Music editor Kieran Read reviews Iceage’s murky, raucous and inconsistent recent performance at Birmingham’s Hare & Hounds
Iceage boast an interesting position within punk and indie culture, tethered to both genres relatively equally, though rarely at the same time. The Copenhagen four piece’s latest output, this year’s Beyondless, is the outfit’s most triumphant and accessible yet, a condensed, smoothed-out refinement of the group’s dark sound that falls slightly short of capturing the thrilling rawness of their earlier records. Though undoubtedly captivating, Beyondless is stylistic evolution into territories decidedly less frantic, stepping away from a sound in which the group once thrived.
Their wonderfully understated performance at the Hare & Hounds, a tiny venue that I honestly believed the group would have outgrown, was taken up largely by Beyondless material. This was both expected and slightly unusual; the grandness of the newer material clashed with the venue’s quaintness in a way that’s hard to put to words. There were few theatrics: bathed in red light for the entire performance with additional musicians hidden to the sides, Iceage’s newly expansive sound seemed to grapple for something it never quite reaches in a live setting.
Their latest balancing act of controlled chaos, where each track is tackled with a different ratio of catchy hooks to distorted noise, translated mostly well. When at their most melodic (such as Beyondless hit ‘Pain Killer’ and set closer ‘Catch It’) or most unflinching (cuts like You’re Nothing’s ‘Ecstasy’), the performance would hit it’s greatest highs, however. I suppose the greatest hindrance of Iceage’s set was, in fact, the material they played; Beyondless’ relative safeness throughout it’s non-standout tracks proved not quite captivating enough to maintain the momentum.
Despite this fundamental issue with the newer songs, Iceage were intriguing and adept in their performance. Lead vocalist Elias Bender Rønnenfelt was a subtly formidable yet boyish presence whose investment was both evident but dismissive. Despite frequently riding the boundaries between post-punk, noise and newly Gothic-tinged pop, such commanding calmness from the members was its own form of suggesting they didn’t care in the slightest about any of it. Many of Iceage’s songs include sudden tempo shifts, which each member of the band would hit with little fault. The drumming was consistently excellent, as was the interplay of loud guitars. Iceage remain an excellently modern amalgamation of past greats such as The Stooges and Bauhaus and Nick Cave.
It’s a shame that the culmination of this talent would come primarily in the form of songs that confined such excellence. With little crowd interaction, Iceage would leave the stage not long after they graced it. Throughout, it was hard to shake the feeling that they were much larger than this all, that their elusiveness and critical idolisation engulfed the scenario. I left with appreciation for the band, an acceptance that, despite being caught in a stylistic shift that is both less immediate than New Brigade and less intricate than Plowing Into the Field of Love, they are front runners to their respective genre. Iceage remain essential even when at their least enthralling.
‘Beyondless’ is available now via Matador. Iceage tour Europe in the upcoming months. Tickets are available here.