You know how some people can just walk into a room, and instantly take control of it? All eyes will shift to them, all attention will be focused squarely on them, the entire congregation will hang on their every word. Think Penny Lane from Cameron Crowe’s wonderful Almost Famous – when she walks into Stillwater’s hotel room, starts reciting the pre-flight safety spiel, and commands the rapt attention of every last person in earshot. The kind of person who doesn’t have to demand that the world revolve around them – it just happens naturally.
That’s what Nina Persson was last night.
Looking casually glamorous, wearing a loose black top and black jeans, from the moment she emerged from backstage to the very final bow, she was the prototypical front-woman, throwing subtle shapes as her voice echoed around the room.
The night started with a strong support set from Swedish songsmith Kristofer Åström. Playing solo for the most part (although some guests were called up for duets), he was very much of a kind with acts like Damien Rice and Ryan Adams. His unadorned voice and chorus pedal-boosted guitar combined to wonderful effect throughout, and his penultimate song – “Hard To Live”, a lonely ballad, sung with A Camp’s keyboardist – was a genuine revelation.
Then the house lights dimmed, some ornate lamps around the the stage lit up, casting a soft orange glow across the drum riser, and A Camp took the stage to a warm reception. Two things were almost immediately noticeable. Firstly, while on record, A Camp are a great pop band, playing live they morph into a fantastic rock band, all fuzzed-out bass-lines and thunderous, pounding drums, without losing a trace of their melodic flair. Secondly, they’re an amazingly energetic, theatrical band – with guitarist Niclas Frisk constantly dancing and smiling wildly, while Nathan Larson repeatedly held his bass aloft, his fingers gliding along the frets as he aimed the neck at the drummer, locking into an impeccably tight rhythm.
But while the band were undoubtedly on-point and entertaining, Persson was always going to receive the most attention, and rightly so. As they opened with “The Crowning”, from recent release Colonia, she took the increased volume and energy of the live band, and used it to turn the song into a brilliantly dynamic, thrilling ride. And that was the general theme for the night: every song had something special added to it in a live setting – “The Weed Had Got There First” became incredibly atmospheric as Persson demanded the lights be dimmed almost completely for the duration; “Chinatown” was preceded by a brilliantly delirious space-rock jam from Frisk. They even turned Daniel Johnston’s “Walking The Cow” into a bouncy pop party-piece, and even more surprisingly, made that work somehow.
A particular, peculiar highlight of the night was the moment when a devoted fan ran to the stage, clutching a bunch of tulips, and waving for Nina’s attention. When she motioned for him to give her the flowers, his throw was impossibly wide of the mark, which was enough to make her momentarily lose her composure and laugh. Still, it was a nice gesture, even if the execution was a little lacklustre.
Finally, after two encores, and huge renditions of their two biggest singles – “I Can Buy You” (which the band enjoyed immensely, from the looks of things) and “Stronger Than Jesus” (which was utterly captivating) – the band departed the stage. Soon after, they showed up at the merchandise stand to sign anything the fans wanted, which was lovely.
All in all, it far surpassed my expectations for the night – I enjoyed Colonia immensely, but this was something else, something bigger. A Camp in concert is a different animal to A Camp in the studio, and I can’t recommend seeing the animal live highly enough.
But if you’re gonna throw flowers, maybe try practicing first.