Live report: ExMS Swedish Showcase in LA, 03/20/2004

ExMS Swedish ShowcaseExport Music Sweden Swedish Showcase
March 20, 2004
The Troubadour, Hollywood, California

What the heck was I thinking? What kind of fool spends their entire weekend driving six hours each way just to see a show? And what kind of lunatic willingly goes with them? As ridiculous as it may sound, my friend Kelly and I did just that the other week. We hopped in her car late Saturday morning for the long, boring drive down to LA for the Export Music Sweden Showcase at the Troubadour in Hollywood.

It pretty much goes without saying that the journey through Central California is barely worth commenting about. There is always the coastal route, but when time is an issue, you can't pick and choose your scenery. So down through the bread-basket of the West we drove, onward and up over the Grapevine where we then began our descent into smoggy, dirty Los Angeles. I'd like to say that something eventful happened along the way, or that we had some sort of amazing enlightening conversation, but no - that would be a lie. We simply listened to music and tried to keep ourselves from zoning out too much. And likewise when we got there: nothing. A perfect example of what's called hurry up and wait. Anyhow, on to the show...

First up was Kristofer ┼str÷m. I've been a fan of Kristofer's for some time now, so he was definitely the person on the bill that I was most excited to see. Of course, the rest of the people in the sparsely populated venue could care less. A number of us gave him our full attention, but it was difficult to not be distracted by the legions of chatterers. No matter, Kristofer performed beautifully and made a few sly, charming comments. "This next song is quiet, so you probably won't hear it," he prefaced before one of his tunes later in the set. Unfortunately, 40 minutes was all we got to hear - just as Kristofer was getting warmed up he told me later. It must be hard doing such an abbreviated performance in front of a less-than-enthusiastic crowd when you are used to headlining shows that can last up to two hours. Still, I was more than pleased I got to see him play at all.

Up second on the bill was Holden. I hadn't heard much more than a song or two from these guys previous to the show, so I had really no idea what to expect. Lucky for me, they kicked it off with "Honeymoon", the one track I knew best. Vocalist Jenny Íhlund immediately had everyone's attention. Having an attractive and energetic frontwoman is always a sure-fire way to get noticed. It doesn't hurt to shed layers of clothing as the set goes on either. But lest I sound shallow, let me assure you that Holden's charms are more than skin-deep. It takes more than a pretty face to keep me interested in a band, and they backed it up well with musical skill, charisma and stage presence. Drummer Johann was especially enthusiastic and a pleasure to watch, too. As for the music, Holden strikes me as a rougher version of Garbage. They've got the same sort of rock-backed-with-electronics vibe, but Holden has far more of the rock. Jenny's voice is far rougher and darker than Shirley Manson's, too. Overall, it's not necessarily the sort of stuff I'd listen to at home, but I definitely enjoyed seeing it in person.

Next was Kamera. I'm not sure what it is, but everytime I'm faced with a new synth-pop band, I always instantly want to hate it. But somehow I rarely do. Maybe it's my heavy metal upbringing, but I just can't shake the prejudice. Anyhow, I listened to Kamera's record on the way down to the show and was feeling kind of lukewarm about them, but they did an excellent job on stage. Their live sound provides just the right amount of edge that I thought was missing from the recording. They had really good energy and stage presence and just simply sounded great. It must also be said that Kamera was my pal Kelly's favorite band of the night. She made me listen to them endlessly on the trip home and I just let her keep the disc when she let me off. They still might not be the sort of thing I'd listen to on a regular basis, but I definitely have newfound respect for them.

Hell on Wheels
Hell on Wheels came on next. Singer/guitarist Rickard had been lying low all day after an extreme night out drinking, so I don't think he even showed up to the venue until right before they hit the stage. And unfortunately, as one would expect from the circumstances, they performed less than perfect. The hangovers were surely a big part of the problem, but I also think they suffered from a less-than-ideal stage set up that had the three members of the band way too far apart. They tried to salvage things, but it just wasn't happening. It's not that it was awful or anything either - I could tell by their expressions that they were simply having an off night. Drummer Johan confessed to me afterwards that he had totally flubbed the first song and I assume that it set a lackluster tone for everyone the rest of the set. I didn't notice the flub myself, I just knew they weren't playing to their full potential. But all is not lost - one mediocre performance does not make them a bad band. Indeed, their newest record "Oh my god! What have I done?" is pretty darn awesome. I've been listening to it a whole bunch recently as a matter of fact. Now I can only hope they return to the US to get a second chance for a better show.

Hardcore Superstar
Okay, last up on the bill was Hardcore Superstar. Men in half-shirts are a funny thing, but somehow some folks still insist on doing it. HS frontman Jocke Berg is one of those people. I'm no authority on the matter, but I guess he pulls it off. Kelly said so and I suppose I'll take her word for it. But that wasn't the first thing I noticed about this band. No, the first thing that hit me was their sheer volume. They were far and away the loudest band of the evening with guitarist Silver's double half-stack leading the charge. As for the actual music, they do the Scandinavian hard-rock thing quite well, but a lot of the details were lost in the wash of sound. From my side of the stage I could barely make out what the guitar was doing half the time, but the rhythm section did a more than adequate job of keeping my attention. That dirty Rickenbacker bass tone, busy drumming and screamy vocals on top actually reminded me a lot of later-era Die Kreuzen at times. And oh man, what a drummer they've got. I could probably watch Magnus Andreasson play all night. He looks like a bit like a younger Tommy Lee, but plays like an absolute madman. Out of control cymbal grabs and triplet fills everywhere. Seriously amazing and totally the highlight of the show for me, just by himself.

At the end of the night there was nothing left to do but to say goodbyes and get a headstart on the long trip home. The aforementioned drinking the night before had left most of the Swedes ready for bed, so off we went on our own way. So was it worth it? Indeed it was. It's not too often I can see a show this diverse where I can honestly say I enjoyed every act. Can't wait 'till next year.
- Avi Roig