Better Than… Throwing elbows to meet Joy Division's Peter Hook at his book signing in Silver Lake a couple weeks ago.
To say that the lads in Copenhagen band Iceage don't give a fuck would not be entirely accurate, but it goes a ways in expressing the group's effortless cool. They're young, attractive, pissed off, and controversial, everything a punk(ish) band should be. Last night they played the Echoplex in support of the recently released, and widely acclaimed sophomore album, You're Nothing.
For the uninitiated, Iceage have quite a reputation. Their shows tend to get nasty, and some of their recent PR, which includes the word “Nazi,” might have crippled a different group. This is all we'll say: It may be difficult to parse what is true and what is false about them, but there's no doubt that the group is producing some of the most aggressive and cathartic music out there.
Wasting no time on introductions, Iceage broke into the pulse-pounding “Ecstasy,” lead single and opening track off You're Nothing. “Ecstasy's” melodic verse and running bass line show off their more polished songwriting. It's an immediately infectious, even danceable tune, but there was a definite sense of anticipation in the crowd as the song built towards its peak moment: the stunted, manic refrain of, “Pressure, Pressure. Oh God no!”
Singer Elias Ronnenfelt's baritone yowl has drawn frequent comparisons to that of Ian Curtis, and yes, it is clear that from their name to their dress code, Iceage are proud of their pedigree. But the post-punk label is reductive for a band as seemingly earnest, and mercurial as Iceage. During “Awake,” Ronnenfelt and co. channeled as much Guy Picciotto as Mark E. Smith.
After four songs Ronnenfelt put down his guitar and focused on vocal duty. Guitarist Johan Wieth, and the rhythmic duo of bassist Jakob Pleth and drummer Dan Nielsen picked up the slack for “Everything Drifts,” and onward. The rest of the show felt alive and “punk” in a way that those first few songs hadn't, due in most part to Ronnenfelt's erratic and impassioned stage presence.
Emerging fully formed from a close-knit DIY scene, Iceage may not be accustomed to playing venues like the Echoplex. Ronnenfelt's only address to the crowd was to apologize about the metal barricades separating crowd and stage. “There was nothing we could do.” Dividers are standard fare for a venue such as the Echoplex, and for a crowd of that size, but Iceage are a group that thrive on physical contact.
Still, the group managed some degree of defiance. During the down-tuned bridge of “New Brigade” Ronnenfelt dove headfirst into the crowd — which is, according to multiple posted signs, a big no-no at the venue. Moments later, perhaps encouraged by the punk politicking, a clearly drunken audience member climbed the stage rigging, lifted his fist in triumph, and fell backwards to a collective gasp from the crowd. Iceage didn't miss a beat.
Their live rendition of “Morals,” though lacking the stately piano cameo that helps defines the album version, was an energetic high point of the night. “Morals” is a ballad as much as an Iceage song can be. It is also, lyrically speaking, one of the few intelligible songs in their catalog. “Where's your morals?” Ronnenfelt wailed sardonically. The crowd yelled it right back.
The show ended unceremoniously. Lasting just over 30 minutes, and without even the hope of an encore, it was, in keeping with their reputation, a brutally short set. Iceage play music on their own terms. It's hard to fault them for that. You may not be able to buy knives at their merch tables anymore (yes that was a thing), and by the looks of it no one got their nose broken last night. Still, an Iceage show feels somehow, awesomely dangerous.
Personal Bias: Being roughly the same age as these guys makes me feel pretty worthless.
The Crowd: Kids washing their bloody knees in the bathroom sink in between opening bands.
Dew de Dew