Iceage thrives in a world of contradiction. Their studio recordings do not really sit well within under an umbrella of set genres and their live performances are not exception either. Iceage have been under titles such as hardcore and post punk, but given how clear cut these genres are in the United States, they really can’t mesh well. Given that these guys are outsiders, hailing from Denmark, they are able to utilize the brutality of hardcore punk and the experimental sides of post punk music they invent a style that is totally unique. Beyond their four stellar studio albums, their live set at the Casbah embodied the contradictions and the dangerous side of rock and roll.
On June 5th, I was able to catch Iceage, who brought on tour with them Mary Lattimore, an experimental harpist from Los Angeles. It is an interesting choice to say the least for Iceage to have her play alongside her for the American tour. There is a subversion of expectation to certain bands that would normally open for a band like Iceage but that gives her an upper hand. She is everything that Iceage is not. Her music is bright and melodic, where she would play in a high octave as Iceage would experiment with the dullness of sounds sticking to lower and midtones of drums, bass, and singing. She is American and fits within the context of American experimental music whereas Iceage’s music is informed by their outside perspective of American and British music, trying to emulate it through their perspective. Mary Lattimore exerts feminine qualities through her music being very soft, playful and inviting to our ears yet still mysterious and complex in her playing.
Iceage’s music contains all the mysterious and complexity in their music but the attitude is in the opposite spectrum. They exhibit the masculine side of experimental music, playing aggressively with harsh textures that are almost overbearingly loud. Mary Lattimore gives a nice complimentary set to Iceage’s set to come. She played the harp to a backing track of experimental sounds, which includes a rhythm section of harps playing backwards as well. Her antidotes gave insight to where she was coming from musically with songs about her family’s blind dog to recording stories of living in San Francisco with a bunch of artist. Her performance had everyone silent to hear her music and it was therapy to my ears before changing palettes to Iceage’s sharp and bruiting music.
Iceage came on stage and epitomize everything that made rock and roll dangerous again. In a world where American and even British rock and roll seems to be limp, safe, and lacking in any interesting ideas, Iceage offers what makes rock and roll exciting. I don’t like comparing musicians because it cheapens what the artist has to offer, but they’re music is brooding and unified almost what I would imagine listening to the Stooges would be like. There is a singularity and uniformity to what they are playing, no one in the group strays or expresses individuality rather they all submit to the greater sound and conformity of the music. This idea of unity is also expressed through clothing as well, only sticking to the dreariness of muted colors such as black, brown and dark green patterns.
Elias, the lead vocalist, doesn’t croon but slurs and snarls. It is almost incomprehensible what any of the words are, but music is not necessarily about understand what’s being said, the inflections and the attitudes speak for themselves. There is intensity to his singing, staring at the crowd and agitating them by getting into their face. Someone in the crowd told me he looked “scary” but to me his performance was more thrilling than anything. I can help but grin every time he would come off as threatening because it was all part of the performance or the character he was personifying.
The band’s performance for me was the exceptional highlight of the night. I was standing in front, next to the bass amp and hearing how simple the bass lines were demonstrated the power of rock music. How effective rock music can be is through its directness and how they play their instrument. The bass was simple but authoritative in its sound. The drummer was also a highlight, whereas the bass and guitar were less about melody and more on harsh textures and rhythms, the drums could be noted as the most expressive instrument in the group with songs like “White Rune,” which relied on the drums to move wherever it please. Songs like “Morals” as showcased the drums, where the snare was being beat like it was some sort of funeral march. Other favorites that were played included, “The Lord’s Favorite,” “Plowing Through a Field of Love,” and “Forever.” The new music from “Beyondless” also fit well with the set, which included opener “Hurrah,” “Pain Killer,” “The Day Music Died,” and “Catch It.”
All in all, Iceage played one of my favorite shows this year. Their energy was very contagious and their uniformity in their playing boast strengths. It is hard to really categorize Iceage, they really don’t fit in a category of music and I don’t really think they can either. Seeing them live only puzzled me more about how to contextualize their music, but none the less the thrill did not affect my enjoyment, it might even add more to their mystery.