Having never played a single show during the first 15 years of their existence, Ulver has spent the last 2 years getting acquainted with the touring routine, apparently well enough to continue it. Ever since their first shows in Finland in 2010, I’ve sworn to never write about the band again. Words don’t do their performance any justice, because in Ulver’s case you had to be there, you had to feel the music seep through your skin and whatever you may say is simply not enough. Yet one year later, on the 21st of April, 2011, we found ourselves in Nosturi club again, wondering what this show was going to be like.
Garm (vocals) started the show by informing the audience that the band will be playing their upcoming album Wars of the Roses in its entirety. This seems to be the usual practice these days, so we expected to hear all the favorite hits at the end. Or so we thought.
The concert was kicked off with a song called “February MMX,” accompanied by trippy videos in the background, the usual Ulver style. Garm’s hypnotizing vocals, lulling beats, dim lights – all the attributes were there to create the unique atmosphere of truly magical tranquility that is inherent to Ulver shows. However, later on, this said tranquility started to trench upon rather depressive feelings and songs like “England,” “September IV,” and “Norwegian Gothic” didn’t really bring sunny associations to one’s mind. Ulver takes you to autumn when you just got adjusted to spring.
The stage lineup was distinctively smaller than before, yet no less crammed with all kinds of electronic gimmickry. I was struggling to find theremin – the instrument that has impressed me so much at the previous show – until I realized that Garm is playing it on a tablet, most likely an iPad. Welcome to the XXI century. In general, the whole stage set-up was a light version of what we had seen earlier.
Ulver’s recent effort, Wars of the Roses, consists of just seven songs, the last one called “Stone Angels” – a painfully long poem by Keith Waldrop, which Daniel O’Sullivan recited to Ulver’s consciousness-obscuring sounds in the background, while avoiding any eye-contact with the audience as much as possible. It was this kind of an artistic experience, where you know there is something about it, but it is somewhere beyond your understanding, so you just get annoyed with its length.
After that, the band left the stage for a short break only to come back and finally play something everyone knew and enjoyed – “Hallways of Always.” Unfortunately, that was it – an eight song show and just one “crowd-pleaser.” As I’ve already mentioned, it is the usual routine nowadays to play entire new records live, but afterwards a proper dessert should be served, topped with the cherries of your catalogue; especially when the new album is clearly not your best endeavor.
In the days of a terribly over-saturated music market, the thing that works and will work to Ulver’s advantage is that they are very different and distinctive, which is a valuable asset. However, dropping the bar you’ve one set so high is always frowned upon. Taken out of context, the Wars of the Roses show was a remarkable dream-like experience. However, compared to the band’s first live performances, this one left a halfhearted aftertaste.
1. February MMX
3. September IV
5. Norwegian Gothic
7. Stone Angels
8. Hallways of Always
Text: Tanja Caciur | Photos: Jana Blomqvist