Sometimes it’s hard to know how to review a concert. What should take precedence: the performance or the music? Where do the two merge? Is it better to see a band performing excellent songs in a boring manner or a band that has loads of charisma but little musical substance? These were the questions floating around the Horseshoe after Saturday night’s show by Sweden’s Mando Diao, pictured above, and England’s Pop Levi, both of whom delivered intense sets of mediocre rock and roll.
Pop Levi, with a backing band simply called Woman, is an odd mix of the showmanship of glam rock combined with a garage-blues sound. Clad in a multicoloured, vibrant top, he looked eerily transported out of the psychedelic ’60s. His ego was not lacking as he continually looked directly at anyone with a camera, practically begging for his picture to be taken. It was painfully obvious that he only wanted the crowd to watch him as the backing band stood stoicly throughout the whole set, pushed off to the sides of the stage. To juxtapose this, there was barely a moment when he wasn’t moving and he had already worked up a sweat by the time the lengthy opener “Sugar Assault Me Now” was over.
While Levi’s performance was energetic and engaging, his songs left much to be desired. Aside from the poppy “Pick-Me-Up Uppercut,” his songs leaned too heavily on generic blues riffs to be interesting. The bass line for each song was played over and over without variation, meaning that they became extremely annoying by the time each song had finished. It was no wonder the bass player looked so bored. Songs like “Blue Honey” and “Mournin’ Light” were mostly vessels for Pop Levi’s performance and nothing more. Hopefully he’ll start paying more attention to his music and less to his looks or else his career is most likely going to be a short one.
It would take a remarkably strong performance to top Pop Levi, but Mando Diao were up to the challenge. Fueled by singers/guitarists Gustaf Noren and Bjorn Dixgard, the band dealt out a stream of fast-paced garage rock tunes that touched their full catalogue. By the time they came out for their encore, both Noren and Dixgard had to abandon their shirts as they had become completely drenched with sweat. They played off each other perfectly, both giving an overwhelming amount of energy while trying not to overpower the other. After Pop Levi’s exercise in self-grandeur, it was refreshing to see a band that was willing to share the spotlight and work together.
Unfortunately, all their stage presence could not hide the fact that their songs just aren’t that good. They stand as reminders as to why the garage-rock sound of five years ago didn’t last, getting done in by the idea that fuzz and volume can hide the lack of a musical spark. “Good Morning, Herr Horst” sounded like a Franz Ferdinand castaway, while “Killer Kaczynski” was obnoxiously distorted, possibly to hide the fact that the song has no redeeming qualities. Some managed to rise above the rest, including the melodically strong “The Wildfire” and “Song For Aberdeen,” both of which were aided by the soulful sound of the organ, during one of the rare quieter moments where it was actually audible. Aside for these two songs, the rest of the sight was comprised of one forgettable song after another.
Judging by how much dancing was going on, it was doubtful that the crowd cared about the music that was being played onstage. The intensity in the audience only grew as the set went on, a sure sign that they enjoyed the passionate performance by Mando Diao. In the end, that probably matters more than anything else a music critic could say.
Photos by Carrie Musgrave.