Last Thursday I bundled up and took the bus to Østerbro for another Low-Fi concert, this time a double line-up featuring two Danish artists, Solvej and Esben Amdisen.
I find the building and, once inside, follow the well-boding sign of shoes overflowing on the landing ahead of me. This evening’s host, Anders, finds me kicking off my boots in the hall and welcomes me upstairs into the dim-lit, warm and buzzing apartment, gesturing to grab a beer or some coffee from the kitchen table (I go for beer). With only a couple minutes left till the concert starts, I pass through the murmuring crowd and into the living room, choosing my seat on a blanket in the front left corner. The spot is almost too close to the front, but I decide to stay – sitting on the floor is exciting somehow. I guess it reminds me of being a kid.
My new-found proximity to the ground offers a fresh perspective and I suddenly notice a thick, black A4 notebook with the word ‘DIGTE’ (‘POEMS’) taped on the cover, resting on the floor in-front of me, in the company of a black sweatshirt and an acoustic guitar. I soon find out that these belong to Esben Amdisen as he steps into the small clearing, flips open the book, and picks up the guitar.
Esben is dressed in all black and, as I soon discover, so are his songs. To give full disclosure I should mention that my Danish isn’t perfect; but, listening attentively, my Swedish ears understood enough to catch the words ‘drowning’, ‘schizophrenia’, ‘alone’ and ‘death’ in his lyrics, most of them more than a couple of times. Two or so songs into the set, a lady on the second-row pipes up: “well that one was depressing too”. We all laugh, including Esben – which brings me to the funny thing about his music. Despite the darkness and despair in the stories he tells, the songs are not really depressing. The weight of his themes is lifted by both his energy (that could be felt, literally, whenever he stomped his boots and shook the floor), and in his sense of humor.
In the song Havets Bund (“The Bottom of the Ocean”), Esben sings from the perspective of a spiraling alcoholic, alone in the world aside from his schizophrenic neighbor, right on the cusp of drug-addiction and about halfway to total self-destruction. Yet, what the chorus finds worthy of repetition in the midst of this despair is “the long queues at Netto” supermarket when you need to get a hold of more wine – as though the worst part about death is having to wait in line for it. It’s emblematic of the overall tone of Esben’s set: pitch-black and pithy, an ode to the difficult and yet ridiculous nature of human existentialism, the weight and yet absurdity of suffering.
After the break, I nestle back into my corner as tonight’s next performer, Solvej, takes the stage with her guitar. She starts with a simple statement: She likes to be at home (fitting, at a home-concert, of course). Her songs, she continues, are a lot about home. She explains that she likes to write about the conflicting relationship between her life growing up in rural Denmark (Vestjylland, as a song title later reveals) and her later life living in the city. As we get deeper into Solvej’s set, she takes us on a journey through love songs, lullabies and melodic musings about being home and being away, about childhood and identity, longing and belonging. Although she introduced the concept of home as a thing of comfort, her songs are more about how home can be complicated, can be elusive, evanescent – she asks the questions we all ask ourselves: if “home” is where you’re from, or where you are, who you are, or who you love? Maybe it’s just a feeling, like the nostalgia of a childhood crush.
She explains that she wrote the song “Fra Vestjylland og Hjem” (“From Western Jutland and Home”) for her childhood friend whom she hadn’t seen in a long time. “Jeg er dit land, din pige og du er min dreng og min by / min dreng og min by” (“I am your country, your girl / and you are my boy and my town / my boy and my town”), she coos in the second verse. Her metaphors are straightforward but not simple, playing with the relationship between people and places in a way that goes beyond the question of simply seeking ‘a place to belong to’ – I take from her lyrics the idea that really places belong to us, too: in memories, in people, in our stories and our just ourselves. Her performance is sweet, sad and thoughtful; each time her voice and her fingertips slip into a whisper she closes her eyes, and we all lean a little closer.
Riding the bus home, a particular mood still glows inside me. I think (as one is wont to do when looking out a bus window at night) about melancholy. One of the more important things I’ve learned about sadness, is not to fear it. I was reminded of this by Solvej and Esben, whose sad songs amounted in my sleepy, winter-sick mind to a kind of uplifting manifesto for the essential multiplicity of human sadness. Painful, ephemeral, shameful, frivolous, profound – and, at the very least, a little less difficult when shared.
You can find Esben and more of his music on his facebook page. He released his debut album “De Lokkende Lys” in spring 2016, and will be releasing a new EP in March 2018 as well.
Thank you to Anders Poulson not only for hosting, but for providing the lovely photographs as well.