I wrote recently that Iceland’s Of Monsters and Men had been unable to consolidate and build on the huge fan base they won with their debut album My Head is an Animal and its massively popular lead single ‘Little Talks’ over a further two albums.
For Norway’s AURORA Aksnes quite the opposite is the case. She’s gone from the smallish Deaf Institute to a half-full Ritz (about 700 people) to a half-full Academy 1 (1300 or so) to an almost sold out (2,200) Albert Hall over the course of four years the last and biggest jump being made since the release of A Different Kind of Human Part 2, (June 2019) the second half of a two-part album release the first half of which was an EP, ‘Infections of a Different Kind, Step 1’ in September of last year.
And she’s done it, unlike compatriot Sigrid, without the aid of a massive single; her most popular song probably being tonight’s closer, ‘Running With The Wolves’ from her 2016 debut album All My Demons Greeting Me As A Friend.
Much of that additional support has arisen from the gay community, which made up a sizeable portion of the audience tonight. That community relates easily to an artist who is utterly positive about everything, is angelic in both appearance and attitude as well as vocally, and who ceaselessly encourages everyone to be themselves. Iconic would be an appropriate adjective to use.
From a staging viewpoint she’s gone from hardly any, just a bit of lighting, to a simple but fascinating backdrop which was essentially a huge ‘stone’ wall that could be a playground climbing wall or a prop from a Brendan Fraser Mummy or Schwarzenegger Conan movie. Whether or not the ‘stonewall’ was intended to be interpreted in that sense, well you decide for yourself. Built into it was half a globe, the remainder of it around the back like the dark side of the Moon we never see and on which was projected a never-ending cascade of images including at one point a swarm of bees trying to enter it.
The imagery was terrific though I doubt most of the audience noticed much of it and together with sophisticated lighting (hers together with the Albert Hall’s I guess) and which included very subtle use of strobes, the staging was collectively one of the most impressive examples I’ve seen in a while.
I wish I could say the same about the volume. The first couple of songs, ‘Churchyard’ and ‘All Is Soft Inside’ both from the ‘Infections’ EP, were so quiet at the back you could barely hear them although having one of the Albert Hall’s infamous industrial fans whirring in your ear hole doesn’t help.
Fortunately the volume increased with the arrival of the first of the anthems, ‘Warrior’, and afterwards was usually okay although it dipped again from time to time. One of those occasions was during ‘Murder Song (5,4,3,2,1)’, still her most potent track in my opinion even if she does veer off into territory that might be unpleasant for some of her newer fans.
On this occasion she performed it as a duet with long-time keyboardist/backing vocalist Cecilia as she did with several others. Indeed it could have been the AURORA and Cecilia show on occasion and the latter’s voice is arguably even better than the former’s. Whatever, the end result was the same; there are few songs which match this one for fatalistic endings: “the gun is gone/and so am I/and here I go” physically hangs on the stage. Or at least until that damn fan blows it away.
‘Murder Song’ original video:
AURORA has been able to sustain onstage drama through the three album releases and while she writes about difficult subjects. ‘The Seed’ which is about ecological disaster, with its catchy repeated line from an Indian proverb “You cannot eat money” is actually quite danceable, as is even ‘The River’ one of the most enjoyable performances of the evening despite its gloomy subject of male suicide, and of course the gay anthem ‘Queendom’.
The 15-song set seemed to be over in no time, always a sure sign of a great show, and was played out by ‘Running With The Wolves’ which has had a makeover with an enhanced and powerful synth ending to which AURORA whirls like a dervish. I believe that enhancement was for her Glastonbury performance earlier this year in which she also used dancers. While I’m not a fan of dancers – they can distract from the artist – she uses them sparingly and subtly and with the extra space that seems to be available on the Albert Hall’s stage now it’s a pity that they weren’t here, too.
For the encore, the first song was requested by some ‘super fans’ in the audience and was the rarely performed ‘Through the Eyes of a Child’ from All My Demons…, followed by ‘Daydreamer’ an upbeat Anna Calvi-like comment on gender roles but perhaps not the best one to finish on. Unfortunately she didn’t repeat her solo performance of ‘Infections Of A Different Kind,’ a beautiful song, as she did last year but she’d have needed a piano for that and there wasn’t one.
What surprises me is that she no longer performs ‘Conqueror’ surely her catchiest and most danceable song, which she appears to have dropped for the last two tours now. The audience was certainly up for a dance or two and we even had a couple of middle-aged female head bangers up in the mezzanine.
It’s very difficult to find anything at all to dislike about AURORA but there is one thing I wish she wouldn’t do and that’s talk so much. Telling us how she loves us as much as we love her and how all will be for the best in her best of all possible worlds is fine once, or even twice. But not repeatedly all night. She really could Talk for Norway and one of her lengthy stories, which started as a tribute to ‘Steve’ a tramp she’d helped when he collapsed in front of her – presumably at Bristol the previous night – and which ended five minutes later as an introduction to ‘Murder Song’, was quite entertaining.
But by the time we’d got, at length, to ‘Running With The Wolves’ too many of the audience were running for the last bus.
The UK tour continues through Glasgow (8th November); Newcastle (9th November); Birmingham (10th November); and London (11th November).