When anticipating a Jenny Hval concert, it’s hard to know what to expect. Listening to her records will certainly give you a leg up, but it is impossible to predict what kind of performance she has planned. At Resident, she performed with just her longtime collaborator Håvard Volden; at the Broad, she had three other backup “dancers,” though their ritualistic choreography probably isn’t strictly dancing. At Lodge Room on Saturday, she had a projector to reinforce her ideas, beamed onto a screen that stretched from floor to ceiling, commanding our attention in spite of plenty of distractions.
Easing us into the experimental was Briana Marela, who delivered a beautifully ethereal set. She and bandmate Joel Skavdahl manned their own soundboards, with generous looping that aptly framed Marela’s angelic vocals. She sings softly, working with the synths rather than clamoring over them for attention, but that was lost on many in the crowd that night. Even though her set could be considered objectively more accessible than Hval’s, very few people bothered to listen, while most were consumed in loud conversations with friends. Before playing “Rise,” the powerful closing track from her recent LP, Marela took to the mic to win everyone’s attention. When it didn’t work with banter, she directly–but politely–asked the talkers to save it for later, triggering a chain reaction of shushes across the middle of the room. The silence was short-lived, but I tried not to let it dampen my enjoyment of Briana Marela’s pastel-hued spirit.
More stimuli joined Jenny Hval and her two counterparts on stage for her set. An oversized, inflatable chair sat between two computer setups, with all three performers sitting in it at the start. Jenny greeted us and mentioned now was a good opportunity to check their phones, so all three pulled out iPhones and created drone feedback with the mic. This is her most consistent gag, recording us on her own device at many of her live shows; normally the phones came out specifically for a performance of “Drive,” which appears on her two-track release with Volden under the alias Lost Girls. She stitched some of that footage together for a promotional clip about the record, though it is not a direct music video–probably because that song is thirteen-and-a-half minutes long, but I digress.
The other woman onstage, who appeared to be the same face featured on the cover of Blood Bitch (don’t quote me on that), was responsible for arranging the rest of the visual cues; she pulled out a deflated beach ball which sat dejected on the giant chair, until Hval stuffed it under her shirt to appear pregnant (Happy Mother’s Day!) and replaced it with a painting which Hval remarked was a reflection of us. The projector antics were varying–there were spinning screenshots of words, looped dance lessons, blinking colors, and a faux lecture on the Norwegian language that turned into karaoke of a song that might have been invented specifically for this show.
When it comes to her songs, Hval mainly pulled from her last solo record and her forthcoming EP, The Long Sleep. On Saturday, the new songs were shrouded in bleeding drones from other parts of the set, but when listened to in a sterile environment, they actually seem happier than her previous work. If I’m not mistaken, she played three out of four of the tracks, leaving out the finale where Hval whispers directly into your ear that she loves you; I suppose that sort of intimacy would have been lost at the show anyway. But it should excite everyone awaiting The Long Sleep EP on May 25.
It could take years to delve into the particular symbols Jenny Hval employs as a social commentary, especially when you look at her collection of live shows as a shared experience. But as tempting as it may be to search for meaning in performances from someone as strategic and mysterious as Hval, there also seems to be another, more finite perspective to it. The shows don’t seem to live outside the moments in which they happen. It’s hard to even associate her songs with particular choreography, as everything seems to stand independently. Jenny Hval remains a consistent artist that will always deliver an entertaining performance to say the least, even if you have no idea what to expect going in. She never disappoints.
Words by: Zoë Elaine