It seems ridiculous given Jenny Hval’s commitment to the weird that we were expecting a standard show. Perhaps it was the relatively straight forward gig we got at 2013’s Great Escape in support of her promising full band breakthrough record for Sacred Bones Innocence Is Kinky, but we weren’t quite prepared for the accoutrements to her show at The Hope and Ruin. New album Apocalypse, Girl may have only been on the shelf a matter of days but it’s clear from Hval’s increasingly bold, earnest and unsettling lyrics ( e.g “I beckon the cupcake, the huge capitalist clit” and “soft dick rock” from the opening track ‘Kingsize’) and the input of noise artist Lasse Morhaug and Thor Harris (Swans) that she has moved a long way from her relatively conventional previous solo efforts.
Some aspects of her performance artesque presentation worked better than others. One of her two dancers opened the gig walking around the singer filming on an Ipad connected to a projection screen, giving the audience an immediate feel of immersion in the show. When not playing with the technology, the dance and stage show, despite some traces of amateurism, is enveloping. Half-way through the set an unpredictable karaoke sing-along of Toni Braxton’s ‘Unbreak My Heart’ is divisive; those willing to play along and getting into it only slightly outnumbering those recoiling in confusion. While a closing drone that involved Hval laying on the floor went on for longer than was comfortable. Comfort was never the intention.
Despite the obvious effort at presenting something memorable, the ultimate star of the show is Hval’s massive vocal range. In delivering many of her lyrics as spoken word or chant, it means when she does let rip such as on the virtuoso performance of ‘Heaven’ – a song that would nestle comfortably into Thom Yorke’s Eraser – the effect is overwhelming. She’s not quite the finished article, but the rate at which she is devouring different styles of music while still in the first decade of her career reminds us of her compatriot Bjork. It’s a show of peaks and troughs, but the peaks are very high indeed.
An earlier slot from Dill Folly wasn’t a great deal different from the last time we caught her supporting Nissenmondai, which was good from an enjoyment perspective, where Sarah Phelan’s multi-genred electronic workouts were, as usual, accomplished but not from an avoiding repeating ourself perspective!