Oh Land - September 30, 2013 - The Great Hall, Toronto - Concert Review
Footage + Words: Peter Quincy Ng
Already through a good portion of her North American tour, Denmark’s beloved experimental pop princess Nanna Øland Fabricius decided to venture through my stomping grounds of Toronto, Canada. Although it was Oh Land’s third time to Toronto (first with Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and followed by Sia), officially this was the first time Nanna was the main event instead of the supporting act.
The supporting act was instead an act known as Sun Rai, a two-man-team fronted by Rai Thistlewayte who provided falsetto shrieks over his vocal funk. Thistlewayte was smooth and soulful but it felt like there was something more needed in the mix. Overall good albeit repetitive. Thirty minutes of Sun Rai were followed by roughly thirty minutes of rest before Oh Land, which by then the tiny Great Hall was starting to feel its squeeze. The crowd plateaued around two hundred or so people, and notably even some Danes seemed to crawl out of Toronto’s woodwork.
Walking calmly to a gentle roar of applause, Nanna strolled calmly onto the scene. Wearing the same emblazoned Japan bomber jacket and plaid dress as in her “Pyromaniac” video, Oh Land swooned slowly to the reflective melodies of “Cherry on Top”. The easy-going melodies of her opener, soon gave way to quirky anecdotes, the first one being about being confronted with a lot of male nudity in a Toronto swimming pool and spa. Showing her zany and wild side, Nanna promised to bring the trend to Denmark where nude beaches usually require one piece of clothing. She later explained that most people in Denmark just bring a hat, before throwing off her own jacket and started to get things moving with “Pyromaniac” where she sang, stretched and contorted.
More anecdotes followed with her next two songs, “Bird in an Aeroplane” where she told the story of putting a dead bird in the basket of her bicycle to prevent dogs from eating it. Seeing that Nanna likes to talk, the stories continued on. In “Wolf & I” thunderous percussion and her choral howl told the story of her being fascinated by “Beauty and the Beast” alluding to the deep yellow eyes that stalked Belle in the forest while searching for her love, the Beast.
While my initial expectations of Oh Land’s performance would be somewhat flowery and whimsical, Nanna’s onstage banter at times would prove quite the contrary. Sure there were those songs like “Next Summer”, Nanna’s story about putting love on hold which pompously swayed to Fabricius’ vocal grandeur and finger-snapping “Rainbow” which she invited the fans to sing along to, but for the most part Oh Land’s show felt a lot more grungier.
Perhaps it’s the blue-green hair or grungy plaid, but it seems like Oh Land really wanted to break the chain of cookie-cutter blonde pop songstresses. Staring in dead into the eyes of audience members, Oh Land’s prissy little rap verses asked the question, “Does baby like weird?” on “My Boxer” as nu-metal power chords ripped through and reflecting on her small town upbringings, heavy distortion and droning guitars draped “Sleepy Town”. Never thought I’d say this, but at times the heaviness and depth of sound felt like Oh Land had picked up the Deftones’ touring members.
Without breaking a sweat or stopping to sip her water, Oh Land dance and twirled, yanking her hair in “Renaissance Girls” and keeping audience participation high she played a few songs from her sophomore album with tracks “Sun of a Gun”, “Rainbow” (like previously mentioned) and closed off the show with “White Nights”. Only one song made it from her the experimental nature of her debut LP “Fauna”, where the heavy staccato punch of “Heavy Eyes” and quick vocal bursts quickly evolved into the triumphant immigration tale of “Green Card” (see video below). Joined on a vocal duet by her guitarist, the gently oozing “oohs” and “ahs” were met by violent smashes of cymbal and piano chord clamor.
For the majority of the show Oh Land played mainly from her third record, “Wish Bone”. Talking about that record, Oh Land described the process as being written and done - an analogy to “children” that you have to accept no matter how they turn out. She also added that she was selling her “children” for quite cheap at $10 at the merch table. “Wish Bone” as far as the show was concerned, felt like a compromise between the pop-hooks of the second record and the experimental nature of the first.
Of course, despite the gentle balance from both albums what Oh Land really misses is an opportunity to showcase her voice. A studio album often represents the plateau of an artist’s talent, but for Oh Land that description may be a bit limiting.
While her whimsical performance of “Wolf and I” and the experimental nature of her “Heavy Eyes/Green Card” medleys were definitely praise-worthy, Oh Land’s “Perfection” was literally jaw-dropping. With a dreamy xylophone legato flowing through the sharp noise of synthesized drum snare, Oh Land’s starry-eyed lyrics of female jealousy loftily drifted away as her gently-undulating vocal gymnastics carried her away.
Having been to a fair number of shows, you often come across the disconnect of the smaller indie band/pop act, so to see Oh Land, an act of modest stature in North America not only deliver but exceed initial perceptions if anything is refreshing to say the least. Cleverly gauging the audience, Oh Land knew how to push all the buttons whether it was telling jokes or yelling back to crazed audience members, it truly felt like she wanted to be there despite singing the same songs day in and out. The whole time through Nanna smiled while dancing and twirling or even while belting her heart out on the piano. While I presume Nanna Øland Fabricius never quite made it to center stage as principal dancer during her days as a former ballerina, she most certainly has found her way to center stage as Oh Land.
The show’s rather extensive setlist can be seen below:
Cherry on Top
Bird in an Aeroplane
Wolf & I
Love a Man Dead
Sun of a Gun
Love you Better