zaterdag 15 november 2014

Esben and the Witch. Live QBus Leiden, 14 November 2014

Photo: Wo.
 Before Esben and the Witch took to the stage, there were other, more mysterious things going on. One guy, a table, loads of electronics and movies projected in the background. 70s Movies, I think. How anonymous can someone make music? Very, I learned. Twiddling knobs, finger settings like playing a keyboard, without the sound, I suppose to create a loop, pushing buttons to release a pre-recorded beat. Slowly but surely soundscapes were let loose on an uninterested audience. Just looking at the guy made my back hurt. Bent over deeply the whole time, becoming one with his knobs, while I watched the laptop next to the sound desk, where the projected film snippets, e.g. Burt Reynolds in a large 70s US car being chased by the police, played also. Not a clue who played, but Internet tells me Hunter Complex. Creating his own soundtrack to selected film clips. It was intriguing; let me stop there.

Next things got even stranger. Again one guy, one table, loads of knobs and one electric guitar. "My grandmother lives on a boat, with a horse", or something like that, in Dutch, while trying to play a monotonous riff on the guitar. It sounded so beyond help, that I couldn't stop myself from laughing.The song was stopped. Either the guy was pulling our leg or the electronics went wrong. After that we got beats in different shapes and sizes and a soft singing guy, in English. There were even recognisable melodies in the songs, at times. Who he is? Internet tells me Zeevonk.

Photo: Wo.
After the table had been cleared it was time for Esben and the Witch. This week the trio featured already on this blog with their latest album, 'A new nature' ( Esben and the Witch plays passionate music in an introverted way. Guitar Thomas Fisher, shaven head, big, dark-rimmed glasses and a beard growing towards ZZ Top proportions, half of the time is playing half turned, away from the audience, not making a connection once. Drummer Daniel Copeman is enraptured within his own rhythms and electronics that he manipulates on the side. So it's all up to singer/bassist/guitarist Rachel Davies, but she isn't a master of communication as well. So it's up to the music.

Of course I wasn't there for nothing. The music Esben and the Witch played was alright, but through a large part of the show I found myself waiting for that little extra, the spark that would make the show magical. My patience paid out, for from the moment Rachel Davies announced some old songs, that I'd never heard before that moment, things changed. Two guitars instead of guitar-bass and more electronics in the background. As one other audience member called it after the show: "it's like a fairytale". Now let Wikipedia claim that the band named itself after a Danish fairytale with the same name.

My opinion on the sort of music Esben and the Witch plays you find by clicking on the provided link, so there's no use to repeat that here. The intimacy of the music is something worthwhile to commemorate. Despite moments that the band goes all out, the main part of the songs are quite intimate. Up to a level that it is just Rachel Davies singing, with silences in between. As if daring us to speak or make some noise. Twice in all. During the first some less pleasant person just kept talking despite incessant hissing and a direct request to stop, the second time it was just silence. Total enrapture.

Photo: Wo.
A trio setting is always difficult to fill all gaps, especially when like Esben and the Witch a lot of the songs are based on atmosphere. Intricate guitar motives and complex drum patters. Patterns is definitely a better word than rhythm in this case. At times sterile vocal melodies, towards the monotonous. That leaves a lot of holes to fill. The class of Esben and the Witch is that they pull this trick off, as quite often they find the magic factor by using dynamics within the songs, by slightly changing patterns and the intenseness of Rachel Davies' singing.

Again the QBus surprised me with a band that good on its stage, the superb quality of the sound, but also the emptiness. How is it possible that so little people find their way to this concert in a town as large as Leiden is? On top of that the city council ordered it to close on 1 December. Where will all the practising bands go? No idea.


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