Webster Hall, NYC
Get Off the Stage If You Don't Want to Be There!
When jj first broke out and started getting attention last year, very little was known about them. No one knew who they were — or even whether they were a “they.” We now know that jj consists of Elin Kastlander and Joakim Benon from Gothenburg, Sweden, and even though more details about them have since emerged, there is still an air of mystery. Opening for The xx on their first ever US headlining tour on March 31, they did little to change that.
Elin first came onto stage alone and sat on a stool — just a girl and her guitar. She seemed shy, and with a giant shawl wrapped conservatively around her she could have been any other coffee shop singer-songwriter if not for the hint of glitter on her face and eyes. She played acoustic versions of two songs before Joakim joined her.
The songs on their full length album, 2009′s jj n° 2, have an airy-pop feel and paint images of tropical islands with an almost ethereal touch. But here they were stripped of all effect, sung slowly and intimately, and the difference in the mixing brought out a strangely melancholic quality.
Joakim was off to the right of the stage for most of the night, near the sound board, hiding behind his Macbook. Occasionally, he joined Elin on guitar but it seemed very clear that he did not want to be in the spotlight — even when he was on stage, he was barely lit.
There was very little emotion in the performance. In between songs, they exchanged a few words and those were the only moments when Elin flashed that wide smile she’d been hiding from the audience.
Frankly, the most interesting part of the set were the visuals. Projected onto red drapes that hung at the back of the stage, they were like substitutes for the performers’ lack of presence. The images ranged from footage of animals walking through the desert (on the song “From Africa to Malaga”), to oceans, beaches, and sunsets, to underwater footage of divers swimming with manatees. The strangest by far though was the homage to Swedish soccer superstar Zlatan Ibrahimovic — if the slowed-down footage of him both on and off the pitch was a nod to something, I didn’t get it.
The audience got a glimpse of what could have been during the song “Masterplan” when footage of Elin was projected behind the real Elin sitting on stage. As she sang the song live, her lips were in sync with the ghostly image of her on screen, but that version was smiling, laughing, teasing with an naughty look her eye as she rolled and lit a cigarette and then started smoking…It looked like a flashback to happier times, an intimate and almost private moment Elin shared with whoever was behind the camera. It was such a starkly fascinating contrast to the girl singing on stage.
It was too bad, really. They both seemed quite awkward and uncomfortable in front of the crowd. Often in concerts, the artist and the audience feed off each others’ energy — in most cases that is positive, but it can be equally negative. This crowd was easily bored by jj’s perceived lack of effort, and in turn it only seemed to reflect back onto them. Elin mouthed a quick thank you when she was done and walked off the stage with no ceremony about it.
No one seemed to mind that she left.
– Gulshan Kirat
Photo: Gulshan Kirat