Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Kings of Convenience at Metro, 6/10/10

Norwegian folk duo the Kings of Convenience played at Chicago's Metro theater last Thursday. The concert was originally scheduled for last February, but had to be postponed because band member Eirik Glambek Bøe came down with swine flu.  The show was definitely worth the wait.

I'm a moderate fan of the Kings of Convenience.  I was first introduced to the band because band member Erlend Øye toured a couple years ago with my Scandinavian indie rock crush, Jens Lekman.  Erlend's awkward charisma and awesomely bad dancing intrigued me.  I am a fan of the Kings' two older albums, Riot in an Empty Street and Quiet is the New Loud.  They have a quiet, peaceful, melancholy sound that is really nice when you're in the right mood.  I also enjoyed Erlend Øye's techno side projects including the Whitest Boy Alive and his solo album Unrest.  However, I haven't really gotten around to listening to the Kings' new album, Declaration of Independence, even though it's their first record in five years and has been out for almost a year. Which is to say that I wasn't the biggest fan there or the most familiar with the material, but I was interested to see how Erlend's charms held up with material that was darker and less danceable than his solo efforts.

A Californian band called Franklin for Short opened for the group. I had not heard of them before, but they were very impressively bearded.  I half-expected them to sound like Leonard Skynyrd, but they had more of a conventional indie pop rock sound mixed with some alt-country twang.  The band is sort of a blend of twee indie (they have a song named after everyone's least favorite gift, "Electric Blanket") and neo-hippie (hence the beards).  I started out tolerating them, but their general affability, good lead guitar work, and use of the theremin won me over enough.

The audience for the show was different than I envisioned.  Somehow I didn't think that a semi-obscure, Scandinavian folk duo that sounds vaguely like Simon and Garfunkel would have a mostly male, mostly preppy fan base (polo shirts abounded).  Especially not one that loudly shouted and wooed like they were attending a sporting event.  There were times, several in fact, that the audience was louder than the band.

The Kings took the stage a little bit before 8:30 and played for over an hour and half.  Musically, the show was a little less than perfect.  Metro is a larger concert venue and was packed full of rowdy super fans; the King's delicate sound wasn't quite big enough to fill the room.  They also had some technical problems, including Øye's guitar making an irritating feedback noise.  Still, that wasn't really my draw to this show.  Bøe and Øye have known each other since they were fifteen (both are in their mid-30s now), so they had a lived-in onstage chemistry and peppered their performance with humorous stories about each other.  Gangly and bespectacled, Erlend Øye looks like one of the least likely rock stars in the world.  However, he is probably one of the most charismatic performers in indie rock.  Øye's persona definitely emphasizes his awkwardness.  However, he was able to captivate the audience with his off kilter comments and nerdy enthusiasm. At one point, he made the comment, "You are a very strange audience," prompting an audience member to yell back, "You are very strange too!"  Erlend could only nod his head in agreement.

The band played a variety of songs from their different albums, but material from their most popular album, Riot on an Empty Street, was best received by the audience.  Later during the show, Franklin for Short joined the Kings to play back up and finally gave them enough sound to fill up the room.  Additionally, it allowed Erlend to showcase some of his awkward dancing skills.  The highlight of the evening was the closer, a cover of Paul Simon's "You Can Call Me Al."  During which, Erlend encourage the audience to form a dancing circle which he jumped off stage to join.  Along side with Dan Deacon and Greg Gillis (aka. Girl Talk), Øye is one of the few indie rockers with enough pizazz and lunacy to be a genuine rock star.