It isn’t often that a person takes her or his place in an audience and, long before the band appears, is thrilled to see a musical instrument on the stage. Katzenjammer form an exception – but Katzenjammer are, in all sorts of ways, an exceptional band. The instrument, the very sight of which filled me with joy, was Katzenjammer’s contrabass balalaika Âkerø. Âkerø’s Cheshire Cat grin promises fun. Anne Marit Bergheim, Solveig Heilo, Marianne Sveen and Turid Jørgensen – the four young Norwegian women who constitute Katzenjammer – ensure that Âkerø’s promise is never failed.
There are few things in this world as much fun, as energising, as life enhancing as attending a Katzenjammer concert. I should know, as I’ve now had the great pleasure of experiencing two of them.
It would make for a touch of drama if, as I made my way to the Scala on Monday evening, I’d doubted that my second Katzenjammer gig could live up to my memory of the first. The truth is that I never doubted it, nor – as it transpired – did I have any cause to do so.
The band performed a long set: about an hour and three quarters, as well as I can judge. I looked at my watch at around ten to nine. My guess is that the ladies took to the stage about five minutes afterwards, and then all awareness of the passage of time fell from me. After leaving the venue – stepping in a blissful, half dreaming state – I happened to notice the station clock as we approached King’s Cross. It had just passed eleven o’clock.
Not that it really mattered how long they played. In an ecstatic state, as the fun and music flowed, nothing signified beyond the moment. Each second contained an eternity of delight. I was aware that the set included most of their latest album, Rockland – perhaps all of it. I certainly wasn’t counting songs. There were also a generous number of favourites from their previous two albums – Le Pop and A Kiss Before You Go.
On my way home, after the concert, it seemed truly remarkable that the four young women were able to continue for so long. The performance had crackled with energy; it never flagged. For all of that, with the concert continuing to spin through my head through subsequent days, their ability to sustain the energy began to strike me as not remarkable at all. It has, I think, to do with symbiosis – band members energising one another, their gestalt energising the audience, and the audience looping back to the band in a full circuit of high voltage power. I will name no names, but I’ve seen bands with whom a live concert is little more than the experience of hearing their records. Katzenjammer are about as far from that as it is possible to be. Some musicians enhance their performances with dancing acts together with elaborate sets and costumes. Katzenjammer manage very well without.
Each of the four band member is an awe-inspiring multi-instrumentalist. As they play, they exchange instruments or play more than one simultaneously. Perhaps most impressive, in this regard, is Anne Marit with three instruments (accordion, glockenspiel and harmonica) at the same time on I Will Dance (As I Walk Away). Turid, Marianne and Solveig all, from time to time, play a second instrument as they take their turn on the drums.
A remarkable addition, since I saw them previously, is a pink miniature piano which appeared for a couple of songs. It looks like a child’s toy, but is a real instrument with a good sound. Solveig told us that it was the most difficult to play of all Katzenjammer’s instruments – because the keys are so tiny. That was very easy to believe.
The first time I saw Katzenjammer was on a very small stage, albeit not as a small as the pink piano. I’d never before seen a stage so crowded with musical instruments. Throughout their show, I was a little anxious lest one of them trip over an instrument or a trailing cable. Fortunately, they didn’t. At the Scala, they had a larger stage and the benefit of an attentive stage crew, who brought out the instruments as they were needed. Not only did that allay my health and safety concerns, but it allowed the band to indulge in some physical clowning. The four young women clearly all have very different personalities but each one of them, in her own way, can be very funny. The comedy elements to the show enhanced my enjoyment of the music, never threatening to detract from it, rendering the show strongly appealing at a multiplicity of levels.
So, my friend and I emerged from the Scala in an ecstatic dreamlike state. I would be buzzing for days. On reaching King’s Cross Station, the prospect of going down into the dark hole that is the Tube seemed unbearable. Instead, we boarded a bus to Finsbury Square. That square is well known to both my friend and I. At one time, it featured on my commute to work. Yet, not fully returned to the ordinary world, we left Finsbury Square in the wrong direction, wandering lost for what seemed like a long time. In Katzenjammer’s song Curvaceous Ways, there is the lyric No matter if your legs go on and on for days… Lost in a dream, that night, it seemed to matter little if our legs went on and on for days, tracing unfamiliar city byways. We had been well and truly Katzenjammered.
Katzenjammer will be back in London on November 17th 2015, at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire.