On Monday, February 15th, Norway native Hanne Hukkelberg and her versatile, talented band played a brief set at T.T. the Bear’s. The show seemed tacked on to her Boston visit after a Sunday set at the NACA conference, but the few of us who attended were blown away by her powerful performance.
Although Hanne is not well known in the States, she was nominated for a Grammy for her last album, 2009’sBlood from a Stone, and took one home for 2006’s Rykestraße 68. While Blood is slightly less idiosyncratic than Rykestraße, it is no less deserving of praise, featuring insidious melodies and dynamic, enveloping arrangements.
Hanne’s set drew primarily from Blood, including mood-setting opener “Midnight Sun Dream” and the title track, which lilted along with Hanne and two of her band members on guitar and pitch perfect three-part harmonies. The band also played several songs from Rykestraße, including “The Northwind,” which featured Hanne on keyboard driving the song and closing with a crashing outro. “Berlin,” a softly meandering ballad, found Hanne playing a Tibetan singing bowl and stringing the song together with a crooned, complicated scat in the bridge.
The highlights of the show were, by far, the expansions the band took on the somewhat modest versions of songs found on Blood, as their knack for dynamic control is impeccable. “Bandy Riddles” is tense and somewhat muted on the album, but the band was so in tune that the tension was much more palpable, and at each crescendo, the song exploded, further exceeding expectations.
The recorded version of “Salt of the Earth”is somewhat haunting, with its brighter verses of complicated chord progressions and minor-key, plodding choruses, but the song took a whole new energy in the live setting. After accenting the choruses even more and keeping the verses just as hushed, the band roared up to an utterly chilling bridge, in which Hanne howled operatically above the dirge. The song then came full circle with a slight development on that delicate first section, leaving the audience devastated.
Other songs benefited from these increased dynamics. In “No One But Yourself,”the band contrasted the clattering chorus with bare verses, and the bounce of “In Here/Out There”became a full-on pound as the song wore on. The band closed with Hanne’s rendition of The Pixies'”Break My Body,”which had an almost seasick swagger, and, because it was slowed down, allowed Hanne to show off her vocal prowess and knack for melodic improvisation.
During her set, Hanne noted that much of Rykestraße 68 was inspired by her stay in Germany while she recorded, and that she would be in New York for a while recording her new album. Here’s to hoping that her next recorded output captures some of the dynamics of her live set, because while her studio albums are perfectly assembled, her stage show is even more memorable.