Show Review: Loney Dear, Harbors at Cafe Du Nord, 11.9.11

by Raffi Youssoufian on November 15, 2011

All Photos By Carla Deasy

Maybe it’s just me, maybe I’m just getting old, but maybe it’s everyone else who might have thought 9:30pm was too late to start a show, well on a Wednesday anyway.  You’d think someone who has become a critical darling in Sweden, would have had people coming in by the truckload.  Upon arrival, at best the place was maybe half full?  But the education system in Sweden is much better than ours, so my gut is telling me to go with two-fifths full as my official number.  After all accuracy in measurement is the key to successful construction of IKEA furniture.

Loney Dear, real name Emil Svanängen, surprisingly has been putting out music in Sweden for many years.  He’d release four albums until Subpop re-released his third album Loney, Noir in the states in 2007.  Starting the old fashion way, his notoriety was built up mostly from scratch, playing shows, and selling his records in person, gaining steam by simple word of mouth.

The night, sadly didn’t start out too well.  If you’re going to have us lose sleep with a late start time, give us a good reason to.  I really wanted to like the opener, Harbors, but there wasn’t much reason to.  The three piece outfit, guitar/vocals, keyboard/vocals, guitar wasn’t very stylish.  The songs were constructed well, the music was nice, mellow, poppy acoustic rock, but emotively, there wasn’t much there.  They sounded like songs we’ve already heard.  I could easily hear one of them on Alice radio, but sadly, they really gave me no reason to want to remember any of it.

Loney Dear, had one of the more elaborate, one man band set-ups that I’ve seen.  Guitar, keyboards, synth, drum set, and multiple sampling pedals filled the stage, as he stepped up on stage in his socks.  Gracious and friendly, he sat down, greeted the crowd, and jumped into “Name,” a soft, repetitive, but intricate lullaby.  Like most of his songs, there was an sort of easiness to this one.

For those of you not familiar with the one man band, just to be clear about what exactly he’s doing on stage, I will briefly explain.  For example’s sake, he would start on guitar, record a bit, loop it, play another riff, loop it, begins playing something else, loops that, adds another sound, loops that, then come back to the guitar, sing, release one or more of the previous sounds, and so on.  It does take a bit of dexterity and foresight to put everything together live.

His immediate fondness of layering the music shined from the very beginning.  In some way, it’s almost like watching a sculptor, calmly chipping away at the marble block, having already envisioned the finished statue in mind.  And every layer that is added, is another clue closer to guessing what the final sculpture will look like.

The most interesting addition to the layering, was the use of real drums.  Usually the artist will just use a drum track, or record the patting/banging on top of their own guitar’s body, and loop that.  Recording actual drum sounds, live, gave for a much fuller sound.

Loney Dear is one of those artists you definitely need to spend some time with to appreciate.  on first listen he’s nice buy not attention grabbing.  He has a wide range of vocals he can reach.  There were more than a few times he went from a high comparable to Jonsi of Sigur Ros to a more acoustc sounding Damien Rice, all in the same minute.  All of which do garner some attention.  But the more complex the arrangement in the song, with more stimuli, the more I liked it.  It just made for more interesting a performance.  The straight guitar or piano ballads with minimal or no additional samples/looping, were far less stirring.  They were nice, but after you’re given multiple instruments, you don’t want the stripped down solo instrument song anymore.

I was disappointed with the low turn out, but Loney Dear made the most of the evening.  At one point he wanted to go completely acoustic, with no microphones, so he called everyone to squeeze up to the front.  He kept things positive and light the entire evening, keeping those of us still up on a Wednesday night entertained.  I guess we just have to get that word of mouth going here in the states, so he can play a bigger venue with an earlier start time!

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