Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Nina Persson & Martin Hederos at Ystad Teater, Sweden, Thursday September 18th

Nina Persson & Martin Hederos at Ystad Teatern
It’s a treat to be here in the Ystad Teater and not just because it was a nice bonus to be able to tick off another "Wallander" filming location. Dating back to 1894 the theatre is ornate but not too over the top and its capacity of just around 350 people exudes a warm and intimate feel, perfect for tonight’s performance. The concept of the show is somewhat similar to Sparks superb stripped-back “Two Hands, One Mouth” tour, with just Nina Persson singing accompanied by Martin Hederos (The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Tonbruket, Nymphet Noodlers etc.) on keyboards. The pair are introduced by genial theatre manager Thomas Lantz, who also runs the town’s prestigious yearly Ystad Jazz festival. Nina and Martin take to the stage which is set with heavy black drapes and a back-drop featuring a forest scene with warm candlelight illuminating the darkness with an intimacy that really suits the music to follow. At first I am a bit concerned about Nina’s voice as she whispers an introduction and as I don’t speak Swedish I can’t figure out if she is suffering with a cold or sore throat. Martin hits the keys of the grand piano, there is a brief false start and I really hope Nina is OK to sing tonight. But when they get started with “Heavy Metal", a beautiful ballad taken from Nina’s new solo album “Animal Heart” my early worries about her voice are soon dispelled. Despite a noticeable huskiness at first, she then goes on to put in a quite remarkable performance, proving that she has grown into one of the best female vocalists around today. Martin then crosses the stage to take his place at what I guess is a Pump organ or a large harmonium, its church organ like sound highlight the gospel roots of Connie Converse's achingly beautiful "How Sad, How Lovely". 

Nina Persson & Martin Hederos at Ystad Teatern
Next up is "Lead Me Into The Night" from my favourite Cardigans album "Long Gone Before Daylight". I always felt that this album was a turning point for the band as it was a marked progression from the slightly twee Indie Pop of "First Band on The Moon" and the rawer "Gran Turismo" to a warmer, more orchestral sound. Unfortunately, my lack of Swedish language skills means that I can't follow the between song chat but judging by the polite laughter around me people seem to be enjoying the interaction very much. However, despite being in the dark as far as her comments are concerned, I certainly warm to Nina's delightful smile which breaks out at the end of each song as the applause rings out. Martin plays some quite breath-taking piano throughout the set tonight. It’s more of an embellished style than the Erik Satie minimalism of the similar acoustic set-up with his ex-Nymphet Noodlers band-mate Mattias Hellberg. The first set draws heavily on an eclectic selection of cover versions including Rufus Wainwright's "Going To a Town" with its biting refrain "I'm so tired of America…" Martin is then on the move again, crossing the stage to take his place at the electric organ he stabs out some harsh ringing notes over a sinister humming undercurrent. This evolves into a version of Robert Wyatt's "Free Will and Testament" highlighting his more Avant Garde side which becomes even more apparent on the surprising choice of Sparks “Angst In My Pants”. Surprising, mainly as they didn’t go for one of the Mael brothers more orchestral numbers but instead plumped for the discordant, clattering drum machine driven original "Angst In My Pants". Songs by Leonard Cohen and Kate & Anna McGarrigle follow and the first set draws to a close with "The Crowning" from Nina's side project A Camp with its "We're gonna party like its 1699..." refrain. 

Nina Persson at Ystad Teatern
The second set starts off with a familiar piano motif from Martin, it's "Tonight" a song he composed for The Soundtrack of Our Lives and whereas over the years he had the six foot something kaftan clad and bearded Ebbot Lundberg standing there next to him singing it, tonight it's the delicate form of Nina perched on a stool. It really sends a shiver down the spine to hear her sing such a beautiful song and I was deeply honoured to get a birthday dedication, a moment that will live long in the memory! Yet more unusual covers are tackled including "Real Life" by Joan As Policewoman, a great Bluesy "Old Fashioned Morphine" and a superb duet of "Sand" with Nina as Nancy Sinatra and Martin chipping in on the Lee Hazlewood lines. "Don’t Blame Your Daughter (Diamonds)" from The Cardigans last album "Super Extra Gravity" is another stunning jewel in the set, I love this track and to hear it performed tonight was really something special. Martin then gets a violin and plays it like a guitar, picking out the slow ominous riff to PJ Harvey's "Teclo". A nice Bossa Nova sung in Swedish segues into The Cardigans “Lovefool” which is probably the most recognisable moment of the night and we also get treated to "Junk of The Hearts" and "You're The Storm". However, the lack of any of the other more familiar “hits” was never an issue tonight, the choice of material was spot on. It was illuminating that the self-penned numbers stood out as personal highlights even amongst tracks by such song-writing luminaries as Wyatt and Cohen. It makes me think that Nina and The Cardigans deserve a far more serious appreciation and recognition of their talents in the U.K. As the encore ends the audience rise to their feet, Thomas appears on stage and presents the duo with large floral bouquets and Nina and Martin bask in a warm, enthusiastic and well deserved standing ovation. 

Nina Persson & Martin Hederos at Ystad Teatern
Nina Persson has been busy playing some solo shows dates in Sweden to promote “Animal Heart” with a backing band that includes Ian, Kalle and Fredrik of The Soundtrack of Our Lives. She has even played a couple of festival shows with The Cardigans, although there still doesn’t seem to be much news on a more permanent reunion just yet. Martin is busy with Tonbruket and many and varied collaborations as usual. You can read a review of Martin's gig with Ane Brun and Tonbruket at the Kentish Town Forum in London here. Check out Retrosonic Podcast for our interview “specials” with Ebbot, Ian, Fredrik and Mattias from The Soundtrack of Our Lives and other episodes which feature various Swedish bands and TSOOL related acts. With sincere thanks to Thomas, Martin and Nina. For more photos of the evening please head on over to the Retro Man Blog Facebook page and hit “Like”, if you are not already following, to access the photo album. 

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