Årabrot at Downstairs at The Dome

Support: Karin Park| Jaye Jayle
November 11, 2023 at Downstairs at The Dome

Tonight’s line-up feels meant to be. Årabrot, comprised by core duo Kjetil Nernes and Karin Park alongside touring drummer Dahm Majuri Cipolla (MONO) are no stranger to London: I’ve seen Norway’s darkest noise rockers here a handful of times over the last few years. But it’s the first that they’re playing alongside Karin’s solo show, which – while it certainly brings pop and pumping electro into the rock ‘n’ roll arena – feels perfect nonetheless. What is most perfect, though is the addition of a solo show from Jaye Jayle, aka Evan Patterson, Louisville’s trippiest blues band. It all has the feel of family: quite literally in that Karin and Kjetil are a married couple who live with their kids in a deconsecrated Swedish church, but figuratively in that both bands released their latest albums on Pelagic and play perfectly complementary forms of ominous, brooding rock music. 

Tonight’s venue is Downstairs at The Dome, formerly the Boston Music Room, and Karin makes quite an entrance, clad as she is in her custom-made, occult-sigil-printed flight-suit and wafting thick clouds of sage. Stood at the centre of a U-shaped bank of synths and electronics, and playing a keyboard with each hand Karin has something of the air of a 1970s Rick Wakeman about her. (Albeit if Wakeman looked like a towering, mischievous Swedish model and played pumping synth pop.) When she asks you to “come a little closer”, you’ll do so. When she’s dancing, strutting and bobbing around her keys, looking like she’s never been happier, you’ll follow suit and dance too – or as much as a London rock crowd feels able anyway. There’s a brief silence when her beat-machine hitches…and we’re right back in, twice as hard. Karin has a powerful voice, often and accurately compared with Björk and Fever Ray, which carries right to the back of the hall. If anyone was uncertain about the cleaner, poppier aspects of Karin sound translating well tonight, they’ve surely forgotten all that by the time she’s warning us that “this is your last chance to rave, London!” And the dancing continues, visibly, all the way to the merch desk. 

Jaye Jayle’s set was never going to be a rave, that’s for sure. The band’s name might be a reference to being trapped by the pentatonic scale, but that scale seems more like the motor that powers Jaye Jayle’s languid, hypnotic “gothblues”. It took a little while for me to get into them when I first saw them a few years back, in the best sense, because now I’m totally hooked. The songs don’t so much grab you as slowly accumulate in your mind where they build, brood, and burn. So I hope everyone else here tonight is as excited as I am to hear some new songs from their killer new record Don’t Let Your Love Life Get You Down (Pelagic, 2023) live.  

Playing solo tonight (as the Jaye Jayle project began), it’s just Evan, his guitar, and a wall of Hiwatt amps, wired to play stereo. The plan is to play the rhythm, cleanish from stage-left, then add melodic, effects-drenched colour from stage-right, thus recreating something like the full-band experience. And – for a few songs – it all works splendidly. There’s the jerky, glitch of ‘Pull Me Back to Hell’; there’s the rippling guitar line to the album version of ‘Warm Blood and Honey’, set to broken rhythm; there’s the languid pulse of ‘As Soon as Night’. But unfortunately, the pesky stage-right Hiwatt cuts the guitar melody out, leaving just the clean channel; Evan tries to fix it, rhythm loop still running, but to no avail. Evan apologises, explaining he has to leave out a rarely-performed song because the lack of amp “leaves me off balance”. He quickly decides to press on with the one guitar, clearly struggling a little at first to get back in the zone, and I do slightly miss the bigger sound he had at the start. But recreating the Jaye Jayle band solo was always a bold goal live as they have such a distinctive and idiosyncratic sound going on, and, judging by the couple of opening songs we did get, Evan was clearly doing a damn fine job on the preceding nights of the tour. This show has me thinking that even the simplest possible Jaye Jayle show – solo acoustic – would still be great. So, while this show wasn’t quite the glorious showcase for the new album I was hoping for, Evan does reclaim something of his potential glory by the end; back in the groove, delivering stripped-down, heavy versions of some other favourites like ‘Ode to Betsey’ and ‘Waiting for the Life’; and I do hope he’s still made the new fans he deserves.  

When the neon cross lights up, you know what comes next: “We are Årabrot! We live in a church, this is a cross, and we play dirty rock ‘n’ roll!” And no-one else sounds (or indeed looks) quite like them. I think this is the sixth time I’ve seen them, and I can safely say that they have moved from strength to strength – both in terms of their live show, and especially their fine new album Of Darkness and Light (Pelagic, 2023), on which the band’s songwriting and sound comes together joyously. When Kjetil and Karin (now resplendent in her pristine white wedding/stage outfit) scream ‘We Want Blood’ – a track the crowd knows already from the album teaser EP ‘Cathedral Light’ – they really mean it. And they got it. When the heavy synth groove of ‘Fire!’ comes in you can’t help but scream along, feeling just how heavy Karin’s bass really is. They’re segueing from banger to banger, with songs like ‘Kinks of the Heart’ and ‘You Cast Long Shadows’ already sounding like Årabrot classics and going down like well-loved cover versions.  

I had the pleasure of speaking with Årabrot earlier in the year, and they were clearly exuberant and excited about the new album and about going on tour. And that is absolutely clear tonight. I’ve always loved Kjetil’s stage presence and theatrics – peering over yonder, guitar taking aim – but Karin, in particular, now provides a huge energy to the shows, headbanging from astride her synth-rainbow, with a wild, beaming smile and even launching herself out to crowd-surf at one stage. Everyone loves ‘Cathedral Light’ itself (“Fuck yeah!”), a crisp, catchy slice of arena rock with lyrics that apparently use the figure of Lucifer as allegory for Kjetil and Karin’s relationship (“Fuck yeah!”), and it’s clearly personal, with Kjetil gesturing at Karin during the line “You wear black goat skin” (“Fuck yeah!”). There’s only one way to end an Årabrot show – with their ominous cover of ‘Sinnerman’, and ‘The Gospel’, a song that encapsulates their weirdly almost-religious brand of rock ‘n’ roll – and it’s very clear that now is a very good time indeed to go and see this band.  

 

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