Monday, October 23, 2006

Katatonia at B.B. King’s, NYC

Katatonia at B.B. King’s, NYC

For a music lover, nothing evokes such disappointment as a lackluster concert by a band you adore. That performance passed for me last Sunday night at B.B. King’s when I attended a show by the Swedish outfit Katatonia, my heart sinking from the mediocre resonance of songs that have often quieted the tension within my soul. Katatonia’s music is intentionally cathartic with vocalist Jonas Renkse’s main topics including the decline of character, loss of love and general dissatisfaction with the surrounding world. Here exists a man whose somber sentiments until now comforted me with the touch of a kindred spirit.

Yes, I suppose I came to the show with preconceived notions of how the band would look, act and sound. I pictured a Robert Smith kind of presence, considering the tone and style of Renke’s singing. I imagined the atmospheric undertones of the band rising up to join Renske in a stratosphere of pining sounds, penetrating the darkness and decending on the crowd with the slow leak of despondency. All clearly manifest in my mind, none fulfilled.

Like reading a book, you create a dream world using someone else’s art, changing the characteristics of a face despite the author’s own penmanship pronouncing otherwise. The writer externalizes flesh and bone, his vision transferred to an alterable dimension, one that becomes a divergent environment with each new reader. It is the same with music albums where it is quite probable that your fantasy of grandeur exists only as a once removed ideal of someone else’s creation and a twice removed delusion of reality.

From Katatonia’s records I expected Renkse’s visage to express his aggrieved nature, but instead he barely offered his eyes, so covered with dark unkempt locks. Instead he bowed his head, slumped his shoulders and avoided the gaze of his audience. His nervousness at touring the States for the first time overrode the proper instincts of a frontman as he seemed to cower before the faces longing to exalt his figure. Renkse inevitably lost the audience; during a dramatic pause in “Criminals,” the band tried to get the crowd to cheer a second time with little response. The silence ensuing, it became quite clear that the disappointment was transcendental.

The other guys in the band— Anders Nyström, Fred Norrman, Mattias Norrman and Daniel Liljekvist —worked hard to project a rock star image, oddly juxtaposing their mentality with music that suggests a whole different kind of vibe. Despondent, discordant, disarrayed, these constitute the adjectives that Katatonia’s songs bring to mind, not arrogant, aggrandized and audacious. The only distraction from the showboating came from the excellence of song selection (not to be confused with the poor quality of their execution), which included “Ghost of the Sun” (Viva La Emptiness), “Deadhouse” (Discouraged Ones) and “Tonight’s Music” (Last Fair Deal Gone Down).

Continually during each tune, Nyström threw his hands up in a fist while lip-synching every lyric. When he did approach the mic with thinning fair hair and the demeanor of a middle-aged man, his voice rang strained, under-the-pitch. The bass player, Mattias Norrman, joined his antics with a deceivingly youthful looking haircut, much like one sees on the heads of Good Charlotte members. He thrashed from front to back, side to side, as if the riffs demanded a sort of anthem attitude.

Appearances aside, the sound of the show lacked the brilliance of a learned engineer and a more practiced band. Part of the problem comes inherently from B.B. King’s cramped space and architecture that hardly takes into account the science of acoustics. The band, for its part, muddied up the performance by not playing tightly. Their tendency towards drawn out drones of chords and short, repetitive sections requires precise timing as a split second delay registers almost like a mistake. The albums that I listen to, the ones adhering to my soul, never include a glitche.

It serves me right for expecting a perfection only technology produces, a concert such as this one, dependent on human competency. In a way, my reality of Katatonia’s music passed through the additional filters of a mixing board and mastering session. Those albums made me buy tickets three months in advance, the performance shriveled my adoration of Katatonia in but one hour. How distorted our perception when it’s tainted by misleading tangibility.


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