Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gig review: A Camp at KCLSU

The sad truth of the music industry is that gold sinks and shit floats.

A Camp - Cardigans’ singer, Nina Persson, and her husband, Nathan Larson - should be selling out the Royal Albert Hall, not playing to a couple of hundred people in a student union bar. But, for reasons I cannot begin to fathom, here they are.

You can tell they're bigger than the venue by the swagger with which they take to the stage, launching into a swaggering rendition of The Crowning ("let's raise our glasses to murderous asses") with fists in the air and guitars aimed at the sky.

The band's forté is sugar-coated melancholia - divorce and alienation set to a backdrop of lush, understated pop. Like Fleet Foxes and The Last Shadow Puppets, they hark back to the tinpan alley songbook via the orchestrations of Scott Walker and Phil Spector.

Live, Persson's voice is even stronger than on record, every quiver and fracture hinting at the ache of a broken heartstring - particularly when she sings that love is "poison hidden in a bon bon", on Stronger Than Jesus.

But its not all misery and pessimism. On My America and a handclap-heavy cover of Boys Keep Swinging the band prove they could chew up and spit out any number of lesser indie wannabes. Guitarist (and Benny Andersson lookalike) Niclas Frisk bounds around the stage like a kangaroo who's been force-fed mexican jumping beans, while Larson has an intriguing medieval ritual for swapping guitars with his roadie.

Persson, on the other hand, doesn't move much. But every tiny gesture - a handclap here, a foot on the monitor there - is devilishly sexy, whether she knows it or not.
That her trousers are being held up with Duct Tape only adds to the strange allure.

If I had to hazard a guess as to why A Camp aren't packing out bigger venues, I'd say it has a lot to do with the sugar-coated heyday of the singer's former band ("They did that Romeo and Juliet film, didn't they," notes one audience member). But this is beautiful, timeless music and anyone with working ears should dive right in.

There's a nugget of gold at the bottom.

1. The Crowning
2. Love Has Left The Room
3. Frequent Flyer
4. Angel Of Sadness
5. Walking The Cow (Daniel Johnston cover)
6. Golden Teeth and Silver Medals
7. I've Done It Again (Grace Jones cover)
8. Bear On The Beach
9. I Signed The Line
10. Algebra
11. I Can Buy You
12. Chinatown
13. My America
14. Stronger Than Jesus

15. Song For The Leftovers
16. Boys Keep Swinging (David Bowie cover)

Further listening:
I Can Buy You - music video
("if you don't like this song, you don't like music" - Mark Radcliffe)
Boys Keep Swinging - Radio 2 acoustic session
Stonger Than Jesus - Live at the Swedish Grammis

Chinatown - Harlem session

Pictures courtesy of deejayhart on Flickr

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