Opening their Wednesday night set at Mississippi Studios with a squall of guitar noise over drummer Anton Strandberg’s pounding, mesmeric take on the Neu! beat, it became immediately clear why Holograms have so bewitched the US music press in the scant sixth months since “Hidden Structures” captured the attention of some influential ears. When you’ve been putting up with the Fall for thirty years because they seem to be the sole remaining band whose interpretation of punk is receptive to a mid-tempo motorik groove, imagine your delight to find a group of apple-cheeked youth mining the same fertile territory, and doing it seemingly of their own accord and for the sheer joy of it, no sneering, craggy autocrat in sight?
Considering the band’s wariness concerning their own good press and growing international reputation, it was fitting that they would introduce themselves to their small Portland audience with a new song, identified on their setlists as “Blaze On the Hillside.” Restrained but without softness, “Blaze” struck a note of amped-up severity that perfectly foreshadowed what the Swedes would deliver over the course of a short (just under 45-minutes), profoundly aggressive set.
Wrapping up “Blaze” with a one-note solo from singer/guitarist Anton Spetze and the polite “thank you” that comprised most of the evening’s banter, the quartet launched into a highlight from July’s self-titled debut LP, Holograms, the frantic pop gem “Chasing My Mind.” Stationed at the stage’s center, keyboardist Filip Spetze pecked out the tune’s one-finger melodies on a vintage Korg. While the use of a vintage synthesizer on Holograms often lends the recordings a nostalgic atmosphere, it’s the junk-shop appeal of the instrument’s squared-off tones that are emphasized on stage. A Roland Juno 60 – capable of a smoother sound than the Korg – sat mostly untouched as queasy digital buzzes and flutters were wrung from its more primitive monophonic cousin. These sounds adorn the music without ever fully settling on a place within the compositional scheme, like a cloud of flies briefly settling onto the body of music before lifting again in coordinated chaos.
From the Pabst Blue Ribbon tall boys that appeared whenever a hand was momentarily freed, to the band’s use of a rickety drum kit salvaged from a trash bin by openers the Be Helds to bassist and singer Andreas Lagerstroem’s hoarsely shouted “1-2-3-4!” that opened each song, Holograms presented their set with a drunken recklessness which nicely offset the gloominess inherent in much of their material. The downside of this approach was the necessary exclusion of songs such as “Apostate” that would have required a subtler touch. Even poppier constructions like closer “Hidden Structures” (appropriately dubbed “Hidden Fuckers” on the setlist) were torn up and scabbed over to such an extent that one has to wonder whether the violent treatment was a response to Portland and its famously lackluster audience.
It was appropriate to this moment in Holograms’ story that a small mosh pit in the middle of the room would be flanked on either side by journalists scribbling in notebooks. A lesser band may be tempted at this point in their young career to play for the journalists. The T-shirts and jeans clad lads were either playing for the moshers or for no one, in defiance of the whole room. Judging by the three-armed pummeling driven the drum kit by Strandberg and Filip Spetze (whose left hand remained occupied with a PBR), and the grins on all four members’ faces as a chaotic coda finished off “Hidden Structures,” Holograms don’t care a bit what their audience makes of their racket; they’re just happy to make it.