“Let’s turn off the blue lights,” Iceage frontman Elias Bender Rønnenfelt muttered at the beginning of their show last Friday. Suddenly, the patient audience at El Club was plunged into darkness. Illuminated by the red glow of the stage, Rønnenfelt and his bandmates were magnetic, a sickly-sexy collection of thin, stylish Danes with serious presence. Packed into the small Mexicantown venue, the crowd was hanging on to their every move in a shifting mass of noise and color. There are those who say punk is dead, but really it’s just different — now a spirit of pure emotion, anger and joy fused together into sound. That’s what Iceage does best.
Formed in 2008 in Copenhagen, the band’s first three albums were a mix of punk rigor and rambling, artistic soundscapes. Rønnenfelt’s signature drawl moves through each and every song on seemingly only instinct. Their 2011 debut garnered critical acclaim from industry legends, setting them onto a path of success and earning them a devoted following. In early May, Iceage released a fourth studio record titled Beyondless, and the growth was clear. A perfect mesh of discord and atmosphere, the album is a high point for the group, and this was all but obvious at their show supporting it.
After an opening act comprised of Detroit noise collective Wolf Eyes and the soothing, looped beauty of harpist Mary Lattimore, Iceage brought down the house one song after another. It was as if each tune from Beyondless had been reduced down to an essence, the expansive scale of their studio production boiled down into a series of thumping beats, thick basslines and eerie, yet moving guitar riffs. That isn’t to say their live performance isn’t just as striking. If anything, it is a perfect translation of the intensity their recordings evoke.
Rønnenfelt was born to be a frontman. Dressed in a beige twill suit and thin linen shirt, his eyes light behind a veil of sweat-laced hair. The singer staggered around the stage for the duration of their show, his trademark vocals somewhat drowned out by a wall of instrumental sound, but it didn’t matter — his stage presence, along with bandmates Jakob Tvilling Pless, Johan Surrballe Wieth and Dan Kjær Nielsen was incredible. On album favorites like “Hurrah” and “Painkiller,” audience members yelled the lyrics just as he uttered them, creating a dissonant choir set against the music.
Those nearest to the stage reached up to clutch at the vocalist’s clothes as he came closer to the edge, in reverence to his uncanny hypnotic quality and the dazed melodies accompanying him. In another world, the 26-year old could easily be a cult leader — his performance has a sense of intense gravitas that is strangely accessible. After you realize he’s real, you want to sit and have a drink with him. Before the show, the band roved around El Club’s small bar and exited to the patio to smoke, accompanied by Rønnenfelt’s girlfriend, and powerhouse musician in her own right, Sky Ferreira. Despite their power onstage, for the venue’s patrons Iceage was just four guys in a band, mixing with their audience in a communal appreciation of their music.
It’s this balance between comfort and edge that makes Iceage’s music and performances so memorable. The band’s greatest strength lies in their ability to produce a sort of dynamic tug between the melodic and harsh elements of the post-punk sound to create detailed soundscapes which ebb and flow. On Beyondless, they have refined this skill to a point. On stage, they are electric, meshing passion and movement into ecstatic cacophony.