Review: Blaue Blume; Store VEGA, Copenhagen.

Come November’s death throes, it’s cold – in more ways than one – in Copenhagen; an attitudinally uncompromising, yet eminently cool city. It’s that which Blaue Blume, originally of the Jutish peninsula, now call home; not that they necessarily belong here. Because they’re a remarkably welcoming quartet: more warm-hearted than snootily ’cool’; more merely quirky, than in any way cocky. They could of course be forgiven a cocksureness this evening, though; they’ve sold out the art deco Mecca that is Store VEGA, the venue awash with the bated, Tuborg-stewed breath of 1,600-odd…

Once known as Folkets Hus, or ‘The People’s House’, its celebrated boards – renovated in ‘an extensive restoration in 1996’, having been first laid down in 1956 under the eagle-eyed guidance of Vilhelm Lauritzen – have been crept by the similarly estimable likes of Beach House, Deerhunter and Father John Misty as recently as these last few weeks alone. Lost Sons of Boys they may be, but tonight, they’re Copenhagen’s very favourites; less enfants terribles, and more simply terrific. And both the night and the city itself is seemingly theirs.

Nevertheless, that’s not to suggest it’s one to which, to reiterate, they obviously belong: footling around the capital on foot throughout the early afternoon, they’ve seemingly little in common with the city, aside – tenuous though this surely sounds – from Edvard Eriksen’s forever wistful Den lille Havfrue, aka ‘The Little Mermaid’, her bronzed back mercifully turned on the plumes of turgid smoke that ascend skywards from myriad chimneys across the water. There is a similar “manifest[ation] of bliss” to be found in her ignorance as, say, the euphoric chorus from the eternally flamboyant Birthday; one which will, later, inspire a pretty improbable, and borderline comedic clap-along…

It’s a moment that is, by the band’s Jonas Smith’s own admission, starkly at odds with the lugubrious aural glories of Blaue Blume, in much the same way that there is this incredibly stark contrast between their sound and the city which is, tonight at least, all theirs. There is, with this said, a certain point of contact I find to be of particular intrigue: Copenhagen has a strong game in spires, steeples, et cetera; so much so that, in stumbling about the city, you find yourself cricking your neck almost to the point of cracking vertebrae. And, in a slightly less literal sense, you’ve to crane those exact same bones whilst listening to the likes of Sky, so skyscraping are guitarist Robert Jensen Buhl’s idiosyncratically dramatic refrains. (Ironically, or perhaps rather correctly, he’s the assemblage’s in-house flèche enthusiast, and sports a Vor Frelsers Kirke sweater to lug a great array of gear into their newfound rehearsal space the afternoon that follows on from the night before.) There is a finely nuanced ornateness, also, that is common to both the music of Blaue Blume and the celestial architectural manoeuvres – the lights, and darks, and complex, helical campanili – of Lambert van Haven, Lauritz de Thurah et al.; a precision that goes some way beyond the merely neat and precise. One nearer, essentially, to perfection itself.

Irrespective of certain discrepancies, mind, it makes for a fantastic, if not quite commensurately perfect city, that which Smith, Jensen Buhl, the latter’s brother Søren, and Peter Bøgvad inhabit; at least for the time being. This hasn’t always been their natural habitat however, with Hejls – a town on the outskirts of Kolding, with no more than a mere few hundred inhabitants to its welcome sign – where their humble beginnings first murmured. A murmur has since amplified itself, so that it should’ve come to more closely resemble a mutter, followed by an utterance, and now, an utterly irrepressible, irresistible boom. And, as serendipity would have it, booming from a taxi stereo on the way over to VEGA is Sky. It’s a quite incredible number; one that begins akin to Seal’s Kiss from a Rose, prior to blooming into a bloody lovely blast of melodrama that, at climax, sounds capable of sinking the Arctic, or what remnants there are thereof…

Smith’s immutable, yet neo-romantically impotent lamentation – “She couldn’t bare; she couldn’t cope/ Head in her hands, and heavy eyes/ I can give you everything, but it’s nothing at all” – may be muted in favour of DR P4’s news at two, although there’s no subduing, nor silencing the Jute when we speak backstage at VEGA several hours later. I quiz him on the apparent lack of inspiration to have been extracted from, and consequent impact upon an album born in, Copenhagen; he pacifically counters, with all the equipoise of an alas, absent Tranquil Curtains, that although those which compose Syzygy are self-proclaimed “city songs”, the city in question had a negligible bearing on the resultant songs themselves. He cites, nonspecifically, chords and melodies directly reminiscent – to him, at least – of “walking around” certain, if still unspecified streets, “alley[s]” and so on, as well as his apartment on the floor of which, forgetfully and “drunk to the bone”, I crash out once the sun’s risen and swans fly. But it’s here where, by day, night and beyond, the true inspiration behind Syzygy can be found. Because this is an album inspired by person, rather than place; by one denizen of this peripheral love den, rather than the work of Lauritzen, Eriksen, van Haven, de Thurah, or any other resident – past or present – for that matter.

It’s for this reason that, from Helen, to Jealousy and on to début EP Beau & Lorette, a slight brightening in the general mood can be readily, if perhaps still reticently discerned; the dense gloom of those morose early singles lifting a little. It goes without saying that, as has been immortalised in suitably maudlin poetry for what feels like, well, forever, there are those who find a sense of belonging in someone, rather than somewhere; a mantra to which, admittedly, I myself subscribe. I find that people, rather than places, tend to feel more homely, more immediately – it may be for this very reason that I’ve found the music of Blaue Blume to be invariably resonant, no matter the track. But, by this same token, those which ultimately made them – the likes of Helen and Jealousy, without which tonight might never have even become conceivable – are here omitted, Smith having moved on in every respect since that time.

He remains eminently, and with that vocally cognisant of the fact that he doesn’t necessarily belong here in Copenhagen (he’s been stopped in the street on no more than a mere handful of occasions, recognised only as “the guy from [this or] that magazine”); indeed, he goes so far as to intimate toward a latent consternation at his not knowingly belonging anywhere at all. And so, in keeping with the album’s title – which, elliptically, signifies ‘a pair of connected or corresponding things’ – it could be posited that Smith feels as though he has, at last, found his perfect foil. As celebrated Swiss psychiatrist and psychotherapist, and the founder of analytical psychology, C. G. Jung puts it, ‘Their opposition is that of the sexes. They therefore represent a supreme pair of opposites, not hopelessly divided by logical contradiction but, because of the mutual attraction between them, giving promise of union and actually making it possible.’

And there are, throughout Syzygy, lyrics which are pretty much impossibly loved-up – whether they concern Smith’s struggling to stifle a smile (Candy), or the mirrored leitmotif to the forever-revelatory diptych that is Epoch / Gently Lovely Baby, its two bits concluding the album’s both sides. “I saw you, forever at the party/ I never thought you’d see me” Smith concedes, still disbelieving, repeatedly at the first time of asking; going on to reminisce about “rush[ing] through the streets, gullible and smiling.” In another moment’s intense contemplation, he recalls: “You kissed my ear, and whispered something, and threw yourself into the flames/ And I quickly followed,’cause you were mine”, this so sincere a sentiment that it was published, in full, on the sleeve of Syzygy. Then, a final plea: “Love me forever, until the sunlight blows up in our sleepy eyes.”

This isn’t the only, lone occasion on which Smith’s eyes are rendered redundant, however: Gently Lovely Baby hears him soothe, before a roomful of friends, vague acquaintances and complete, total strangers, “She was something to observe, really something/ I am charming at my best; I was nothing”, the latter clause later replaced with the innately intimate mea culpa, “I have nothing but my love, I guess it’s something.” But Smith’s intrinsically committed admissions, and musings on life and love alike, ensure there’s so much more to the meek songsmith than he’s necessarily letting on here. His grasp of the English lingo never relents nor loosens either, his appreciation of its “smooth” malleability giving rise to all kinds of idiosyncratic, vernacular head-turning twists and tongue-twisting turns. His is also a vocal which matches up to his intricately labyrinthine scripts, his quivering delivery rarely, if ever allowing signs of supposed anxiety and “nervous[ness]” to shine through what is an exemplarily well-polished sheen.

Thus whether toasting “the end” during On New Year’s Eve, which doesn’t quite end with the lyric: “We fall in love, then fall apart” but is surely remembered both for and by it, or articulating punch-drunk devotion throughout Buoyant Forces, his is an irreproachable performance. Lyrically, it’s the latter that hears Smith at his most formidable, similes and similarly impactful metaphors pouring from his every pore. “Take a sip of desire, and give me fire for my fire/ When we circle around the night, time goes by so fast, we could easily die/ Never mind: at your side, nothing else matters but the glimpse of time, shimmering desire in sleepy eyes” he begins above Robert’s decidedly summery, Prince-ly strummery; a second verse benefitting from a comparatively vital lyrical, emotional outlay. (“Take a sip of desire, and give me fire for my fire/ In the memory of this time, we can hide forever in a turquoise night/ Swim in tides in white lights, and live inside a bubble that never bursts/ But flies careless like a cloud in endless skies” surely represents one of Smith’s most flagrantly rococo poeticisms…) Nonetheless, there is not one more revealing than the line, “We are so in love, and so tired/ But ever so alive; never so inspired.” For here, we find ‘a pair of [directly] connected or corresponding things’ in not his life and his love, but rather his love and his livelihood alimenting one another. (And, incredulous though Robert may be in his Vor Frelsers Kirke sweater, they’re now making the kind of cool, hard-earned cash of which their craft is quite incontrovertibly worthy…)

But if Smith and his beloved are “barely the only ones to drift around town in unforgettable hours,” as we’ll later indeed do, along with a few dozen others in a tight-knit nighttime coterie, he’s also mindful of the fact that Blaue Blume remain a decisively divisive band. Reverting to his quiet longing to belong, he proffers this as the potential, and potentially central reason as to why there are those who don’t “get it.” (Baroque-rock is, lest we forget [or perhaps rather inform, given that this is not exactly the most prevalent of readily available genres], somewhat recherché a concern, all things considered.) But tonight, it’s ineffably faith-restoring to see so many people invested, or “enmeshed” – emotionally, financially, and so on and so forth – in this invariably brilliant four-piece.

Blaue Blume, Store VEGA

As I come to discover over the course of the afternoon, the quondam ‘stronghold of the Danish Workers’ Union movement’ really mirrors those inside this evening, in that although Lauritzen’s design may be somewhat brutal on the outside, internally, it’s warm and welcoming in equal measure. ‘Dark wood paneling, mahogany floors, friezes, and the many original details including railings, balustrades and lamps in typical Scandinavian style’ provide a sublime backdrop against which the evening unravels; the sound – courtesy of such ligneous acoustics – as soft as earplugs, without prompting a prompt rifling through cellophane-enslaving pockets for the sodding things. The room, illumined by what look like upturned teeny, tiny mushrooms, is a magical one; the night, too.

It’s one which begins with the candid introduction of Sebastian Plano, on behalf of the brothers Jensen Buhl; something they feel compelled to do, in order to inaugurate the evening and let people know that, “OK, the show begins now.” The room warms immediately to the Argentine’s plaintive scrapes of MIDI-infused cello with these – both lithe and very much enlivening – enamouring more or less without fail. Søren, in a blanched shirt that’s as blemish-free as the sound cascading down from the speakers hung overhead, can be seen rubbing shoulders and cheeks likewise with those ensconced deep in Plano’s Nils Frahm-informed and -enthusing, neo-classical escapades; the chasm that so often separates artist from audience is nigh on, if not entirely nonexistent tonight.

And such is Blaue Blume’s meticulous attention to detail that, having first encountered Plano in San Francisco while the Scandinavians vagabonded the States, he’s been flown over from Berlin – where he currently resides – on no fewer than three separate occasions on this one tour alone. This level of curation thus adds both gravitas and gravity to proceedings; the nagging sense that, no matter how big tonight’s venue might seem, this is, seemingly, all the more enormous an occasion for all involved.

It’s something that isn’t necessarily demonstrated in the crowd’s reaction, however; it’s hard not to think of the Thinking of Roxy lyric concerning “the party where nobody danced” at times. But, as becomes increasingly obvious (and has been duly noted by the admirably academic Robert), this is a show of private appreciation, rather than public adulation. And it suits those more subtle numbers down to the ground, long before the uproarious scenes which greet Birthday and In Disco Lights, come a conclusively triumphant encore…

There are no pyrotechnics, nor anything that – technically, or otherwise – really differentiates it from the rest of tonight’s set; theirs is a spare setup, with no amplifiers to be found nor seen, and only one lonely microphone onstage – that stood before Smith. It’s an audacious move – bold as the music so often is, in and of itself – but it’s pulled off with such aplomb that, by the time Gently Lovely Baby rears its beautiful features, the barmen up on the balcony leave their taps of exorbitant Tuborg unmanned for around five entire minutes. It’s followed up by Lemon Tree, from Beau & Lorette; a track that, tonight, has blossomed into the bombastic opus that Blaue Blume had always believed it doubtless would. (Incidentally, that it perhaps hadn’t done so prior to tonight probably explains its conspicuous absence from the album’s finalised tracklisting.)

Together with the preceding Gently Lovely Baby, it makes for a forbidding duo; a one-two that’s punchy as Søren’s skin-tight drums. They rumble, bound and pound away with poise and purpose throughout, although it’s this sense of indestructible synergy in which he and Robert, as well as de herrer Bøgvad og Smith, share – as well as Syzygy, needless to say – that is starting to really, truly set them apart; both above, and indeed beyond. All of which makes the ludicrous incongruity of seeing arms aloft, from the back to the front of Store VEGA, seem that little bit less preposterous. It’s Smith’s bemoaning, almost gurgled, “The party is over” which then brings the alas, inevitable end to it all into acute focus; but, on this evidence, this is just the beginning of a brighter future, filled with bigger venues brimming to tipping point, as Store VEGA is tonight. For the time being though, aside from Syzygy and synergies, there is this one prevailing impression, and that is thus: that not only Smith – the beau, if you will – and his cherished belle ‘represent a supreme pair of opposites … giving promise of union and actually making it possible’, but so too do he and his band.

Blaue Blume, Store VEGA

Because if Bøgvad and the brothers Jensen Buhl may be attired as though their parents are in attendance – which, rather inevitably, they are – then Smith, every bit the untidy truant or truculent teen, is if not compliant with the apparent dress code, then supreme complement. In refusing to change out of the khaki tee he’s been secreting himself into, secretively, all afternoon, he draws attentions away from the occasion – and the momentous sense thereof; as well as Copenhagen, arguably – and back to their humble beginnings in Hejls. His drainpipes forever threaten to snake their way down his loose, if never lost hips; there may be a Mark E. Smith-like curmudgeonliness to his performance for denouement, Epoch; a Lesley Gore-y narcissism to Birthday. But, despite these fragile, fleeting glimpses not of selling out per se, but of selling out such a venue, as private appreciation exceeds public adulation, their feet are kept firmly on the ground. Which, when taking into account the various contexts and subtexts of tonight, is one thing; that they’ve righted my wrongful reservation previous – that ‘the stadium aspirations are all well and good, [but] they feel rather premature’ – is quite another. Because it’s so disastrously rare, contemporarily speaking, to unabashedly buy into – not to mention everything by – and really “get” a band to the same extent that I do Blaue Blume. And, feeling as proud as a puff-chested begetter myself, I can only envisage how theirs must feel on nights like tonight, under disco lights. Because these Lost Sons of Boys have at last found themselves, and long may they continue to find themselves in as propitious a position as this…