Danish Punks Iceage Slay in U.S. Debut
The up-and coming musical prodigies live up to their advance press with a killer live show.
The number of minutes that Iceage’s set lasted Friday night at Brooklyn’s Public Assembly was greater than the ages of any of the quartet’s members, but only barely. In just about 22 minutes, the hotly tipped Copenhagen quartet made sure their first American show was one of shrill, brutal efficiency: They played, they saw, they conquered.
In recent weeks, Iceage have become one of the most passionately talked-about bands in the online music press, largely on the strength of their full-length debut, New Brigade (which gets a proper U.S. release June 18 via What’s Your Rupture?). “I’m not going to be playing when I’m old,” singer and guitarist Bender Ronnenfelt told The New York Times on Friday. “I don’t know any bands that have careers we envy.”
Drawing heavily on the darker, more discordant sides of punk, post-punk, and their noisy stepchildren, Iceage were in good company at Public Assembly’s international showcase, joining such similarly bleak-minded acts as Prurient, the Men, the Cult of Youth, and the Lost Tribe. Playing before a sweatily packed crowd at the 450-capacity venue, with onlookers tweeting from outside the windows, the young group stayed true to a less-is-more live aesthetic; Ronnenfelt limited his stage banter to a few casual, tough-to-decipher asides, while shedding his guitar and lifting his mic stand were as close as he came to stage tricks, aside from a quick plunge into the audience. (One or more members of the crowd, however, clambered onto the stage and then tumbled back down again.)
But the songs sounded every bit as rousing as on record. Dan Kjaer Nielsen’s furious drumming stood out even more, particularly during a whirling break on “Broken Bone,” one New Brigade track rapidly making the MP3-blog rounds. By the end of opener “White Rune,” an apocalypse of lacerating, uptempo angst, at least one couple by the bar were making out frantically, which continued throughout the set.
The album’s finale, “You’re Blessed,” was also the show’s closer, and the moment its introductory guitar chords hit, the air filled with raised fists, and there was no doubting this band’s potential reach, which extends not only to music obsessives who know their Killing Joke from their Joy Division, but also to any dude-bro who enjoys a testosterone-soaked guitar anthem.
Yes, Iceage is helping to teach more than a few indie kids how to mosh again — “It’s getting kind of claustrophobic in here,” one guy was overheard saying on his way out — but if you came expecting the sort of live-show brutality documented on the group’s blog, you would have been disappointed. With Ronnenfelt in a blue polo shirt, and the rest of the band — Johan Wieth on guitar and Jakob Tvilling Pless on bass — wearing standard band T-shirts, Iceage looked every bit like what they are: Young men who just graduated from high school (or, in Ronnenfelt’s case, not quite yet), playing in an awesomely loud band, just like so many others in every way except for the devastating precision of their attack.
And the music does feel like an “attack,” no matter how fresh-faced the personnel playing it. On New Brigade’s title track, there’s a moment when all the other instruments fall completely silent, and the guitar bashes out a vaguely martial melody. Those notes hung in the humid air Friday night — technically, Saturday morning — like jagged descendents of a military bugle. By the time Iceage returns to New York, August 20 at Manhattan’s Cake Shop and August 21 at Brooklyn’s Secret Project Robot, expect a small army ready to serve.