Thursday, May 20, 2010

the stockholm chronicles: chapter two

tambourines and harmonies (in which your narrator attempts to become best friends with american folk singers)

Because nothing cures jet lag like loud music in a small venue, Elen and I went to a concert on my first night in Stockholm. We've both been big She & Him fans for quite some time, so it was just a bonus that we got to see the show together while I was visiting her in Sweden. The Chapin Sisters opened the show with a charming collection of sweet country melodies. We spoke to two of the sisters after the show and found them to be as lovely in person as they were onstage. Sadly, they had to turn down our offer to wreak havoc on Stockholm as they had to immediately board their tour bus to depart for Oslo. Better luck next time I suppose. We'd also hoped to use the night as an opportunity to become best friends with Zooey Deschanel (I've known we were destined to for friendship ever since I learned that her parents took her name from Franny & Zooey by JD Salinger), but she retired straight to the tour bus after the show. Our scheme had been foiled. Failure.

But we still got a great concert out of it. The band was fantastic. M. Ward was a joy to watch and Zooey Deschanel's voice sounded just as great live as it does on their albums. When she walked out onto the stage and settled behind the microphone, I whispered to Elen, "Wow, she's really tiny." "Um, Beth, she's sitting on a stool." Except Elen was wrong! There was no stool! Zooey Deschanel is that little! For someone that small, she still had quite a lot of energy to share. She spent almost the entirety of their set bouncing up and down, clapping and shaking her tambourine. It was kind of like watching a five year-old.

When she asked the crowd how many Swedes were at the show, the audience (almost entirely Swedish) gently clapped and I think someone may have whistled. Of course, she followed that up by asking whether there were any Americans in the audience. I think there were perhaps five or six of us in attendance, but we all screamed at the tops of our lungs to create a din that dwarfed the Swedes. Because Americans? We are very very loud.

a nashville girl in stockholm (in which a swede sings country music with a cute american accent)

Interestingly enough, my most intimate musical experience in Sweden took place in a raucous British pub. Once Elen and I pushed through the throng of drunken rugby fans and teetered down a precarious staircase, we found ourselves in a relatively quiet basement venue with an indie folk atmosphere. Several bands played songs (all in English) inspired by American country music (the Dolly Parton kind, not the Taylor Swift kind). My favorite performer was the evenings emcee, Charlee Porter. No, that's not her real name, but she wanted a stage name that matched her music. Her songs reminded me of Jenny Lewis and a bit of She & Him, but Charlee's voice and earnest songwriting were very much her own. She had almost completely mastered that slight American twang, except for when she sang about her little country house and pronounced "country" as "cown-try." It was painfully endearing.

We chatted after the show and I was surprised that although she sings with such a strong American accent, she still speaks English with a heavy Swedish accent. It was just another one of her characteristics that I found completely adorable. When I asked her if it was difficult to write lyrics in a language other than her native tongue, she surprised me by revealing it's much easier for her to write lyrics in English. Not only do many Swedes sing in English to reach a larger audience, it is often a more natural writing process since such a majority of the music they listen to growing up is American or British.

After the show, Elen and I shared some Jameson with a fellow ex-pat until the bar closed. It was time to take Elen home and put her to bed. (She has had maybe two drinks since she's been abroad, so any tolerance she once had has completely evaporated. Give the girl two beers and it's time to put her down for a nap.) Once she passed out in her bed and was softly snoring, I read for about three hours. Because apparently I don't sleep in Sweden.

"so happy i could die" (in which your narrator dies and goes to heaven...disco heaven)

Lady Gaga's Monster Ball stopped in Stockholm the day before my birthday, so Elen and I decided that we were fated to attend. Despite the chilly rain, hundreds of fans huddled outside The Globe Arena, creating an ocean of umbrellas. Unfortunately, umbrellas were the one item not allowed inside the venue, so as the crowds filed into the arena, enormous umbrella graveyards accumulated to the side of every entrance. Since Elen and I had assigned seats, we eschewed waiting in line and instead spent the hour before the show having a quick bite at McDonald's (for strength!) and pounding a Red Bull and vodka at a local bar (for energy!). Once we were suitability buzzed and caffeinated, we jittered to our seats just in time for the lights to drop.

As was expected, the production featured elaborate costume and set design. The show followed Gaga on her harrowing journey for fame. It was kind of like The Wizard of Oz, but with more profanity. We followed her through gritty urban jungles and dark haunted forests. She transformed from vixen to nun to fairy, then back again. There were times when I felt like I was watching a movie; it seemed impossible that the show was happening right in front of me.

The lady herself pleaded like a demented Tinkerbell as she collapsed onstage and begged for the audience to clap for her to save her life. "Are you really going to let me fucking die!?!" she screamed as the crowd roared. The dancing spectacles were predictably fantastic, but where the star really shined was at the piano. As she sat at her pyrotechnic baby grand, her cries rang out lovely and clear, enthralling the audience. When she pounded the keys and raised her voice, her simple pop ballads became anthems. So yeah, that was pretty cool.

Elen's four year-old niece has since learned to sing "Gaga oh la la!" This pleases me.

If you missed chapter one, here you go!
more adventures from Sweden to follow...

1 comment:

Anthony said...

Brilliant, as usual I'm floored by your writing prowess...I feel like I'm in the midst of a novel; tell me more!