Live Review: Mark Eitzel + Fernando Viciconte – Helsingør Theater (Den Gamle By) – 23.02.2017
Photo by Bjørn Giesenbauer
The last time Eitzel passed through Aarhus, he and his band seemed down on their pep. They were all recovering from the flu, the drummer had broken his arm the night before in Copenhagen, had a sling on, and Eitzel’s normally booming voice was reduced to a husky squawk – however, the show went on as planned and they pulled it out of the fire. We thought surely, there would be no fire to pull a show out of, but a tweet went out around 5pm with the band standing on the side of the road with yellow safety vests on in a snowstorm. The van had broken down and they had to be rescued somewhere along the E45. That meant a rush job for sound check in a venue that is hard for even locals to find sometimes.
I’m happy to report, though, that the show began as it should, to a full house and everyone in the building left with either a better appreciation for Eitzel or at least a handshake from the man himself after a wonderful set by an intact band.
Helsingør Theater was the setting for the evening; the 1800’s theater formerly located in Helsingør of course, and partly dismantled and imported to Aarhus’ replica old town, Den Gamle By. After some lobby time, where RADAR curated a make-shift bar in the basement cloakroom, we were shuffled into the main hall. It was immediately evident that this was going to be a special show. The room smelled of old wood and fire, it was warm and the stage with its painted diorama feel gave a weight to the experience, like seeing a Victorian variety night or something – like those scenes in “Gangs Of New York” even. I boldly took a seat in the front row, just on the baffle between the stage and the pit.
Fernando Viciconte arrived. A man I’ve never heard before – but his solo acoustic set was performed masterfully and with weighted introductions to each number including hurricane Katrina, his family’s dealings with the military Junta in Argentina – closing his 40-minute set with a gospel-flavored tune, possible called “Angel Of Death”. Viciconte is a great Americana singer/songwriter, in the troubadour style – he’s certainly worth checking out, as he seems to have some friends in high places (Eels, Richmond Fontaine, REM).
There was, of course, an intermission before Eitzel’s set. The audience was not allowed to bring any drinks into the hall – which to me just meant – ‘I won’t be drinking tonight’, which is totally fine, but some were knocking it back like there would be a prohibition tomorrow. Viciconte worked his merch and a bell sounded a few minutes later, calling us back into the theater. I couldn’t help imagining that we were actually going in to see a vaudeville troupe, an amateur company running through Othello, or maybe even an early music hall variety show. What we were about to see, though, was nothing short of entertaining, uplifting, and truly unique.
Photo by Bobby McBride
Eitzel and band assumed their positions and Mark began on his out of tune electric guitar. I couldn’t identify the opener; however, it was obvious right off the bat that Eitzel was in fine form – his voice soaring into the rafters of the house – barely even needing a microphone at times. You could see his body open up – rising above his stained pants and flat-cap. The band came in where needed – subtle and elegant, lifting the song, playing to the singer. All eyes and ears in this house were transfixed. “Firefly” came next – another song written about his mother at the end of her life. The crowd immediately clapped when the recognizable intro came in.
Eitzel is a great man for in-between song banter, and tonight was no exception. There were times when it even felt like, because of the room, he was hamming it up. “I wrote that song after my mom died – the nuns came to my house and tried to talk me out of suicide – but, I showed that nun..I stayed alive – out of spite…” and introducing the next song; “I’m a bad boyfriend…you’d know that’s true if you ever dated me” (“Mission Rocket Resort”) and into an early highlight “Nothing and Everything” from his new record.
The band (same as he brought along last time) are really master-sidemen. I’m always amazed at how well they play Mark’s very tricky arrangements at times – often sliding in un-noticed before building waves of sound that compliments the song, rather than drag it down. For only being a trio – these guys filled in the gaps on the often-lush arrangements of his albums perfectly, that became evident on almost every track, especially “Nothing and Everything”. Only one false step possibly – there was a little banter off-mic before going into “I Love You, But You’re Dead” (a personal fave of mine) as to possibly whether or not they were actually going to play it. Eitzel came back and introduced it – “Here’s a horrible song…” and the band launched into a pretty sped-up version of the crowd favorite, seemingly trying to just get through it. No idea what was going on there.
“Last Ten Years” and “An Answer” from Hey Mr. Ferryman received their Aarhus debut now – again, masterfully performed with the minimal band – somehow managing to make the skeleton crew of just Bass, Drums and Keys (+Eitzel on acoustic) seem like more than what was on stage. Eitzel did, of course, voice his opinions several times on America’s current political state “seriously FUCK OFF” and “You dress like a shroud – that’s all you ever wanted to be was a fucking shroud”. “The Road” and “Mr. Humphries” rounded up the main set.
Now, it’s inferred that there will be an encore for a headlining act – so after a polite minute of clapping (that weird thing Danes do where they somehow all end up clapping in cadence together…) the band came back out and treated us to a pair of numbers more – including “Jesus’s Hands” from American Music Club’s wonderful Everclear LP. The crowd were positively baying for more, though – stomping and whistling – so Eitzel came out solo – performed a pair of numbers, and told us about the 1st time he was in Aarhus (2009?) – “there was some guy sitting up front just yelling: “YOU’RE A FAGGOT” – (laughs) – Well, he wasn’t wrong!” Eitzel left and the crowd stood up now, asking for a third encore – which we received with “Western Sky” (from The Ugly American) and then departed – both artist and audience grateful.
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen 3 encores at a rock concert – I’ve seen retiring maestros in symphony halls taking a bow after a lifetime of service to music receive three – but this was just Mark Eitzel right? It was evident that we didn’t want to leave this hall – maybe due in slight part to the horrible weather, but no doubt, indebted to the wonderful and incredibly unique concert by a man doing what he was born to do: perform. It was a beautiful night that won’t be forgotten by many in the theater. For this one evening, we all dreamed the same dream.
Radar more than succeeded with setting this concert up at Helsingør Theater, Den Gamle By. Both Mark Eitzel (and band), Fernando Viciconte and the surroundings made it an evening to remember. (5/6)