Photos by Nicole L. Browner
The Danish post-punk group Iceage pounded their way through an intense set on Monday night at the Rickshaw Stop. Draped in a blue darkness occasionally blasted with white light from a photographer’s camera flash, the teenage foursome played with a counterintuitively sloppy focus — like a band nuked on caffeine and alcohol — as they stumbled and swayed along with the grimy, tangled low-end that defines their 2013 LP You’re Nothing.
If you didn’t already know the songs, you weren’t going to learn them here: Iceage outright avoided playing the album’s catchiest song, “Wounded Hearts,” and often replaced high-pitch guitar riffs with open-neck mashing, forcing your attention onto the band’s precocious lead singer, Elias Bender Ronnenfelt, who sings only vaguely in-key, moaning and screaming his way through dark pronouncements of abandonment, violence, and the destruction of civilization. Despite their youth, Iceage are a moving testament to sincerity — Ronnenfelt gave heavy looks to the crowd, contorted his body to tie the microphone cord around his neck, and never betrayed the band’s message with a smile.
The crowd loved it, its members throwing themselves at the stage while fist-pumping and grabbing at Ronnenfelt’s shirt. For the first few songs, Ronnenfelt tried to play guitar and sing — but the rate at which the microphone got knocked around (and technical difficulties) led him to put the guitar away for the rest of the set.
Iceage opened with “Ecstasy,” the lead track from You’re Nothing, a shuffling, fast-paced dirge that collapses half way through as Ronnenfelt starts yelling “pressure / can’t take this pressure.” For a band that rose to fame from the shores of Denmark, awash in blog-conspiracy controversy about Nazi imagery in their artwork and zines, the lines are particularly pressing, a reminder of the walls-closing-in sensation that artists often conspire to illustrate but rarely deliver with the same courage as Iceage. Album centerpiece “Morals” received a warm reaction from the crowd, dropping out the original’s low piano and accentuating the song’s militaristic snare drum beat and Ronnenfelt’s desperate plea: Where’s your morals?
At one point during “Everything Drifts,” the guitars slid down to a gentle rumbling and left Ronnenfelt to moan one of his many pronouncements: “Nature is violence / Bow in its grace,” which is an apt description for the band’s music: like the brutal, carnivorous mechanics of the food chain, there is a striking beauty in a victim’s desperate run from death that we might pretend to disavow. Iceage have come to celebrate it the only way they seem to know how — with violent, moaning songs and harsh guitars that occasionally drift into melodic territory, all of it a fervent plea, music as a reflection of our own uncontrollable urges, violent and beautiful.
There are times when an opening band strikes you with the specificity of their sound, forcing one to take a moment and consider how the band came to sound exactly this way. Tampa, FL’s Merchandise brought out those thoughts; they channel The Smiths in their reverberated and swirling guitar work but manage to find a spot for themselves out there in the margins.
They played a few songs from their Children of Desire EP, the best of which was the catchy, plaintive love song “Time,” which recalls an entirely different era when grand but confusing romantic gestures in rock songs felt urgent, not cliche or frustratingly sarcastic. Lead singer Carson Cox sings with a deep, crooning voice that gives a full character to his melodies. The band finished their set with a guest saxophone player onstage, who seemed contented to just blast noise here and a short phrase there, as Merchandise tore through another loud track.