Komeda serves up sassy show
Swedish band lacks confidence but has potential to make it
By Kristin Fiore
Daily Bruin Senior Staff
This year, Sweden is exporting more than great meatballs. The
year began with the rise of the Cardigans and may continue with the
success of Sweden’s less pop-influenced but more original Komeda.
The show at the Alligator Lounge on Saturday was the first in a
string of U.S. dates that may bring Komeda’s first English album,
"The Genius of Komeda," to national attention.
Though the set lasted only 45 minutes and occasionally gave way
to the fatigue that accompanies a 17-hour flight from Sweden, the
band showed that it has the talent and potential to capture U.S.
audiences. Komeda took the tiny stage at midnight and jumped right
into material from its new album, covering every song except the
wonderful and sorely missed "Fire."
The audience – dressed in everything from tattoos to pseudo-nerd
apparel – couldn’t have been more enthusiastic; it pogo-danced and
cheered for every song. Though the club was far from packed, the
crowd had the energy of one twice its size. Unusually effusive, it
didn’t seem to mind that singer Lena Karlsson, a Snow White for the
’90s with her white outfit and black chin-length hair, was on the
Though she and the band speak English pretty well, she reserved
her sometimes timid voice for the music, offering only a soft
"thank you" between songs. Her ’60s Gidget-style dancing and
reserved charm fit the music perfectly and went over big with the
crowd of staunch fans, but she may have to turn it up a notch if
their gigs include crowds of 1,000 – which they most certainly
Bassist Markus Holmberg, however, was the ultimate showman in
his half-unbuttoned orange polyester suit, complete with matching
glasses and guitar. He played with a spread-eagle stance and an
energy that almost stole the show. The more subdued Jonas Holmberg
on drums and Mattias Nordlander on guitar, whose all-white duds and
quiet demeanor were a foil to Holmberg’s playfulness, rounded out
the band, though they added a keyboard player to recreate the
excellent vibraphone and organ sounds that add so much to the mood
of the album.
The keyboardist carried mellower songs like "Light of My Life,"
with its carnival-style piano, and the encore opener "If," which
may have been a bit slow to play live. Of course the crowd loved
it, but given the time limit and the list of great excluded songs,
the band might have brought in an earlier, more lively one. But
that is a petty complaint.
Musically, the band was very tight, especially in songs that
change rhythms a few times like "Disko," which opened the set, and
"New New No," which closed the encore. Though band members were a
bit hesitant and tense for the first few songs, the bassist soon
remarked, "We’re getting a bit warmer now." To prove it, they
launched the first song from "Genius," "More Is More," with a newly
relaxed energy. It was clearly a crowd favorite, with its sarcastic
glorification of consumerism, American-style.
The guitars’ dominance over the keyboard and the absent vocal
harmonies (layers of Karlsson’s voice on the album) gave many of
the songs a rougher, less melodic edge. This made the songs less
accessible to first-time listeners, but it gave them a spark that
brightened up their live performance.
The band also let loose on the songs’ numerous instrumental
passages, stretching them out into upbeat, lounge-style grooves.
Karlsson took up a tambourine or enjoyed the music like the fans,
dancing away – happy to be given a break from the vocals. Songs
like "Top Star" and many others that included "scat" segments where
Karlsson rattled off nonstop, both in English and in gibberish, had
her out of breath by their conclusions.
Nordlander, in rare form, chimed in on the terminally funky
"Frolic," singing along, scat-style, to his guitar solo. It’s
strange enough to have a guitar solo these days, and even stranger
to sing along with it, but Nordlander was marvelously serious and
emphatic. Komeda often does things other bands wouldn’t think of
doing in a serious song, and it makes them work perfectly, which is
a large part of the group’s appeal. What would sound disjointed,
kitsch or just plain strange in other bands’ music is perfectly
natural and even essential in Komeda’s.
But, though the band is very aware of this and confident in its
talent, that confidence needs to be brought out more onstage. The
band seemed most comfortable as musicians, not as performers per se
– and the average American audiences, probably more than any other,
love performers (how many techno bands would be millionaires if
they had a Gwen Stefani or a Courtney Love?).
But luckily, this did not faze the Alligator crowd a bit; it
seemed to be mostly die-hard music fans who just came to jump
around to great material. Many in the audience did bizarre and
unidentifiable dances never seen before. This energy culminated in
the final song of the set, an aptly titled ’50s throwback, "Boogie
Woogie/Rock ‘n’ Roll."
Karlsson took a break and joined the keyboard player while the
three male band members took turns singing, "There’s a
pa-pa-pa-pa-party goin’ on…" As the final notes faded, the band
jumped to the front of the stage and did a collective bow, arena
rock-style. It was clearly relieved to have survived its first
show, though the deafening cheers of the crowd ensured the band
would shortly be back out for an encore.
Unfortunately, time constraints restricted the band to only one
song not on its new album. "Herbamore," from the EP "Plan 714 Till
Komeda," was also the only song sung in Swedish. The band
completely omitted material from its debut album, "Pop Pa Svenska,"
which is not as rock-oriented as the new release but just as
irresistible. Hopefully, if the band returns later on in the tour
(and with longer sets!), it will be able to squeeze in gems like
"Oj Vilket Liv!" and "Bonjour Tristesse." It might also return more
well-rested and confident, especially if other audiences are as
supportive as the one at the Alligator Lounge.Joseph Cultice
(l.-r.) Jonas Holmberg, Lena Karlsson, Mattias Nordlander and
Markus Holmberg of Komeda.