The Queen Elizabeth Hall, London 09/10/09
These days it takes a lot to get me to take the journey south to London, but Ulver just happen to be one of those very things. Notoriously reclusive and contrary, this is one of only a handful of shows that Ulver will be playing after 15 years of existence, so, obviously, there was quite a sense of anticipation, to say the least.
As befitting the current state of Ulver, long since distanced from their black metal roots, the show was at that bastion of middle-class arty-fartiness the South Bank Centre – The Queen Elizabeth Hall, to be exact – and was one of those pesky sit-down affairs that make you feel at once oh so cultured and oh so OLD.
Opening the show were the UK’s very own Mothlite, yet ANOTHER project from the multi-talented, multi-tasking, Daniel O’Sullivan of Guapo/Miasma/Aethenor renown (?). Crowded into a semi-circle at the front of a stage crammed with bulky equipment, and hemmed in by their own multiple keyboards, the 7 piece outfit dispensed half an hour of truly hypnagogic pop music, conjuring the ghosts of 80’s adult-popsters Talk Talk and Tears For Fears, and also a hint of Ulver themselves with their stately yet spectral, elegiac yet uplifting sense of drama. Despite the jarring sight of what appeared to be a hoodie-clad and confused member of some NME-approved emo band on vocals and occasional keys Mothlite really impressed me, and their multilayered sound with its clarinet, multiple keyboard lines, layered vocals and powerful percussion and loops came across very well indeed in the cavernous interior of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. A great many of the black metal t-shirted Ulver fans hoping in vain for an airing of Bergtatt material seemed to be non-plussed by Mothlite, but on the whole they got an enthusiastic response – particularly when they were joined onstage during their penultimate number by a heavily bearded and slightly tubby-looking Garm himself, who effortlessly eclipsed Mothlites’ impressive enough vocalist with his powerful resonant tones. That appearance boded VERY well for what was about to come…
A small intermission to refuel and drain our collective lizards and lizardettes and it was time for Ulver…coming onto the darkened stage, lurking in the shadows of the stage and lit only by poles of led lights and occasional dramatic swathes of red or white light, the opening number was the powerfully minimalistic and oddly operatic ‘Little Blue Bird’ from ‘A Quick Fix Of Melancholy’. With the 6 band members either chained to banks of synths and processors, or hugging the shadows, it was left to a large videoscreen above the stage to provide the visual stimulation and accompaniment. A sepia toned montage of Leni Riefenstahls swimmers and divers, roiling clouds and an old woman in a rocking chair accompanied the first track. In fact, Riefenstahls’ footage is the common binding thread throughout the whole performance – from the freefalling divers and gliding swimmers, to the footage of the Nazi rallies that were juxtaposed, some seem to think clumsily and deliberately provocatively, with footage of concentration camp survivors, all interspersed with the recurring motifs of clouds and eyes.
This was followed by ‘Rock Massif’, a surprise inclusion from the ‘Svidd Neger’ soundtrack LP, and greeted warmly by the audience. The third track aired tonight was ‘For The Love of God’, the only track aired from ‘Blood Inside’, sadly. By this point, I must admit, intoxication had set in to a great extent, meaning that the rest of the set became pretty much of one piece to me, the lines between tracks blurring, and only jarring me out of my trance with the intermittent equipment buzz that was present in the silences in the set. I can tell you for sure though, that ‘Funebre’ from ‘Shadows of The Sun’, the third track, introduced a female Theremin player named Pamelia Kurstin who enthralled and entranced us with her range of tones, from the familiar insectile whine to a rich, violin-like tone, to a monstrous low-end bass tone. Once the track itself faded down, she was given a solo spot, looping the sounds of the Theremin and adding more lines on top until that too faded out. A beautiful sound. ‘Let the Children Go’, from the same record, was next, followed by what i believe to be an excerpt from ‘Silence teaches Us How to Sing’…as I said, things were a little hazy and tranced-out for me….’Porn piece’ was up next, with a film show of cross cut vintage pornography, and more Nazis. Churchmen and violence – a little obvious and lazy I thought. ‘Plates 16-17’ from ‘The Marriage Of Heaven and Hell’ was given a much welcome airing – its my favourite Ulver recording – next track, according to the setlist, was’ In The Red’, of which i know nothing, but I THINK was coupled with a fast-cut film strip of various mathematical and magickal symbols in quick succession. ‘Hallways Of Always’, from ‘Perdition City’ was greeted VERY warmly by the audience, and was exceptional. Penultimate track was ‘Like Music’ from ‘Shadows of the Sun’, and the final track of the night was a truly fantastic rendition of ‘Not Saved’ from the ‘Silencing The Singing’ Ep, watched from on high by a film presentation that concentrated on the image of a young child, sitting quietly and staring into the camera. At some point towards the end of the set, Pamelia Kurstin came back out and treated us to more gorgeous tones from her Theremin. Once the show was, all too quickly, over, we were treated to the sight of the members of Ulver hugging one another in front of an applauding audience who, upon demanding more, were told by Garm that they HAVE no encore, apologetically.
Incidentally, there were a great many mumbles of discontent that there was no sign of ANY of the black metal material in the set…I would direct those people toward the liner notes of the ‘Metamorphosis’ EP and say no more. One drunken git shouted out at one point that he’d ‘waited 15 years for this and you (Ulver) just fucking STAND THERE!?!’…you DO have to wonder what he expected? An all singing, all dancing Busby Berkley extravaganza?? I guess there always one…
Scribed by: Paul Robertson