Sometimes it’s good when idols are humanized, as the tendency to put people on pedestals can flatten their complexity. This was my experience watching Dungen perform at Mississippi Studios on Monday, May 10th. Throughout a set which seemed designed to please fans both old and new, progressing from “Sista Gasten” to “Fredag,” to “Akt Dit” and “En Dag Pa Sjon,” and eventually into older songs like “Ta Det Lugnt,” it became clear that guitarist Reine Fiske was either having some technical issues with his amp (technically his preamp, a vintage Klemt Echolette tape delay); being a neurotic, tone obsessed player; or some combination of both. There wasn’t a song that went by in Dungen’s nearly hour and a half long set, where the guitar player didn’t crouch down over his pedal board to twist a knob or retreat to his rig to do the same.
This tension eventually spilled out into frustrated smashing of keys, exaggerated guitar strumming, and petulant stomping on the pedals. At one point, sensing his guitarist’s growing angst, band leader and songwriter Gustav Ejstes bound over to the Fiske during “Panda,” tambourine in hand, to have a powwow, but was greeted with a pseudo-headbutt and the universal signal for “Cut it out.” Needless to say, the energy was weird to experience along with music that for the most part is designed to be light, airy, and generally uplifting. It’s been my contention since their album 4 that Dungen’s live performance is not so much intended to be psych rock as it is jazz fusion. And they didn’t prove me wrong Monday night, jamming out extended versions of songs such as “Franks Kaktus,” showcasing considerable improv chops.
Besides the palpable tension emanating from Fiske (whose tonal anxiety actually convinced me NOT to smoke the weed I had in my pocket), Dungen’s set was enjoyable. In a contrasting opening set, Brazil’s Boogarins, who were a revelation to me, brought a positive, bright energy. Effortlessly combining the spacey exploration of psych with the groove of samba and other Afro-Cuban influence, Boogarins charmed the audience with a short and sweet set that was a perfect start to the evening.
Words and photos by Aaron Sharpsteen.