When 120 Days first took the stage at the half-full Empty Bottle, they were sexy, like seasoned rock stars complete with the attitude and sunglasses. The foursome from Oslo was tuning up their instruments and synthesizers while the house DJ warmed the crowd. Then, with just three guys on stage, they began to play -- or so it seemed. 120 Days is, for lack of a better word, experimental, and it sounded as if they were playing through the house music to kick off their set. But as soon as it started, they cooled, jumped off the stage, refueled with more alcohol and returned.
At 12:22 am 120 Days made its Chicago debut and, despite playing to a room of maybe 150 people, lead singer Adne Meisfjord could have been performing for an arena filled with 20,000 people by the way his voice owned the space as the band did the same with its expansive sound. Rare is the frontman who can enrapture a crowd by his presence; Meisfjord sank his hooks into this room and didn't let go for 50 minutes. He even glanced out into the crowd at the end of the first song with a look of horror and shock that there wasn't a bigger eruption of applause. It was the last time he gave that look.
As soon as the show started, jaws around the room dropped -- and two funky dudes up front danced like Dieter, encouraging the motionless hipsters in their plaid shirts and puffy coats to do the same. After a few songs, the energy in the room completely morphed and usually staid white people were showing off their ability to bust moves they only before dared reveal in front of their mirrors.
The band, on the flipside, had a contained frenetic swagger. By using minimal traditional instruments (the bass was the only constant throughout the show), but concentrating on computers, synths and a drum machine, 120 Days creates one of the most innovative sounds today. Their brand of futuristic electro-rock effortlessly straddles the line between dance music and guitar rock so much so that anyone else who laid claim to the dance rock category (read: Franz Ferdinand) should bow their head in shame and slink off to a corner to think about their actions.
The combination of Joy Division-esque hooks, Pink Floyd drawn-out yet controlled jams and U2 bravado created a new blend of shoegazering that hasn't been seen since Billy Gillespie first dropped acid and created Screamdelica.
While the show lasted less than an hour, you were hard-pressed to find a disappointed hipster in the house, especially those who were graced with free shots poured directly from the stage. At one point, Meisfjord looked out and said, "You've been a good audience ... you deserve free whiskey," and sprayed the crowd before beckoning anyone who wanted one to line up for a shot (not surprisingly, the kids love their free whiskey).
Then, without thought, the engaging singer, who bounced between keyboards, guitar and the drum machine all night, whipped off his shirt, exposing his thin but muscular pale body -- and launched into the climactic "Come Out (Come Down, Fade Out, Be Gone)." It's with this song that the singer channels the spirit of Ian Curtis -- hopefully without the suicidal tendencies -- vocally, emotionally and spastically. There have been engaging frontmen to come out of Scandinavia, but Pelle Almqvist, you've got nothing on this guy.
Unlike the Hives, however, there's nothing gimmicky about 120 Days. This is a band, assuming it can withstand the hype, that can have incredible staying power. They've tapped into a unique sound that was created and perfected by Krautrock predecesors and take it to a higher, somewhat spiritual space. To tag the music ethereal or atmospheric would be a start, but considering the powerful pulsations that explode from the stage adds that edge that can get even the most dour scenester shaking his ass.
120 Days are only in the States for a small chunk of shows, so I suggest catching them before they head back to Scandinavia. One tip: you might want to down a few shots of whiskey of your own or smoke some herb. While not required, the enhancements definitely highten the experience that is 120 Days.
Special guest report by Ari Bendersky of Something Glorious