Friday at Bergen Fest presented artists from totally different genres. Jackson Browne and Calexico have some common songwriting traits, while St. Paul & The Broken Bones were quite different – white soul from Birmingham, Alabama. Then we got John Grant singing about lost love and misery. Bastille follows up in the wake of Imagine Dragons. and Ben Howard closed the night with his folk inspired music to the delight of all the girls at the front. For a festival with all ages and varied tastes, it was probably just the right programming. (Photo above: Jackson Browne.)
St. Paul & The Broken Bones were first out on the second stage. They were new for me, but were a tight band with a flamboyant singer. If you can imagine Charles Bradley or Sharon Jones, you have the same style, except for the color of his skin. The performance was very “in character”, and singer John Janeway’s voice is excellent. They closed the show with one of Otis Redding’s best songs, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, and it was scarily good for a cover.
Jackson Browne is one of the singer songwriters that in my opinion never got the credit he really deserves. Not that he hasn’t been celebrated, but in my head he is in the same league as a songwriter as James Taylor and Paul Simon. Maybe because he spent most of the 80’s supporting different political causes? Here in Norway he has never been well known, even if he is of Norwegian ancestry through his mother. He told the audience that his aunt had a shop in Bergen, so he had ben her many times when he was young.
Jackson Browne started his musical career in The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, then as a musician and songwriter for Nico for her debut album, Chelsea Girl. He was a staff writer for Electra Records at the age of 18, and it is first of all as a songwriter that we know him best. His albums have sold more than 18 million worldwide, but this was mostly in the 70’s. Later he has been a political activist, protesting against nuclear energy. He was one of the founders of the organization Musicians United for Safe Energy in 1979. He has also protested against USA’s politics in South America, supported Farm Aid and many other causes.
The concert was a typical Jackson Browne concert, although it felt more energetic than the last time I saw him at the Norwegian Wood festival in Oslo in 2010. The songs were mainly his best ones, ending with Running On Empty and the song he cowrote with Glenn Frey, and which had become The Eagles’s signature song. The concert was my favorite this day. Here is the setlist for the concert.
After Jackson Browne, I went back to the second stage to see Calexico. They are also a band that should be better known. They are from Arizona, and the is music is a mix of Americana with some strong tex-mex influences. I’ve seen the band before, and they are first of all a band with strong songs and is best enjoyed as a whole. Don’t expect them to put on a big stage show, this is typical good music. I am glad that Bergen Fest continue to book bands like Calexico.
The next band on the big stage was Bastille. They are new to me, but I understood that they have a strong following among the younger girls in the audience. Musically they sound like the brothers of Imagin Dragons, who played many festivals in Norway in 2013. Bastille was formed in 2010, and has so far sold more than 5 million albums worldwide. Their show works well for a big stage, with two of the musicians, singer Dan Smith and Kyle Simmons banging on drums.
Bastille’s main claim to fame is the song Pompeii that was the most streamed song in 2013 after Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. The closed the how with the song, using a lot of prerecorded tracks, with voices and extra percussions. Like many other of the newer bands, they rely heavily on technology. But as long as they are really playing the main instruments on stage and use the tracks as backing, it is ok with me, because it makes their sound fuller than without.
From Bastille it was back to the second stage and something totally different with John Grant. He is an instantly likable guy with beard, a knitted cap, and an infectious smile. I have always been one to like contrasts, and with the misery Grant sings about, you shouldn’t think he had any reason to smile. He has struggled with drugs and alcohol and is openly gay, which also is obvious in his song JC Hates Faggots from his solo debut album, The Queen of Denmark. He recently told the press that he is hiv positive.
What makes a John Grant concert a special event, is his strong voice, the good songs, and also that he has a solid band that adds to his performance. I got more of a band feeling than of a solo artist with a backing band. If you like meaningful lyrics sung to strong melodies with a dynamic and strong voice, John Grant is the artist for you.
Last out on the big stage was Ben Howard. He is also one of the newer stars, debuting in 2011, and he won the BRIT Awards in 2013 for both categories he was nominated in, British Breakthrough Act and British Sole Male Artist. Like Bastille, Ben Howard hd a strong following among the younger female audience at Bergen Fest.
It pleases me a lot that quality songwriters like Howard gets a big fan base among the younger people. His songs are complicated, introvert and not “in your face hits”. But he delivers them with strong feelings, slowly building up climaxes and using dynamics in a creative way. NRK P1 recorded the concert and also broadcast some of it live last night in the radio show Radio Rock, and you can hear half an hour of the concert here (from 30 minutes out in the show).
All photos are © Per Ole Hagen and must not be used without written permission.