Anna Von Hausswolff - Institute - Birmingham
In an inauspicious start to her Birmingham Institute show, dressed in an unassuming gothic black gown Anna von Hausswolff mounts the stage with her five piece band, only to crouch from sight behind her keyboard for opening track ‘Discovery’'s five minutes droning build. Its reverberation rattling both stage barrier and bones ominously signalling the start of something. Nobody's sure yet quite what. The audience talk, uncertain if Von Hausswolff's unrhythmic percussion is a soundcheck, until she finally appears in view. A nod to a guitarist on her right, another to her left and we're underway, her head moving in sync with arms that force down on an electric keyboard pushing to replicate the 900-pipe Acusticum church organ from her album Miraculous.
Von Hausswolff's pleated hair, earlier neatly arranged like a dark fairy tale character from the Gothenburg childhood that her music inhabits, gains a life of its own. Feedback howls through the trees in pursuit, and low red and blue lights create mystery by hiding her face as she sings “It comes from the shadows”. The Institute is an old building and Von Hausswolff should take care not to bring the roof down (there are unsubstantiated rumours of her London show being so loud to scare masonry from it bindings) but despite high volume levels, clear vocals kick in after euphoric Mogwai synthesisers warm the room.
‘Pomperipossa’ follows after some controlled audience whooping and hollering. This time there's no build, Von Hausswolff’s wailing throws all in at the deep end with music that swells the heart as well as quickens its pace, but the audience hopes their hearts don’t miss a beat. The track breaks down into distortion as Von Hausswolff now carefully manipulates equipment with precision, controlling the elements with a sleight of hand. ‘Evocation’ slows drumbeats and isolates vocals – to the credit of the venue and desk - with similar clarity to the studio, before guttural screams directed at the audience, her right hand clawing, her head moving ever more frantically like scenes from her compatriot Ingmar Bergman's film ‘Persona’ from which this track's video bears hallmarks.
Von Hausswolff keeps banter in check, the sole interlude proudly presenting her band and the night’s main act, “We are incredibly honoured to be here tonight with our Swedish heroes Refused’. This is our very last show of our tour, and this makes this night very special for us", an honestly delivered pat on the back, very warmly received. Support acts play a tricky role, balancing audience expectations of being eased into matters against excited impatience for the act they've come to see, and charm like Von Hausswolff’s goes a long way.
Seasonally the 45 minute set’s final play of many acts, the 15 minutes long ‘Come Wander With Me/Deliverance’, opens the most ecclesiastically, Von Hausswolff’s for once fragile voice unspooling like a mischievous church choir bending a note knowing just where to put the emphasis. There’s a rather unholy trinity as ascendant white light guides Black Sabbath guitars’ forest path into doom laden stories and mournful church organs, the band indulging themselves as matters get increasingly manic with more tempo and style changes than usual. Hopefully Anna von Hausswolff has fun sharing audience feelings of both euphoria and dishevelment, an audience content in the safety of waiting for the main act rather than having to walk off alone into the dark night.
Come Wander With Me/Deliverance