The first day at this year’s Bergen Fest had Patti Smith as the headliner. Before her, the Swedish sister duo First Aid Kit played. The opening act was supposed to be Sam Smith, but when he canceled, Grace Jones came in, making the main stage on the opening day all female. Many festivals have been criticized for having to few female artists, and their argument is often that there aren’t enough good female artists. They shouldn’t worry – Bergen Fest showed us yesterday that this is no problem. (Picture above: Patti Smith)
Grace Jones opened on the main stage, 20 minutes late, talking about some accident without expanding on it. But she commanded the stage from the first song, dressed in all black and with a gold death mask before her face. For the next song she changed clothes, or rather got a new cape, since the rest of her costume was mainly body paint and different flamboyant hats.
Her personage is a mix of the huntress, some voodoo, mixed with the night club queen. There is a difficult balance between those, but it worked perfectly for me. I remember her best from her breakthrough album, Nightclubbing from 1981, plus the Slave To The Rhythm album in 1985 and her role in A View To A Kill the same year, and the decadence of Club 54 form the late 70’s to 81. She ended her set with Slave To The Rhythm, in little clothes, but with her signature hoola hoop that she kept rotating through the whole song.
The third song from Grace Jones’ set was my favorite, I’ve Seen That Face Before from Nightclubbing. The album was produced by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare at the Compass Point Studio in Bahamas. The studio was founded by Island Records’ owner Chris Blackwellin 1977, and was responsible for many of the best albums from this time, with artists as diverse as AC/DC, The Rolling Stones, U2, Dire Straits, Roxy Music, Julio Iglesias, Joe Cocker and Grace Jones.
The second act on the main stage Thursday were First Aid Kit, the two sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg. They became known in 2008, 18 and 15 years old, and have steadily built up their career from then. Their debut album The Big Black And The Blue from 2010 didn’t make the charts, except i Sweden, while their second, The Lion’s Roar, was their definite breakthrough album. It went straight to the top of the Swedish charts, and was also represented on the charts in many other countries. Their song, Emmylou, also helped to make them known.
On stage First Aid Kit haven’t been my favorite act the two-three times I have seen them before. With only guitar, keyboard and drums – no bass, and with the two sisters standing on each side of usually a big stage, I have easily got bored with the visuals, but fascinated with the songs and their performance. Since I saw them last time, they have expanded their band with a steel guitar, making the sound a lot better and fuller. I still miss the bass, but you can’t have everything. On stage they are much more secure, too, and do a bit more than before.
The audience at Bergen Fest loved the band. I heard singing; surprisingly many knew all their lyrics. Being 25 and 22 years old, they obviously connect with girls in that age group, which there were many of in front of the stage yesterday. As usual, they ended their show with Emmylou, their tribute to Emmylou Harris and Gram Parsons, plus June Carter Cash and Johnny Cash. Their country rock influence is more pronounced with the added steel guitar, and now I am looking forward to seeing them again.
I saw Patti Smith for the first time at the Norwegian Wood festival in 2011. That was a great concert. Last night she headlined Bergen Fest, plying her legendary debut album Horses from start to end, plus some otter highlights from her impressive career. Among them Because The Night, which she co-wrote with Bruce Springsteen.
Patti Smith doesn’t do much on stage. Her stage show is a typical rock performance, a mix of aggression and feelings, putting emphasis on the songs. Her band consists of Lenny Kaye, who has been with her since the start together with drummer Jay Dee Daugherty. Her son Jackson plays guitar in the band. During the concert she forgot the lyrics to Redondo Beach, but she just smiled at it, and generally she held a good mood through the whole concert.
My highlights from the concert was Gloria: In Excelsis Deo, My Generation (the Who classic, maybe the first punk song) and Because The Night. How much I liked Grace Jones and her show, it is something very sympathetic about an Patti Smith who just performs her songs with a band that is really into the songs. She was maybe a more dangerous artist earlier, and her voice isn’t necessarily 100% as it was, but it is more than good enough for a great experience.
All photos are © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used without written permission.