Stu Larsen

support My Secret Place
author HES date 01/04/14 venue Ideal Bar, Copenhagen, DEN

This is a story about a man and his guitar. And his harmonica. But let's start somewhere completely different. I am a rock magazine writer. According to the prejudice of my classically trained mother, most of what I listen to is just noise. And I understand why rock music may sound to some like a jumble of random noises bumbled together in a mix of abstract patterns. To some extend I will agree that rock music can become crowded and every once in a while I feel the need to get back to the roots and listen to some old school song-forgery and guitar-crafting. That's usually around the time I turn to singer/songwriters. Even though it's in so many ways way to simple to be considered rock, but to some extend it tells the bare and open truth about the guitar as an instrument and a singer as an narrator which is a lesson on all musical styles in general. Some do it extremely well, some fall short because the artist's lack of talent is so blatantly exposed because of the simplicity. This is a case of the latter. But let me once again turn your attention elsewhere:

My Secret Place

On stage are two guys vaguely resembling Kings of Convenience and in many ways of looking at it, the formula is the same: Two men, two guitars. However, the songs they present to us tonight are somewhat different. It's like the band has taken the blue tone endings of some of the Beatles' guitar-walks and some of Oasis' easy, simple chords and put them together in a musical web that is not very challenging for the listener, yet very aesthetically pleasing. There is something that has to do with real good song writing going on here. Unfortunately it would seem there is also an abundance of nerves going on here and in-between songs the jittery tension is manifested through awkward silence. Let me tell you: I'd rather have awkward silence than awkward song writing so let's just conclude that we're on the right track here.

All photos courtesy of Philip B Hansen

Both men have extremely beautiful voices, one is clean cut with the most intriguing falsetto, the other one, who is mainly singing back up, has this rusty potential. Supporting each other splendidly the two men weave in and out of the soundscape creating beautiful, catchy harmonies. I'd say that in spite of the jitters, My Secret Place does a solid job of setting off the gig. At the end of the slot we're asked if "we like country?". The answer is an overwhelming yes and with that comes a transformation as My Secret Place ventures into an upbeat country song. All nerves are instantly evaporated as the two men let go and blend into the upbeat tempo as if it was made for them. Maybe this song should be first at their next show? Overall there's something more here that I'm not quite sure we're getting. I hope I'll get the chance to find it at another one of their shows.

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Stu Larsen

Okay, back to the story about the songwriter and how extremely well he supposedly did: Have you ever seen a man sing a note with his whole body? I mean, not just using his diaphragm or something else like that. Literally singing notes with his entire body? Well if you've ever been to a Stu Larsen gig, there's a chance you have. Getting on his tippy-toes for the higher notes and curling his shoulders forward and down for the lower notes, throwing his head back for wolf’ish hauls and whimpering while turning his head away from the crowd. Stu Larsen is not only the master of resembling the sounds with his body. He is the master of sound. Full stop. Having seen and listened to many a vocalist in my time, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Stu Larsen is the very, very, very best vocalist I have ever, ever, ever heard live: In spite of being directly in from a bus trip from Stockholm and having done no sound check whatsoever, Larsen does not only perform with a mic, he does not only know how to use a mic, he is one with his mic. If you have ever sang by mic, you will know that by enhancing the vocals, a mic can easily distort, treble or sharpen your voice to the extent of completely altering the vocal expression. But Larsen seems to know down to a millimeter where to place his mouth to get the desired sound - moving away mid-through hauls to fade out, moving closer for the lower range bars. His voice ranges from bassy, room-filling lower tones into mid-range melodic bars and frictionless movement into the cleanest, most hazardless falsetto without the slightest sign of transition or effort.

The entire room is packed and the way too small venue Ideal Bar (the low-key "bar"-venue of Vega, Copenhagen) is sold out, but still so quiet you could hear a pin drop - or in this case change being dropped on the floor of the bar. Even just after the first song, the room is ringing with applause and glassy eyed-girls, yours truly being one of them, secretly trying to hide my embarrassingly wet eyes. Yes. I agree. Girls crying at gigs absolutely suck and many a concert-goer has been subjected to undesired outbursts of teenage tears; "this is MY song" etc. But in this case it’s more of a quiet understanding between performer and audience. Talk about wearing your heart on your sleeve; I think Stu Larsen is almost left it in front of us to dissect. This is what brings the dewy eyes upon the crowd - he is unbearably hard not to emphasise with. In many ways what Stu Larsen is lyrically able to, is to put into melodies some kind of absurd degree of honesty - it's like hearing the words you wished from a former lover: "I will fight for you" or the words a mother would never say "and his mother'd be lying if she said she wasn't crying herself to sleep every night" or without reservation pin point the hollowness of existence: "Son, you know what the biggest killer in this world is? It's not money, not drugs, not guns. He said it's loneliness. And it's killing me". Stu Larsen compliments his audience on how quiet they are - where other musicians will probably credit the opposite. But his music is beyond anything like conventional concerts; it’s not a genre or a style, it's storytelling and he does it better than most people that have ever mixed words with melodies. A quiet audience means a listening audience and that is a storyteller’s favourite audience.

But alright, alright it's not all torture of revisiting heartaches and pestering yourself with the fact that the world is going to shits; Lightening up the mood tremendously are the witty stories of Mr. Larsen in-between songs, some of them including tour-adventures with the now ever-so-famous Passenger, that Larsen has toured with over the last 3 years including, but not limited to a story of almost dying in Mexico, stories revolving around Larsen's iconic, long blonde hair is also a great source of laughter as it gets him mistaken for a woman from the back and also gets stuck in his harmonica-brace. The distance between the audience and Larsen gets eviscerated further by these comical reliefs and throughout the gig I find myself in a mental state of extreme melancholy mixed with euphoric laughing - sometimes not being all sure which is which. Thrown into the mix are a couple of newer songs that bring a bit more of an edge to the otherwise very sweet and innocent-looking man on stage, including an unreleased break up-themed song with rather straight-forward lyrics. We also get a cover of Coldplay's "Fix You" (by a fan’s facebook-request) that gives Chris Martin a run for his money and the most soulful, captivating rendition of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready". Some songs are accompanied by harmonica, some with melodic tappings on the guitar body but most of the songs are just done by the sublime mix of "man and guitar". Although having the vocal range of Freddy Mercury, the wisdom of a 70-year-old and the humour of an adolescent boy, this mix just works and as I leave the gig, brain cells infighting over which melody to get stuck on, I laugh as I think to myself "I can't believe this guy used to work in a bank".

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