Nordic Giants Live at The Old Market

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Arriving fashionably late, it turns out I’m two hours early. Which is actually quite annoying. However, The Old Market is quite a nice place to hang out and in the end I nod off in my comfy seat in the bar. Rock’n’roll!

It’s a seated gig, and is advertised as such, but it still feels a teensy bit weird; like we’re waiting for an opera or something.

Ok, so, Nordic Giants are two… men? Humans? Well, more accurately, they are two Nordic Giants. They have tribal-looking masks on, and fur pauldrons, and exposed tattoos, and massive headpieces, and feathers and twigs in their hair (I think).

They also have a surprisingly busy video backdrop, which begins with arresting staccato clips of horror films interspersed with inspirational facts about how we’re all made from the fragments of broken stars, and how many miles of blood vessel are in the human brain (100,000 apparently, although I personally think that’s a bit irrelevant if said brain still insists on voting Conservative).

In short, these people are unapologetic hippies.

Which is nice, because with only two of them on a keyboard and a drum kit (presumably with a pretty hefty whack of post-processing), they are managing to produce music which is coaxing out my inner hippy (never very far from the surface anyway) in quite a pleasing way.

What’s that? A bowed guitar with strobes and sans-serif messages about the destruction of our planet? Yes please!

At the end of every track there’s a very slight, pregnant pause before the audience applaud. I think the seating is making us strangely polite, and we’re all a bit hypnotised by both the music and the visuals. We’re ready for more of each track, even though it sounds like the end. Well, that in addition to the fact that their live set doesn’t sound like the records, which, for clarity, I absolutely love!

These videos though. Hmmmm.

I feel like a bastard saying this, as clearly a lot of thought has gone into making this concert a more multi-sensory, more transcendent experience than one might be used to at a live gig. And that’s great; I want to be surprised and delighted, of course. But I don’t think they’ve got it quite right here.

The first video (over the fantastic track “The Seed”) is a strange black and white animation that looks like it’s from the 1930s via a horrible acid trip. I think this works, but as the gig goes on we get more and more narrative-based shorts. None are anything but good, and Nordic Giants are clearly fans of the overblown CGI turned-up-to-eleven genre. That’s fine. I am too, but these require too much of my attention, and I’m afraid I do find it all very distracting.

Here are a couple of examples:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6_cQpwpFFx0

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hWw1jmhpWo

Rather than pull me further into the music, I feel like it’s pushing me away, and furthermore selling their music as if it were a soundtrack in search of a film, which to my mind is selling it short.

I recently reviewed Godspeed You! Black Emperor, who used scratchy video loops in the background of their show, which complimented the music perfectly. I understand that they are an established, successful band, and they can get away with pretty much whatever they like, but I am left wondering whether Nordic Giants could achieve more with less.

However, it’s important to finish by focussing on the music, which was what interested me in this band in the first place.

It was wonderful. Majestic, sweeping, orchestral, distorted, sweet, angry, infectious electronica, played by two mini giants! The venue did a great job on the technical side of things, and everything sounded terrific.

I hope I get to see this band again in a few years, with a slightly more restrained backdrop, and a tad more focus on the (brilliant) music.

 

A version of this review first appeared at http://www.fringereview.co.uk

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