On our way in we’re informed on multiple occasions of the “near sold out” space for Jenny Hval’s Hug and Pint gig, so much so that when we arrive in the basement we find people jammed in down the front, but they leave a surprising amount of space at the back.
Perhaps those down front have anticipated the difficulty to the see the rather small Hval, or the fact that she will sit on a yoga ball down front for most of the set, regardless what this means for me is the visual aspect of the set is somewhat void.
Hval appears and quips “who are you talking to?” before disappearing, albeit only out of my view, at this point though it’s difficult to tell as latest album’s, Apocalypse, Girl, unnerving spoken word opener ‘Kingsize’ sounds like it’s delivered live, but it’s hard to confirm; it’s only as the intensity of the track builds that those up back know the set has officially begun and we’re not witnessing an introduction.
Then Hval appears again clutching a large white yoga ball, which she apologises for sitting on, but remarks that she’s going to go back to it shortly, quipping, “there’s lots of positions”.
Hval possesses an endearing presence, but also the ability to set the audience on tenterhooks; her chat is amusingly quaint and her sound at points edges on the nerve wrecking, indeed there’s points that crowd members are laughing out loud at something Hval has remarked without any real intent of humour; that’s not to say she isn’t funny, she definitely is.
As the show moves forward blissful ethereal sounds are broken by brash drums and the revelation that Hval spent her “loneliest holiday” in Glasgow back in 2005.
Even when she decides to stand she’s barely visible, still her set is enthrallingly on the edge of madness as she pushes sexuality with her lyrics and haunts the audience, with her strong yet fragile vocals on the wonderful ‘Heaven’, as her voice soars over an apocalypse of clanking noise that fades to just a soft vocal delivery.
Hval is almost hypnotic at times as her entrancing repetitive beats hook the crowd in, leaving them unknowingly nodding along as she spouts and shouts erratically over the top.
“I’m sitting down to those who think this is a radio show,” she chirps, well aware of the situation her audience find themselves in, “the yoga ball is full of emptiness… that’s why I like it so much”.
Her chat is so serene yet obscure that you find yourself immersed in the whole experience, and then she hits you with potentially the most accessible point of the night, a cover of Lana Del Ray’s ‘Summertime Sadness’, only to let it disappear behind a wall of feedback and for Hval to emerge from the mire back on her own material.
Whatever she chats about it seems to generate a nervous laughter from the crowd; at points she is genuinely amusing, but always aware of any awkwardness portrayed.
‘That Battle Is Over’ provides a thrilling moment as Hval, mid song and to my surprise, removes the wig she’s been sporting all set, but then becomes barely visible again until the set closes.
All in all it’s a rather gobsmacking performance, one I would have preferred to have been able to see, but still one that we’re all the more better for hearing.
From the reaction of one or two leaving the venue tonight has been a spiritual occasion and I can certainly see why.
Words: Iain Dawson