View more photos in Timothy Norris' “The Raveonettes @ Henry Fonda Theater” slideshow.
Do Scandinavians sweat? After watching The Raveonettes play over twenty songs from their growing catalog last Friday at the Fonda, I'm not positive I can provide the answer to that question. Sure, the Danish twosome named their new album In and Out of Control, but there was nothing “out” in their supremely controlled performance to a less-than-capacity crowd. Sune Rose Wagner (he) and Sharin Foo (she) came, played, and went on their way. I would describe him as professional, her as icy, and the whole show as appropriately efficient, if I wasn't worried that “professional,” “icy” and “efficient” could be taken as prejudiced, or even cliched, when writing about a Northern European duo.
The evening started with an opening set by San Diego's Crocodiles, who surprised the few early comers with a barrage of fuzz and pedalwork that seemed to justify the wave of hype they're currently riding. Though singer Brandon Welchez's stage manner still betrays a ho-hum suburban fascination with the Johnny & Sid Show of 1976, the real power is in the hands (and feet) of guitarist Charles Rowell and his curtains of sound.
If their Fat Possum debut, Summer of Hate, doesn't quite deliver on the Kevin Shields comparisons bandied about by some critics, the live versions of those tracks at the Fonda were drenched with enough feedback and noise to make even the most jaded ears perk up. Their repertoire is a little slight (with the exception of doo-woopy ballad “Here Comes the Sky,” the superior B-side to single “I Wanna Kill”), but the kaleidoscopic drone wrapping more than made up for any shortcomings. The Fonda might not (yet) be the best venue for the Crocodiles' act, but they're definitely worth catching at a smaller club.
Fuzz, curtains of sound, feedback, drone: these dimensions of the opening act's sound made them the perfect appetizer for main course The Raveonettes. Sune and Sharin were presenting their fourth album, the aforementioned In and Out of Control. This is their fifth major release if one counts Whip It On, the 2002 EP that put them on the map. LA nightlife legend and KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer was at hand to introduce them (they're his favorite contemporary band).
The basic Raveonette song goes like this: close harmonies on verses that owe much to the Scandinavian folk tradition and often sound like witchy rhymes of enchantment, backed by a basic surf or Spectoresque or Velvets drum pattern, followed by a loud, fuzz-drenched guitar rave-up, and then going back to the verse. If the song is meant to be a single and/or get them on the radio, a catchy, poppy chorus is added before or after the fuzz attack.
Last Friday, the duo went through those motions over and over, never missing a beat, or showing anything we could call “soul” in the American senses (either RnB, rockabilly, punk, metal, etc.)–or, in the case of the statuesque Sharin, getting a single strand of blond hair out of place. Even after shredding on the guitar or pounding on the drums, the unflappable blonde resumed her poise with no visible evidence of effort.
Smoke, colored lights, and strobe effects (to punctuate the rave-ups) were deployed again and again. The meat of the set was the less familiar material from In and Out of Control, from set opener “Gone Forever” to the anthemic “Suicide,” with its epic buildup. The new songs were less cluttered by the usual, obsessive Wall of Sound/My Bloody Valentine/Jesus and Mary Chain treatment–the occasional quiet moments, including a nice voice-and-tambourine turn for Sarin, were not dissimilar to Rick Rubin's recent stripping of The Gossip's sound.
But The Raveonettes also offered the fans an extensive stroll through their back catalog, going all the way back to Whip It On. “Veronica Fever” still retains the folk, almost medieval vibe of the chanted verses that sandwiched the noise attack, and the surf drums on minor-key spookfest “Attack of the Ghost Riders” are now even more obvious. They also played several songs from last year's Lust Lust Lust, including the hypnotic “Dead Sound” and a revamped “The Beat Dies,” now sounding like a full-blown Angelo Badalementi-Julee Cruise homage that still can't hide the fact that the chord changes are basically Madonna's “True Blue” (go listen to it).
[A nice break in the smoke-lights-harmonies-fuzz-strobe-harmonies repetition was provided by two solo turns by each singer. Sune did “Little Animal” from first album Chain Gang of Love as a solo 1950s ballad, fingerpicking his chords, to continue the Twin Peaks analogies, like James trying to impress the girls in Donna Hayward's house. Sharin followed suit with a similarly sparse version of “Oh, I Buried You Today” from the new album, a gorgeous take made uncanny by her creepy stillness.
(These solo songs, by the way, were rare moments when the vocals were not buried in the mix. This is not such a terrible thing, considering that many of The Raveonettes' lyrics suffer from the same ESL problems as Ace of Base's or Max Martin's, often bordering on the unintendedly humorous. Sample from the new album's “Last Dance”: “Your addiction and you are in love/Night star-crossed, I wait my turn/ And every time you overdose, I rush to intensive care/Another sad-eye stare before you disappear.”)
The last encore was 2003's “That Great Love Sound,” still their biggest hit and acknowledged as such by the Fonda crowd. The rallying intro used to point to “I Fought the Law” (Bobby Fuller's, not The Clash's), but now it's almost a dead ringer for Eno's “Needle in the Camel's Eye.” The song was co-written with one of the guys who came up with “I Want Candy,” so the DNA was there for some Go-Going. And, yes, everyone danced a little, but without abandon. From the stage, Sune and Sharin issued little “thank yous” and polite smiles and went on their way, back to the snow and what I imagine to be their impeccable collection of vintage 45s.