Published Oct 20, 2014These days, Danish punk unit Iceage's sound may seem more similar to Jake Bugg and Link Wray than anything Black Flag ever did, but they're still one of the most punk bands around. Their long-awaited return to Toronto's Horseshoe Tavern on Sunday night (October 19) further cemented that notion, as the progressive four-piece provided a short set filled with ramshackle renditions of tracks from their latest album, dipping their toes into the past just once to the dismay of hardcore fans.
Starting out the evening was Toronto-based band the Beverleys. It was clear the '90s never died in the minds of these musicians, as the tight-knit and aggressive three-piece ploughed through a series of songs that sounded even more fuzzed-out and furious than their limited studio output let on. The fast-paced "Bad Company" was a clear standout, but the more melodic offerings from the gravel-throated leads — namely new single "Hoodwink" — hinted at better songs to come from the young band.
As the usual accoutrements on stage were stripped away, a minimalist keyboard setup, guitar and array of odd percussion pieces (a tin of Peek Freans, anyone?) were brought out onto centre stage by the art-y, avant-garde Italian duo Father Murphy. Their inclusion seemed an odd one for the rabid rock fans in attendance, and indeed, most of the crowd didn't know what to make of their cinematic and claustrophobic soundscapes — the only thing more deafening than the sound of the duo's undulating distortion was the silence between songs. Still, by the end of their short but experimental set, a large group had gathered near the foot of the stage, if only to figure out how the hell all those weird sounds were being made.
At that point, the audience seemed to almost double in size, as a sizeable crowd made up of denim-clad strangers in toques and ill-conceived top buns wedged themselves into one another for a closer view of the Copenhagen-based headliners. Attempting to keep the hands of onlookers at bay, Iceage's lead singer Elias Bender Rønnenfelt treaded carefully between his spot on stage and the swarming bodies as he and his band started out with the jaunty opener from new album Plowing Into the Field of Love, "On My Fingers."
It wasn't long before the crowd engulfed the charismatic and flirtatious lead singer, as a swath of sweaty bodies beckoned him closer with arms outstretched to hear him spit their favourite bars from "How Many" and "Glassy Eyed, Dormant and Veiled" (which became a downright necessity after awhile thanks to the crackling quality and gaps in sound from his clearly broken microphone). Future anthem "Abundant Living" got those imbibing alcohol in the audience even rowdier, but it was new favourite "The Lord's Favourite" that got the crowd the most excited, with its sing-along chorus making up for the technical difficulties on stage.
Those looking for some semblance of the past had to sit through "Forever" and "Let it Vanish" — undoubtedly two of the most intricate and interesting songs on the new album — before the band played any of their old material. Although the song is only a year old at this point, it seemed as if the entire crowd were being embraced by a long-lost friend as the opening strains of "Morals" filled the venue, with most in attendance moshing harder than they had all night in the face of Rønnenfelt's accusatory lyrics and glares.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the band decided to end the evening with the last song and title track from their new album. Although lacking the plaintive punch of the studio version, Johan Surrballe Wieth made up for his lack of acoustic guitar and accompanying horn section with a heavily flanged electric attack for "Plowing into the Field of Love," his gaze as steely-eyed as ever as he tried to keep Rønnenfelt's poetic wanderings in check.
Without so much as a goodbye, the band departed after well under an hour on stage, tattered jackets and confused onlookers in tow. They wouldn't return for an encore. Although baffling to some fans wanting to hear older material, it was a powerful statement about the strength of their new songs, and created a sense that the band's recent stylistic change was a worthwhile one.
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