Last night, I had the opportunity to see the Swedish wunderkinds of the moment, Dungen, at the Empty Bottle. The show was unique, because Dungen was actually playing 2 separate concerts that night, so I caught the early one and still had time for a full evening of antics afterwards. The idea of the 7:30 rock show is really appealing in the same sort of way as an early evening movie, especially since most shows in Chicago don’t seem to start until 10 or so. And in a final side note, the Empty Bottle officially won my heart when they played the first Os Mutantes record as background music before Dungen’s set. That is unquestionably one of the most enjoyable/best records of all time, and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.
When talking about Dungen, the obvious stepping off point is late 60s psych-rock, essentially the Jimi Hendrix Experience. And while the connection is definitely valid, there is something more to their music which takes it beyond being a mere replica. And that something is nothing short of the entirety of Swedish culture. All the songs on Ta Det Lungt
are built in a completely Swedish way, using melodic lines and chord progressions that simply wouldn’t occur to any English speaker. In a way, Gustav Ejstes’ songs have more in common with Sibelius or Greig, had they been rockers, than anything else. The songs have a sensibility and pacing all of their own.
In a live setting, this becomes even more noticeable, because they have the freedom to draw out sections of music, or improvise around and within the peculiarities built in to the songs. Not to mention that all four players that make up the live version of the band are incredible musicians. Reine Fiske is probably one of the best lead guitarists I’ve ever seen - he has complete control over each and every note that comes out of his guitar, always picking exactly the right tone for every moment. And when he gets going into a solo, it’s actually picks you up and takes you somewhere you didn’t quite know you wanted to go. And the rhythm section of drummer Fredrik Björling and bassist Tiaz Gustavsson are tight, propulsive, and nicely melodic in their backbone. Despite the mythology of Dungen being a one-man-band, they are very much a unit, something Gustav admitted when I interviewed him for WPRB (the interview can be found in the 2005 WPRB Program Guide available here
). Take away or replace any member, and their sound would be irreparably altered.
The final thing that makes a Dungen show so much fun is that they are really really really really really really happy to be playing music on stage. I’ve never seen a rock group care so much about the well being of their audience (hiphop acts are all about that, but that’s a discussion for another day). When I saw them in Philadelphia over the summer, it was a sweltering day, and the members of the band actually threw their water bottles into the crowd and even turned the fans on stage out toward us. All four of them seem to feed off of the energy of the crowd, something that works wonderfully in a small venue. In fact, they are possibly the perfect band to see in a small club; I don’t know if their antics and showmanship would really transfer to a larger setting without feeling forced. I haven't heard any reports about them from Siren or Intonation, but I just can't see them working as well. Their sincerity gives the music that extra jolt that makes their live incarnation completely different, and better, than anything on recording.