Live review: Iceage at the Echo
The first few seconds of the very young Copenhagen post-punk band Iceage's first single, "White Rune," are some of the most exciting in rock music this year. A repeating creak of noise (maybe a guitar effect, maybe a treated sample); a relentless kick drum; a baritone voice doused in cheap echo. It stays twitchy and menacing for a few bars, then the drums really kick in and the song writhes to life, revealing one of the most ferocious new rock bands to emerge in years.
So how strange that at the band's first proper L.A. club show at the Echo on Sunday night (predictably packed to the gills after a Pitchfork rave), it turns out that a group that made its reputation in nose-bloodying physicality is really all about precision and atmosphere. Their debut album, "New Brigade," mediates the fury of young manhood with the icy genre savvy of an avant-garde oldster with crates of Factory Records white label singles and early SST 7-inches. But their Echo show showed that they really are still teenagers learning how best to channel that venom.
Suffice to say, Iceage is much better than your teenage punk band ever was. They still project the dewy youth of kids who grew up in a country with excellent universal healthcare, but that only makes their nicks from Crass and the Birthday Party feel all the more sincere and un-winked-at. And at the Echo, they played searing cuts such as "New Brigade" and "Broken Bone" with the basement-show abandon of a quartet having the best time out of high school they could have possibly imagined. Singer-guitarist Elias Bender Ronnenfelt has an endearingly liberal definition of what constitutes the edge of the stage while he plays, making his spit-flecked groans even more physical for those in the front rows.
But that's kind of the rub. Beneath the gained-up racket and ropy muscle, Iceage is actually best at making wire- (and Wire) tense dread out of the minimal bones of post-punk. One of the hardest things for an artist to do is realize that the best way to knock someone over isn't with a careening mosh pit, but with controlled force. In a weird way, their sheer enthusiasm Sunday undermined the chilly power of their vision on record. It's probably hard for them to imagine this, but they were pretty much the coolest kids in Los Angeles on Sunday night and a little standoffishness and reserve might have been a good look for them. It's certainly a good sound for them, one that's likely only going to get better with age.
-- August Brown
Photo: Iceage. Credit: Alberte Karrebaek