Wow. While I’ve seen Pom Poko play live before and knew what to expect, nothing could prepare me or anyone else in the packed audience for possibly the most dynamic, intense 60 minutes I’ve experienced in a music venue.
It’s almost as if the Norwegians are trying to unshackle themselves from the baggage of their staid Music Conservatory training by putting on the most energetic, rocking show they can possibly muster. They even dress the part, clad in loose fitting T-shirt and shorts, except for vocalist Ragnhild Fangel Jamtveit in a fetching trouser suit although she should too, because she’s the most vigorous of the lot, dancing, shadow-boxing or pogo-ing her way through the entire set, a glorious smile never far from her face despite expending a few thousand calories.
Pom Poko’s first ever visit to Manchester was in support of their debut album, ‘Birthday’ released in February and all but two of the 12 songs were from it, the outsiders being new songs (‘Praise’ and ‘Leg Day’), which I’m informed should be accessible online shortly and both of which sounded slightly poppier than the ‘Birthday’ material.
You know you’re in for something different when the first song, also the first on the album, ‘Theme #1’ opens without any warning (they don’t need any lead-in time they just go straight in), with a Laurie Anderson-style voiceover from Ragnhild, followed within seconds by the pulsing bass lines of Jonas Krøvel and Fripp-like guitar of Martin Miguel Tonne which set the scene for the rest of the evening.
The catchy ‘My Blood’ was the first track to get people dancing and heads nodding, which was how it remained for the rest of the evening, followed by a fantastic rendition of ‘Follow the Lights’ in which Ragnhild played her first and last instrument of the show, a cowbell. The album track sounds quite tame compared to the live version, especially from 2:20 where the pace picks up and the time signature changes. And it was note-perfect.
Pom Poko are no one trick pony, as ‘Birthday’ proved. Two songs, ‘Milk Trust’ (a title I believe I read they made up just by putting two random words together) and particularly ‘Peachy’ are slower and more considered and the latter has a gorgeous melody line to it.
“But now we’ve had our little break, so back to…rock” said Ragnhild and so it was with the Beatles-referenced ‘Day Tripper’ and a chance for Martin Tonne to shine with an extended heavy rock solo.
A little banter with the crowd followed in which Ragnhild asked if it was anyone’s birthday. With 100 people crammed into the room there was a good chance it was and someone claimed, then renounced, it, only for Ragnhild to insist that the song would be dedicate to ‘David’ (not me) all the same. I get the impression that Ragnhild is finding her way around this band-fronting business now, displaying poise and confidence throughout the show and nicely rounding off their collective talents.
When I reviewed ‘Birthday’ I said (a) ‘Crazy Energy Night’ was “manic” and capable of “a shock and awe onslaught” when played live and (b) that ‘If U want me 2 stay’, the most experimental track on the album, would probably end the set.
Little could I have known that they would segue the two together through a shattering transit that lasted almost nine minutes and went right off the scale of any measure you might choose to apply.
With the former all their many skills come together in a cacophony of noise you just don’t want to end, especially when Martin Tonne goes into Warp overdrive.
Then, when you think it couldn’t possibly get any better they switch straight into an industrial improvisational jam and one which gives the opportunity for Jonas and drummer Ola Djupvik to shine, the former producing unearthly sounds from his bass guitar as he almost sexually assaults it on the floor while the latter leathers his kit at the speed of light.
When they came to their customary Norwegian style collective deep bow to the audience they were drenched in sweat, looked all-in and Ola could barely stand up.
Many have attempted to define Pom Poko’s style and failed. It is a melange of so many, it’s difficult to know where to star. Their influences are indie-pop, hard rock, punk, jazz (everyone in Norway does jazz), West African rhythms and the obscure, even bizarre lyrics of compatriot Jenny Hval.
I’m not even going to try. They are unique and the one defining characteristic they have in spades is an effervescence that few other bands possess. As a ‘live act’ they are right up there with the likes of much ‘bigger’ globally recognised bands such as Arcade Fire and Nightwish. I can’t offer a better reference than that.
One of the reasons I write the monthly ‘Nordic Music Scene’ for GIITTV (pardon the little plug for it) is that I’m convinced that the Scandinavian/Nordic region continues to offer some of the very best music in the world and over the last couple of years or so Norway has edged ahead even of Sweden.
That’s thanks to bands like Pom Poko (and a host of others I won’t mention here). While they aren’t mainstream enough to be capable of attracting the same kudos as, say, a-ha, the quality of their music and presentation of it certainly deserves them.
Pom Poko continue their short UK at The Lexington in London on 10th April before moving into Europe and then return to the UK for shows in Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Southampton, Brighton and Cardiff in October. Do yourself a favour. If you can get to one of them, diary it straight away. Then book a few sessions in the gym. It’s exhausting just watching them.