The last time Norwegian outfit Highasakite played Dublin, it was on a cold, dark December night, when they were the ‘crowd-warming’ support act for Icelandic band of the mo, Of Monsters & Men, then headlining Dublin’s revered Olympia Theatre. That night, at exactly 8pm, Ingrid Helene Håvik gently whispered, “Lover, where do you live, in the clouds, in the sky, in the ocean …” into the vast expanse of the darkened theatre, and a curious hush descended on the large crowd already gathered in anticipation of seeing the Icelandic chart toppers, who had crammed 2015 chock-full with hits such as ‘Little Talks‘.
What they weren’t prepared for, was to be spellbound by a 30 minutes set of dark and evocative, nostalgic and transfixing songs, performed with understated ease, by a Norwegian band who were little known outside the fjord-filled borders of their home country.
From the moment the crowd heard those opening words to ‘Lover, where do you live‘, they were in thrall to its wistful melancholy, and thus it was that Highaskite left their indelible imprint on the musical minds of a buoyant crowd of festive revellers.
Fast-forward five months and Highasakite have rolled back into town, but this time it’s all change. The mantle of ‘support-act’ has been passed on to young, Australian singer, Gordi, and this Nordic five-piece, who only a few months ago would have been viewed by Irish audiences as ‘pretenders to the throne’, are now the headline act at that venerable Irish music mecca, Whelans.
On a stage bedecked with so many silver-clad accoutrements that it looks like one of the road crew lost the run of themselves with a years free supply of tinfoil, the lights dim to a disorienting jet-blackness, with just the odd, faintest of shimmers coming from those silvery instrumental props.
The place isn’t exactly jammed, but it is pretty darn full, and there is a sense of hungry anticipation coming from the murmuring crowd as they wait patiently for the band to come out on stage. Which they do at exactly 9.15pm.
The A-Z of Highaskite’s tours/performances/stage set-up is masterminded and organised with military-precision by their tour manager, Ida, and when she makes very definite statements like, “they always go on stage on-time“, she isn’t lying! With a seventeen track setlist to complete before 11pm, there is no room for antics or technical hitches, no time for faffing around.
Highasakite lead into set opener ‘Liar’ with an atmosphere creating, anticipation generating, slow, dramatic build. It’s a clever choice, on this the debut night of their first headline tour, to replicate the opening to ‘Camp Echo’, their new album released just two days prior, and the reason for this extended tour that incorporates not just Europe and the Summer Festival circuit, but also a whistle-stop whizz around the United States. And, it is probably because this is the first night of such a huge tour that the band is very noticeably nervous. Tension is etched across Håvik’s face as she starts to sing, and for the duration of this and the next song, ‘Chernobyl‘, she continuously looks enquiringly across at fellow band member, Marte Eberson, for what, one can only presume, is reassurance, a look of reciprocal support?
A shiver of first night nerves is only to be expected though and more than likely something that will dissipate from their performance over time. But, personally speaking, its effect on the first two songs is hugely disappointing, as they happen to be my favourite tracks from the new album! It’s not that the delivery is bad, God no, far from it, but it is very uptight and distracted.
In an ironic twist, when Håvik hits ‘Bad Neighbourhood’, she finally unshackles herself from the last vestiges of nerves and the charismatic performer that she is, is unleashed to stunning effect. Anyone who has ever heard a Highasakite song knows full well that this girl has an amazingly powerful and wonderfully textured voice: hear her sing live and you’ll soon realise that all the vocal work on their recorded material is the ‘real deal’. Of all the live vocals I have ever discerned, hers probably comes closest to replicating the pristine quality of its recorded self. In essence, her voice is as near perfect as ever I’ve heard.
Soon in her stride, it’s not long before she commands the audiences gaze, who watch with rapt attention as she immerses and loses herself in the shifting landscapes of the songs she herself created and is now bringing to life with animated and evocative majesty.
But Highasakite isn’t just all about its front-woman. Guitarist Kristoffer Lo and drummer Trond Bersu are the linchpin around which this well-oiled musical machine flows, and as a ‘loctite’ rhythm section, they nail it on the night. Lo, a writhing mass of energiser bunny wows the crowd with his innovative bow on strings, guitar technique, not to mention his sublime turns on the flugabone, of which he is the consummate virtuoso. Bersu, buried beneath a mass of kit, is on fire, playing like his life literally depended on it. It’s no secret that I’m a fan of his finely honed percussive techniques, and his intuitive delivery on the night underscores my belief that he is one of the best in the business.
Bringing the wonder of their surreal electronica to the dark indie that lies at this bands core, are Øystein Skar (whose name I still can’t pronounce despite his best efforts to teach me), and Marte Eberson whose harmonic gymnastics are immaculate in both pitch and sync with Håvik’s lead.
The sum of the parts is a bewitching musical mesmerism. Ranging from the dazzling gilt-edged splendour of the poptastic, ‘Golden Ticket’ to the impassioned darkness of ‘God Don’t Leave Me’, Highasakite’s performance is at all times densely atmospheric and perfectly tempered. The seventeen-song set-list includes favourites like ‘Since Last Wednesday’ and ‘Keep That Letter Safe’, as well as non-single tracks from new album, ‘Camp Echo’, like the amazing, ‘Deep Sea Diver’, making for an eclectic enough choice to suit all tastes. The dramatic ambience is further enhanced by the intense lighting effects which invigorate or opiate as required.
Without doubt, crowd pleaser of the night is their latest single, ‘Golden Ticket’, which has the audience, who are in fine-vocal-fettle, singing word for word with the band, while the undisputed show-stopper is ‘God Don’t Leave Me’, the performance of which is simply astounding.
Overall the gig is a brilliant ninety minute cross-spectrum fusion of myriad songs; a blend of the exotic, bleak, heartfelt, enraged, wistful and golden, this set has it all. Highaskite’s European tour opener is a triumph and their sense of delight and indeed surprise, as the appreciative crowd roar for more while the final notes of ‘Golden Ticket’ ebb away, is touching. They go off stage but reappear as quickly as they disappeared, but not before the audience is treated to a few lush moments of solo Lo ‘flugabone wonder’, which serves as an hypnotic intro to the single instance encore in ‘Lover’, that brings the concert to a memorable close.
Interestingly, talking to some of the crowd afterwards, with one voice they tell me that they’d been so wowed by Highaskite’s performance at the Olympia in December they felt compelled to investigate them further, had bought ‘Silent Treatment’ and were intending on picking up ‘Camp Echo’. All of which goes to prove that getting that support gig with a touring brand name is the ‘golden ticket’ to wider audiences!
The rapturous applause and enthusiastic ebullience shown to the band at the end of the night by a completely ignited crowd, must surely eradicate any anxieties that might have been lingering about their set.
As I walk out of the venue, after seeing a performance best described as ‘sheer brilliance’ I can only wonder why they were ever nervous at all. I’m now curious to see how much Highasakite will have gained in confidence by the time I see them again at Øya in August, when they will play to a capacity crowd on a much bigger stage.
Highasakite is : Ingrid Helene Håvik (vox), Trond Bersu (drums), Øystein Skar (synths), Marte Eberson (synths/vox) & Kristoffer Lo (guitars/flugabone/percussion). Their new album, ‘Camp Echo‘ is out now via Propeller Recordings. The full list of tour dates can be found on their website but check-in on their Facebook page to keep up to speed with all the action!