.M eventually round things off rather unceremoniously, probably knowing that even die hard fans have to acknowledge that this wasn't their best night ever.

The Horrors

Not wanting to endure the wait between bands without refreshment, I head to the bar to get a beer for each hand, effectively giving up my spot in the throng of people and having to resign to a less than prominent position below the rightmost speakers. From here I can't quite make out the titles on the setlist taped to the floor of the stage, but I can count that we're in for a set that's eleven songs short. I have time to speculate that this is probably due to the band only recently returning to touring action, after a break forced by singer Faris Badwan falling sick, and then soon, the roadies clear the stage and are replaced by the band itself. The guys kick off the show in business like manner, appearing every bit the pros who are likely used to playing bigger and even more crowded venues than this one. Hence, it doesn't seem to cause them much distraction that their sound initially also isn't exactly spot on. It hinders their connection with the crowd however, that the people at the sound desk struggle with finding the right balance between vocals, keys and guitar, and at one point it almost seems like the keys disappear and take Badwan's monitor with them, leaving him to struggle some with his notes.

The show drags on like this for just long enough for me to start thinking that it's a bit of a disappointment, when suddenly, about halfway through, all the pieces of the puzzle seem to fall into place. The sound gets sorted out just in time for the best numbers on the setlist, the entirety of which is made up of songs from the two latest albums if I'm not mistaken, and suddenly, the whole experience changes tremendously towards the better. Not being distracted by the mixing woes, it is suddenly much easier to notice the active rocking out of the band members, and the intensity of Badwan, who grasps his mic stand as if his life depends on it, his dark voice and appearance casting him as the archetypical, unpredictable Jim Morrison-ish rock star. He doesn't interact with the crowd much other than saying "thanks" in a cool, deep, Elvis-like manner facing the growing applause between songs, yet clearly, here's a guy who has the intangibles necessary to keep everyone's eyes fixed on him without doing much. He is definitely helped though, by his band suddenly playing with a feeling that is much more dynamic than on their records. The sort of detached feeling you get listening to their albums is replaced here with a good, old-fashioned desire to rock, and songs like "Endless Blue", "Sea Within A Sea" and "Still Life" - which closes the regular set - hit all the right buttons, effectively priming us for another burst of quality when the band soon reappears to treat us to "Mirror's Image", "Three Decades" and "Moving Further Away", which eventually rounds off the night in an appropriate mess of feedback.

The question is, how does one grade a concert which was split down the middle, with the first half merely decent and the second part fully awesome? Should the initial problems drag down the grade severely? Especially considering that the set wasn't even any longer than 11 songs? Well, I guess some penalty is in order, but honestly, the impression I leave with is the one from late in the show, when The Horrors showed me that they can be among the best live-bands I've seen since I started getting into this whole realm of hip indie-rock, that people who read Pitchfork and Soundvenue go crazy for. So yeah, let's make it ½-1 grade off the top, and then still give The Horrors a grade that signifies what's really important, namely that I'll still be lining up eagerly whenever their next album or show in town comes around.

All photos courtesy of Jonas Smidt Mogensen

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