Ulver live@Opera House, Oslo 31.07.2010

I knew little of Ulver’s recent compositions and albums since I didn’t quite dig the few songs heard from the album coming after the debut black metal album. And after that, I just didn’t get to hear anything, so I went to the concert with an increased dose of curiosity and interest, especially given the majestic location of the Opera scene. Which raised my expectations to a ‘special’ concert at least. The fun began upon arrival at the place where you’d see the long haired tattooed metal heads who mainly gave up their black leather clothes or spikes and put up some more ‘sophisticated’ clothes. Don’t imagine too fancy stuff now, sometimes it was probably just a black shirt instead of a printed tshirt, it was just fun to notice the attempts of not being extremely metal for some of them. The doors opened at 8PM and the security guys at the door were showing everyone the direction to their seats. I can say the ticket check was the most thorough I ever seen.

So there we were, sitting on the red chairs, up at the end of a balcony, with a perfect view over the entire stage and the whole hall that was slowly getting filled. The organisers even added 3 rows of chairs in front of the regular chairs, hence I assume the concert was quite successful. Alas, not all the chairs in the upper balconies were full. While the lights were still on I studied the equipment on the stage: a set of drums, a huge piano, a big round drum next to the microphone, a gong, a square made of about 6 keyboards and a sound system, then a desk with a lot of equipment that I assume was used for various effects. Right in front there was a ladder with a human or a doll (people still debate this) on top of it. Meanwhile, found out it was a real man called Ian Johnstone. Who had a big nose. Let’s not forget the ninja camera guy who was completely dressed in black and had a thief-like black mask on his head.

Lights turn off and a sweet piano melody begins, while on the background screen we get to see projections with images of the creature on the ladder. Actually it was mainly his face and blood was continously coming out from the open mouth. Piano and blood for few minutes, the rest of the band occupied their places on stage, sounds of a snoring man flow from the speakers, the body is lifted in the air, two men come to take away the ladder and we’re off to the rest of the concert. A concert where you could easily ignore the artists on stage since you had a lot of images to look at on the background: lions chasing zebras in the wilderness, nazi demonstrations and symbols, concentration camps and executions, divers, porn images, dancers, sperm cells, birth, funeral ceremony, baptism, an eye, hunting, a man cutting his veins in the bathtub etc. It was all up to everyone’s imagination to combine the visual elements with the words in the songs or simply the mood coming out from each tune and feel a variety of sensations. I have to agree with a comment heard after the concert that this was black without metal.

Musical wise, I am split between loving what I heard and wishing some of the noises had never happened. I loved the voice. It was so clear and beautiful, a pleasure to my ears. Not to mention the piano or the drumming, especially when Kristoffer Rygg was tagging along with the big round drum next to him. The pianist was also the main guitarist for most of the show, except the final when the special guest Christian Fennesz came on stage to deliver the sound of his electronic music on the ‘Like music’ song, while mr. Rygg was on his knees adjusting the pedal effects and playing the gong at the end. The annoying parts were some obsessive repeating noises, including a ringing phone or some of the electronic effects in the songs that I personally just don’t like. But nevertheless, the crowd received a nice bonus in the form of two songs from the upcoming album, one of them being called ‘England’.

For the end of the concert, we got to see a special interpretation of the ‘Not saved’, during which a naked guy – Ian Johnstone, the same ‘dummy’ from the beginning, came on a lifting platform behind the drums. He was with his back (read ass) at the crowd, ‘standing’ on two legs made of bones, shaking continuously and supporting himself on a long pole in front of him. He stood there shaking and slowly moving for a considerate amount of time, until he started to make a scratch on each of his leg, from the calf all the way up to the thigh, letting blood flow down his legs. After the platform went back down, there were few more notes played and the concert ended, receiving very loud applauses from the astonished crowd.

I managed to film few of the songs since it was easy to lean the camera against the balcony and just let it film, while I watched the performance myself. If you care to watch the vids, here’s a playlist: http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=C6156F11894734F5
I can’t bet on the accuracy of my playlist, but with a bit of help from the mighty internet, I can say the following songs have been played:
Let the Children Go
Little Blue Bird (the intro being Intro for ‘Vowels’ as well)
Rock Masiff
For the Love of God
In the Red
Hallways of Always
Silence Theaches You How To Sing
Porn Piece Or The Scars Of Cold Kisses
Plates 16 -17
Like Music
Not Saved (including an original composition by Daniel O’sullivan)

Certainly a different kind of concert and show, which touches each participant in a different way and even if I haven’t been as impressed as others by the macabre show and images, I don’t regret having had the chance to experience it.

PS: Thanks for the additions in the comment from Gavin Turner


  1. Gavin Turner said,

    August 3, 2010 at 1:59 pm

    Nice review. The man on the ladder at the beginning was Ian Johnstone, the same performer who mutilated his legs at the end of the show. He was a real person. I too thought it was a dummy at first, but alas, I was sat quite close and could see on the screen his facial expressions changing as he regurgitated the blood down himself. Felt bad for him, having to balance there for so long until the show began.

    In your playlist, you missed off EOS, which was the opening song after the piano/peformance intro by Daniel O’Sullivan and Ian Johnstone. They also played Hallways of Always. Awesomely.

    The intro for Little Blue Bird is the Intro for ‘Vowels’ aswell, which is something not really picked up on the interwebz thus far.

    The last section of the performance was also an original composition by Daniel O’sullivan which they tagged on to the end of the extended version of ‘Not Saved’.

    Can happily say, as I’m one person who very much admires all facets of Ulver, this was a perfect show and worth travelling from the UK for.

    • lakeoftearz said,

      August 3, 2010 at 3:17 pm

      Hi there Gavin,

      Wow, thanks a bunch for all this. Guess it makes my review complete now. Glad you enjoyed the show, actually we met some other folks coming from Ireland (not Irish though) and they were very enthusiast. Actually I think they were the only ones headbanging during the show.


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