Roskilde – One of Europe’s largest music festivals, the Roskilde Festival is also one of it’s most diverse, featuring everything from traditional African music to old school death metal. While it is perhaps most notorious for the deaths of nine fans during a 2000 Pearl Jam performance, it is probably better known amongst the people of Denmark and Europeans in general as having a solid lineup of music over it’s four days. While this festival was originally my consolation prize for not getting tickets to the sold out Glastonbury Festival, it turned out to be just as impressive and definitely less muddy (though still quite muddy in it’s own right).
Due to a series of increasingly frustrating complications that I’d rather not get into here, I arrived later than expected on the first night of the fest, thus missing Tame Impala and Foals. I did arrive in time to catch most of Iron Maiden’s set and the metal legends did not disappoint. Seeing them in a large outdoor setting in pretty much the perfect environment. Like many metal bands, they have a larger than life sound that probably works best before a big crowd. Singing along to songs like “The Trooper,” “Fear Of The Dark,” and “Number Of The Beast” with a huge group of Europeans, metalheads and non-metalheads alike, was a pretty incredible experience. The band were obviously enjoying themselves too, with singer Bruce Dickinson commenting particularly on the colourful garb of the audience in contrast to the standard sea of all black clothing seen at the metalfests they normally play. Of course it wouldn’t be an Iron Maiden show without band mascot Eddie, appearing here as a giant, Swamp Thing-esque creature lumbering across the stage. It was an enjoyable set, but I have to wonder what happened to “Run To The Hills?” Come on, Iron Maiden, it’s one of your biggest hits. Throw us a bone here. On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised with the inclusion of a couple songs from their Brave New World album as I’m kind of fond of that one. It wasn’t quite the perfect Iron Maiden set I’d been hoping for but it was still pretty damn good.
After ending my first night at the festival with some metal, I also began the next day with some even heavier metal. Taking in Electric Wizard’s heavy, sludgy set at noon made for an odd sensory experience as it seems like they would be better suited for a midnight performance. However, it was still an impressive display of Sabbathy goodness. Also, their drummer looks like he could do quite well in an Anton LaVey lookalike contest. Awesome. From there I went in the exact opposite direction musically (and sort of geographically – it was on the other side of the park) to check out Wang Li, playing his take on traditional Chinese music on the Jew’s harp and other instruments. He was an impressive and quite charming performer, although even playing on the smallest stage of the festival, he was sometimes in danger of being drowned out by talking from people who were not really there to see him.
Definitely playing to a receptive crowd was Bright Eyes. Rumoured to be Conor Oberst’s final tour under this particular moniker, there was a fair sized audience, eager to hear these songs performed for perhaps the last time. Although something tells me that Oberst isn’t just going to throw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. I somehow doubt that he’s never going to play any of the songs from his sizeable back catalogue ever again, unless his future musical projects take the form of electronic noise collages or jazz accordion compositions. Regardless, they put on a solid set and Oberst seemed to have the crowd in the palm of his hand, as did The Raveonettes, who played later in the day as the first performers on the main stage. Seeing the Danish duo playing a set in their home country was a no brainer. Sure, I barely understood a word they said (OK, I literally only did understand one word they said: “Takk.”) but it was pretty cool to see them play before a pretty huge crowd as sort of hometown heroes.
I figured since I was in Denmark, I should take the time to look into discovering lesser known Danish performers and Acorn Falling fit the bill. The band, led by Lars Kivig, caught my attention because of the pedigree of some of it’s other members, notably cellist John Contreras of Current 93 fame and Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds percussionist Thomas Wydler. Musically, they weren’t too far removed from the musical oeuvres of those bands, playing a form of drone based instrumental music that also brought to mind The Dirty Three and the white noise passages often favoured by Spiritualized. Oh, and they had a saxophone player too. Saxophones are cool. Just ask Dan Bejar.
Bejar’s band, Destroyer, were the lone Canadian act playing the festival on this, Canada’s 144th birthday. I figured it was my duty as a Canadian to see them and I’m glad I did. Having seen mixed reviews of their live shows and being generally unimpressed with Bejar when I had seen him with The New Pornographers, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but Bejar and company put on one hell of a show, due in no small part to the power of the saxophone. Destroyer’s latest album, Kaputt, jumps headfirst into the world of soft rock and is in my opinion, Bejar’s best work yet. It wasn’t until hearing these songs in a live setting though, that it occurred to me how much Bejar’s voice and phrasing combined with this particular musical dressing remind me of Al Stewart of Year Of The Cat fame. Bejar is a pretty interesting performer. Often turning his back on the crowd, or crouching down to take a sip from his drink, he didn’t have much to say, his stage banter tending towards statements like, “Here’s another song.” It seems though that the more he drank, the better and more animated he got (and his stage banter expanded to include shout outs to Jagermeister). Speaking of drinking, as my one nod towards Canada Day, I was wearing a Labatt 50 t-shirt and at one point, I’m pretty sure Bejar spotted me and raised his glass to me in recognition of a fellow countryman. Or he was just drunk and waving his glass around haphazardly, but the former makes for a better story, so I choose to believe that one. Happy Canada Day, Dan Bejar.