6th of May 2009
King’s College, London
I always thought that the weak strand in Nina Persson’s previous attempt for world domination by music was the band’s name. The Cardigans. I mean the Cardigans! It’s not a name to set the world alight. Their first couple of albums had an unusual pop pastiche going on which made them huge in Japan but meant some corners of the rock world viewed them with suspicion. This part of their career came to climax and crescendo with the worldwide hit "Lovefool" but Persson and her fellow Cardigans wanted more than a reputation for perfect pop. Ironically, the album (Gran Turismo) which gave them their best known rock anthem "My Favourite Game" was mainly dominated by synthesiser sounds. Acoustic guitars were more to the fore on the best of their later albums, "Long Gone Before Daylight" (2003) but by this time their commercial, if not their creative peak had passed and the album was largely bypassed in the U.S. and the U.K..
In 2001, having decided that she perhaps need an outlet other than the Cardigans, Nina had finished off an album which she had begun with a loose collaboration of her musical friends. Because it was going to be a one-off and because it was intended to be a ragged gathering of musicians who by chance found themselves under the same roof, she called it "A Camp". It wasn’t meant to be a serious longterm commitment, more a holiday from The Cardigans. So a camp it was and "A Camp" would do.
Persson’s musical mainstay on the album was Nathan Larson, bass player and multi-instrumentalist. Another guy who played on some of the tracks was Niclas Frisk. After that it was back to the Cardigans for two more studio albums including the aforementioned "Long Gone Before Daylight" and a "Best of" which seems to have finally drawn the curtain down on the band. At least for now.
When she decided to work again with Larson and Frisk, this time in a proper band with a long term future, the name "A Camp" was resurrected. Perhaps, band names just aren’t Nina’s strong suit. It must be a nightmare to market.
On Wednesday, A Camp brought their first fullscale European tour to its conclusion before heading out to the States. The second album "Colonia" has been well-received by the press but has perhaps not created the same underground frisson as the first. But how do they fare live?
Well, tonight is a triple-bill with Leona Naess performing an off-beat and charming acoustic set to open. Second up is Kristofer Astrom who doesn’t really have the voice to match his obvious guitar skills.
The main content though is definitely "A Camp". They eschew any Cardigans material opting for a set which is 8-parts new album, 6-parts first album and two covers. The opener "The Crowning" is ideal territory for Persson’s vocals and her dramatic Hollywood-style poses. There is something about the way that the Scandinavian voices the English language on lines like "Let’s raise our glasses to murderous asses like you" which is totally charming and so chic.
Both Larson and Frisk cut dramatic figures in perpetual motion, their guitars pointed skyward. There is indeed a point in the evening when the stage movements and shape-striking does become a little repetitive but this is no major problem. The show continues cutting its way through ballads that emphasise Nina’s vocal qualities and striking lyrical sarcasm to more upbeat songs with great hooks like "Frequent Flyer" and "My America".
Low point? As on the new album, the male vocal on "Golden Teeth and Silver Medals" doesn’t quite cut it. Tonight, Astrom, the support act, handles the duties and he is no better than Nicolai Dunger on the record. The song is perhaps, anyway, a little too Eurovision.
The two covers were well-chosen. First, Grace Jones’ "Done it Again" led by the bass and tightly performed. As an encore, we were given David Bowie’s "Boys Keep Swinging". By this time it was a moment for the band to rock out and the sound became a little bit of a mush, something that Persson’s guidance for the sound guys had carefully avoided the rest of night. But this was fun and the audience sang a long and a great time was had by all.
A great time was had by all. That might just sum up the night. But that name……. A Camp. A Camp! Now that might just halt the next attempt at world domination.