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A review of Pain of Salvation live in Lucknow 22.01.2011

January 26, 2011

I am on the road with Pain of Salvation. We are in Chennai as the band prepares for their headlining performance at the Saarang Festival on the 29th of January 2011. There have been two performances so far on the tour, the first, a show at IIM Lucknow’s Manfest, the second, an acoustic performance at Landmark in Chennai. The mood, texture and construction of each show was different, but both shows were equally spellbinding. Pain of Salvation is a band that is so far beyond criticism for me that I cannot feign objectivity. The show was free, and it was clear that most people in the crowd were not fans of the band’s before the show began. But if their reaction was anything to go by, they were by the end.

The night before the Lucknow show, having agreed to judge the Hell Raiser competition to decide which band opened for Pain of Salvation, frontman Daniel Gildenlöw, guitarist Johan Hallgren and bass player Per Schelander braved the freezing outdoor weather until the competition ended after 2 am. Setting a trend of painfully long delays, the competition, which was scheduled to begin at 8 pm, began after 11. Initially determined to stay there as long as they did, I gave in to the freezing conditions and called it a night at 1, in spite of having put on five layers of clothing. Daniel, however, said he had made a commitment and was going to honour it. The tour manager repeatedly reminded him in a sternly maternal tone, that there were still ten days to go in the tour and he certainly could not afford to fall sick. Daniel retorted with a petulant questioning of the scientific basis of the concerns. ‘Colds are caused by viruses’, he coughed.  There’s a very fine line between honour and foolhardiness, and at this stage it was too early to know which side he had landed on.

After a series of setbacks, including excess baggage, unhygienic rooms and many more long unnecessary delays, the band finally hit the stage in India for the first time at 9 pm, after having to push the opening band, The Circus’ set until after Pain of Salvation’s.  As Daniel joked later, they effectively headlined the festival, with Pain of Salvation opening for them!

 Every Pain of Salvation album is a concept album. I was very curious to see how the songs would work out of the context of the albums, as stand-alone songs in a concert. I have to admit being sceptical when I first looked at the setlist chosen for this tour. Those doubts were soon laid to rest as the setlist seemed almost as perfectly constructed as the songs themselves. It proved that Pain of Salvation songs can form a near narrative structure even out of their original context.

The band’s, and especially Daniel’s performance was truly virtuoso- it was exhilarating, constantly surprising and commanding and was the most complete I have ever witnessed. Never before have I experienced such a spectrum of emotions during a show. I wiped away tears during the ‘first steps down Remedy Lane’, laughed at the silly Spice Girls joke, picked my jaw off the floor during the People Passing By and  head-banged with vigour during Diffidentia.

Much of the charm of a live performance lies in the little unexpected moments. One such was during Of Dust, which is played off a tape on the PA system and sees the band in total darkness on stage. During the line ‘in life a king, in death a failure’, I heard a female voice coming from behind me, complementing this line with the most delicate and controlled vibrato. It was hauntingly beautiful. It was a welcome change from the other people around me. The worst point was during the unexpectedly stunning rendition of Kingdom of Loss. This song presents Daniel with the opportunity to address the audience in a very direct and informal manner, delivering monologues over the music, which the person behind me felt the need to reinforce himself. I understand the desire to sing along with a band when the energy and adrenaline are running high and you cannot help but scream at the top of your lungs. But this was clearly an instance of ‘trying to show how much I know about Pain of Salvation by reciting the monologue along with Daniel.’ It was dreadfully cacophonous.

The concert felt like two shows in one. The first, which started with Of Two Beginnings and ended with The Perfect Element, told a story- its construction was meticulous and intentional. The second, a long encore, was a fun rock show. Starting off with a cover of the Beatles’ Come Together and Dio’s Don’t Talk to Strangers, with Daniel on drums, the band showed that they could just as easily put on a highly energetic and fun rock show. The show ended with a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, performed by the entire band sitting cross legged on the stage, insisting the audience do the same. The band took their final bows to rapturous applause, from a hugely appreciative audience.

I have always loved the song Disco Queen off the band’s 2007 album Scarsick. I thought it would have made a perfect addition to the encore, a point on which both Daniel and Johan agreed. They spoke about the possibility of adding it to the show in Chennai, but soon discovered it would be impossible since they were touring without original keyboardist Frederick Hermansson, who unfortunately had a previous commitment and was unable to make it on this trip. His replacement, Daniel Karlsson, known in the band as D2, formerly guitar tech to the band on their 2007 tour, did not have the necessary sounds and samples on his keyboard to make the song work.

On the evening of the 25th of January, the band played an hour long acoustic set at Chennai’s Landmark store, as part of a ceremony celebrating the launch of their albums in India. In 2004, the band released the live album 12:5, which consisted of acoustic rearrangements of their songs performed live. It is widely accepted as one of the band’s finest efforts and the chance to experience a rare acoustic set from the band was a thrilling prospect.

Unlike the album 12:5, which was a much rehearsed performance, the show at Landmark was completely spontaneous. Even as the band walked on stage, they had no idea what they would be playing. They started off with an acoustic jam, leading into the Beatles’ Come Together. The first Pain of Salvation song was received with applause that almost brought the roof down- the first ever acoustic performance of People Passing By.

This Lucknow show was calculated and planned; this show was spontaneous and fun. The most unbelievable moment came after an emotional rendition of Second Love. The band, at Daniel’s suggestion, launched into Disco Queen. Not only was it the first ever live acoustic performance of this song, but it was also the first ever attempt at it by the band! It was truly spectacular. Even though Daniel forgot the lyrics (reminding us, however, that he did still remember the wi-fi password at the hotel in Agra that we stayed at), it was my favourite part of the show. They continued with Tell Me You Don’t Know and No Way, off their latest album, Road Salt, before attempting to finish with Hallelujah. Acquiescing to the almost belligerent demands of the audience for one more song, they concluded with Ashes.

The two shows were a clear demonstration of the band’s versatility. It was a privilege to have witnessed them. As much as I am I am looking forward to the next show, I cannot get past the knowledge that it is the last show of the tour. A depressing thought, indeed.

One Comment
  1. Erick permalink

    Good comments about the shows!
    I wish I could watch more of that spontaneous acoustic versions (on youtube we can watch No way, Tell me you don’t know, Ashes and Hallelujah)

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