COVENANT Live in Chicago

If you haven’t heard of the Swedish band COVENANT you have been missing out on what can arguably be called one of the most ingenious, enduring, and addictive EBM bands in existence.

Since teenagers, lead singer and songwriter Eskil Simonsson, keyboardist and main lyricist Joakim Montelius, and computer/keyboardist Clas Nachmanson had shared not only a love of electronic music but of science and philosophy. Their passion is what eventually drove them to form Covenant, the band name they chose to describe their mutual, spiritual bond of brotherhood. From their first single, ‘Replicant’ in 1992, to the present, Covenant has delivered unstoppable electronic dance and industrial tracks laced with heart on sleeve lyrics spread over 6 albums. In 2007, Clas left the band, and a new member, Daniel Myer of Haujobb, came on board joining not only for live performances but also the creation of music for the bands forthcoming new album effectively titled Modern Ruin.

The promised new album prompted a second “teaser” tour, this time of Canada and Northeastern America, with Chicago as the third of 8 consecutive nights. It had been 3 and a half years since Covenant’s last Chicago show and the consent in the house was that of overdue excitement and anticipation. When the few lights supplied to the stage finally went down, we were introduced to a roughly 4 minute long, somewhat ominous musical interlude. hen Daniel arrived on stage giving us another 3 minutes of assorted sounds before Joakim and finally Eskil made their appearance. From the cheers of the crowd, it was obvious their presence had been missed. The band took off into ‘Stalker’, a dark, crushing number that is reminiscent of Front 242 and Nitzer Ebb, who inspired Covenant in the first place. And it didn’t stop there. Songs like ‘Call the Ships to Port’, with its techno rave and catchy melodies, and ‘Bullet’, a song with thought provoking concepts of time and existence, were delivered with blazing honesty as Eskil sang and intensely paced the floor, often stopping to pose intently before bowing to the crowd.

Daniel, with his live drums, brought a new element and added dimension to an already solid ‘Ritual Noise’. But it was during ‘The Men’ that things completely exploded, his energetic batter evoking a pounding urgency that only the dead wouldn’t feel.

During all of this stood Joakim, dark glasses casting a mysterious shade as he bestowed upon us a myriad of rhythms, beats and sounds from his beloved Nord Modular GX2. But often his cool figure would break into fervent yells of distorted words, even flying out from behind his keyboard to dispel them onto the crowd, particularly during the classic ‘Feedback’, and more intensely on tribal beating, static-filled ‘Babel’.

For a brief moment, things slowed down. The achingly beautiful ‘Invisible’ and ‘Silent’, with its deep brooding undertones overlapped by lush strings, was accented by Eskil’s deep, soft voice lending to the songs melancholy nature. All along he had displayed a presence that captivated and spoke of sovereignty, yet he was also able to connect with the crowd in a way not often seen by lead singers. With his intent gaze, penetrating eye contact, and enthusiastic nature he appeared to be equally human as the rest of us and as he continued through the journey of ’20hz’ and the promise of ‘Brave New World’, no one could question the joy or complete satisfaction that was behind his closed eyes and relished smile.

Two new songs were added into the mix. ‘Dynamo Clock’, appropriately named for its heart-pounding, clock-ticking beats, and the bittersweet ‘If I Would Give My Soul’, with its age old question of loves boundaries, both fit in nicely with the bands trademark of emotional lyrics matched with endless dance beats and gave a welcome glimpse of the greatness to come when Modern Ruin finally gets released.

But the shows highlight had to be the stark and powerful performance of ‘We Stand Alone’. Its almost militant marching core and heavily layered whirling keys saw Eskil, at times, become statuesque as he fisted the air, a demanding presence that he shared with the crowd who gladly joined in when handed the mic. It was a great contrast to the flip side of gracious, humble and sincere appreciation that came out during his multitude of thanks to the crowd and as the song closed, a harmonizing moment between Eskil and Daniel that eventually became acapello solidified the camaraderie the band is so well known for.

Covenant’s pulsating performance continued to mesmerize and it was very easy to get immersed in the alluring surge of the music, reveling in the energy of the room, the band, the pure ecstasy of it all. As the band returned for a much demanded encore, culminating in club favorites Like ‘Tears in Rain’ and ‘Dead Stars’, there wasn’t a body in the house that wasn’t moving. Hundreds of feet hitting the floor only added to the throbbing beat. When it was over and Joakim, Daniel, and Eskil each offered one final display of gratitude before departing, there was no doubt of our own gratitude for the night they gave. And as the crowd dispersed, it was clear we collectively all shared the amazing, electrifying and accelerating moments that is Covenant. For those two hours, we stood anything but alone!

by Lori Tarchala
27th May 2010

DELPHIC live at Manchester Ritz

Let’s Do Something Real

In the tradition of some of Manchester’s finest, here are the ‘new’ young men of Delphic, who continued their meteoric rise with a second date in Manchester in as many months. Last time it was at Sankeys, this time at The Ritz and its sticky sprung floor. A 16 point neon star adorned the ceiling of The Ritz, by the end of the night it wasn’t the only star visible.

Delphic have a great, multi-instrumental stage presentation featuring a good mix of synths, guitars, bass and electronic percussion accompanied by a funky live drummer. In some ways, they are like A Certain Ratio gone right! Consisting of James Cook, Matt Cocksedge and Richard Boardman, one of their mottos is “the guitar is dead, long live the guitar”.

But electronics are also a main ingredient. Synths man Rick Boardman said to the BBC earlier this year: “This is going to sound really cool, as if I’ve made it up, and the rest of the band hate me for this, but I have very cool parents. My first musical memory was getting a little Casio keyboard and playing ‘The Model’ by Kraftwerk on it. That was the first thing I learnt.”

Fusing techno club beats with accessible electro pop and guitars, if there is a harder working current live act, I would like to see it. A simple stage set with slanted neon tubing reminiscent of early OMD styling, flickered into life with the concert opener ‘Clarion Call’, the tubing changed red for the next track “Red Lights”, the rest of the stage lighting creating a magnificent visual feast.

The vocodered intro to ‘Doubt’ drew the crowd into a frenzy and tracks flowed seamlessly together with little chance for a breather or introductions. The quite beautiful Pet Shop Boys inspired “Submission” slightly slowed down proceedings, while ‘Halcyon’ suddenly took the gig to the next level, probably the purest ‘pop’ song on the album. This is an instant classic and the sprung dance floor had its work cut out, the crowd went wild and rightly so. We were all getting very sweaty by now.

The set played like a greatest hits gig…that just showed the high quality of every track from their debut album Acolyte. The repeated “let’s do something real” lyrics from ‘This Momentary’ surely summed up the night while the brilliant soon-to-be re-released ‘Counterpoint’ with its New Order meets Orbital sound went down a storm.

A rare live outing for ‘Remain’ started the two track encore, finishing with the euphoric ‘Acolyte’, a complete ‘hands in the air’ clubbing experience. The audience left on a high, I had a broad grin on my face, knowing I had seen a very special group on a very special night.

This was my first Delphic gig and it’s safe to say, it won’t be my last.

MUSE Live at Chicago United Center

Undisclosed Desires

So why is a review of Muse showing up on this, an electropop dominated website? They’re not exactly pop but have elements of the same catchy melodies that sit firmly in your brain; not fully electronic but indulge in lush keyboards and symphonic sounds that at times can compete with bands the likes of Visage, Human League and New Order.

Look past the guitars and drums, if dissected and inspected one can find electronic components in just about every Muse song. They themselves have admitted to influences that range from Queen with Matt Bellamy’s obvious singing style and vocal range to Ultravox, both in keyboard melodies of ‘Apocalypse Please’ and the slow yet climatic build up/tear down ‘Butterflies and Hurricanes’ that is so trademark to ‘Vienna’ and ‘Visions in Blue’.

Muse came together in their teens with one intent; to make great music. Guitarist/pianist/singer/songwriter Matt Bellamy, drummer Dominic Howard and bassist Chris Wolstenholme would eventually conquer the UK and Europe with sold out shows at Wembley Stadium and headlining slots at prestigious festivals. In America it wasn’t so easy. Their earlier albums failed to make much of a dent in the music market despite the quality of their contents. It was even suggested for their second album that Matt lessen the falsettos and re-record a song’the band refused!

However, with Warner Brothers signing the band in 2003, slowly their music began to play in underground formats such as collage radio stations. They would eventually grow from club bookings to more impressive ventures that included a 2007 headlining slot at Chicago’s Lollapalooza. But not until the tour backing their fifth album The Resistance would Muse be able to claim world domination. Selling out Chicago’s United Center, a venue bigger than London’s O2 in literally 3 minutes was proof to even the deadpan non-enthusiasts that Muse’s time in America had finally arrived.

My main influences in music contain all the synth greats: OMD, Depeche Mode, Blancmange, yet I also have an ear for many more musical realms, Muse seeming to fall into one of those. But in reality, this wasn’t going to just be a rock concert but a celebration of the collision of sound, the fuse of old with new, all the sounds I grew up with plus more.

Before Muse even set foot on stage there was an obvious excitement in the air. Known for their brilliant stage shows, the stakes were high that night so how were they ever going to match the spectacle of their last tour, let alone top it? Very easily, or at least that’s how they made it appear.

Three tall ‘skyscrapers’ stood ominously on the stage. Images of white male figures came out and began to ascend up a staircase that was being projected onto the skyscrapers. One after another, white men climbed, perhaps symbolic of Muse’s struggle to make it to the top in America? But if so, then the conclusion which was to see man after man eventually fall down the staircase must be the crumble of the critics and doubters. Cloth coverings also fell to reveal Matt, Dominic and Chris, all standing high in their own scraper letting lose into ‘Uprising’, a song that right away displays their attachment to the electronic world with it’s eerie synth melody conjuring up images of old black and white horror movies. The roar of the crowd became deafening as green lasers cut the air.

Their set list consisted of both new material and older songs that encompassed all but their first album. Matt had a superstar air to him that was, in a lesser sense, Dave Gahan-like. Dominic played his drums with the exuberance of a 10-year-old all the while riding his merry-go-round of a platform, and Chris stood tall, calm, casually pumping his head up and down to the beat.

But if all these electronic components mentioned earlier are in Muse, how then were they projected if a keyboard isn’t a main ingredient of the founding members? Behind the scenes was the mystery man Morgan Nicholls, a knob turning, key punching electrician who produces the beloved clinks, pings and ‘whamphs’ that electropop is so well known for.

And they were often in full force. Moments like ‘Starlight’, with its beautifully simplistic melody that one can argue calls out OMD, were matched by others such as ‘New Born’ and ‘United States of Eurasia’ which found Matt rise up in the scraper to play his brightly illuminated grand piano with the mastery of a man having years of classical training. And it was at these moments one can imagine the 31 year old listening back in the day to Joy Division or Duran Duran.

The light show, choked full of lasers, strobe lights and various videos displayed onto the scrapers added to the already heart-pounding urgency exuberated from hits like ‘Hysteria’ and ‘Map of the Problematique’ which with its ‘Enjoy The Silence’ lines would give any electro-induced rave a run for its money. Even a bit of humour was displayed when, let loose from the dizzying height of the third balcony, big eye ‘balls’ were released during ‘Plug In Baby’. There was no doubt who was in control here.

Muse had definitely risen to the occasion, did the unthinkable and raised the bar yet another notch in the ‘mind-blowing show’ category. It was without a doubt a night to remember and a vision one won’t be getting the pleasure to experience again anytime soon. It’s been said, and without a question, shown that there is a recent resurge in the electronic music camp. So to know that a stadium act like Muse was impacted, and in essence, continues to play with the same knobs, the same technologies that legends like Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys as well as newcomers like La Roux and Little Boots proves they belong with the rest of the greats that The Electricity Club prides itself in indulging.

Consider them the ‘combo package’, the best of both worlds.

by Lori Tarchala
5th May 2010