screams, whispers and songs from planet earth

A Camp at the Middle East Downstairs – Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Camp (from MySpace)

A Camp (from MySpace)

It was a quote from a song off their new CD, “Colonia”, that was quoted in last week’s Phoenix that piqued my interest and got me out to see this show. “Love is stronger than Jesus. Don’t you know that love can kill anyone? So bring it on.” The tracks I heard on MySpace sounded quite promising, poppy and yet with that darker tinge that instantly reels me in. But that’s all I knew. I never heard of Nina Persson‘s previous band The Cardigans (with whom she gained worldwide popularity, though of course that passed me by completely). So I saw this band without knowing really anything at all about them, and maybe that’s the best way to first see someone. It was a smallish but enthusiastic audience (120-130?). I knew this would be interesting when I saw their stage setup – a few intriguing looking floor lamps, small tables with tablecloths on which various pieces of their equipment were placed… as I was enveloped in this mood of cabarets and salons, I was thinking it would not be out of place for her to sing while stretched out on a divan.

Nina Persson of A Camp

Nina Persson of A Camp

Indeed, Nina Persson is quite an elegant chanteuse with a gorgeous voice, but she also has an edginess that comes through in her lyrics and performance, which really appealed to me. For A Camp, she’s accompanied by her husband Nathan Larson (soundtrack composer and formerly with Shudder to Think) on bass and Niklas Frisk (Atomic Swing) on guitar. I’m going to take a rough stab at this and say Kevin March on drums and Anna Ternheim on keyboards and backing vocals, but someone please correct me if I’m wrong. I’m going by a half-heard band introduction and names off the new CD, so my apologies to band members and fans alike.


I’m not generally a huge fan of what I’ll call schmaltzy show tunes, but while I definitely hear a bit of that in their sound, it’s mixed with ’60s pop, ’80s New Wave, and even some country in her vocals (I guess A Camp’s debut album, back in 2001, had more of a country influence). Which all makes for an interesting and I felt surprisingly effective combination. It just works. There’s also Nina’s stage presence, which is magnetic and inviting. The way she segued between her brief, sweet song introductions and her performance, along with the rather majestic musical arrangements, gave the show a theatrical air.


It was a dramatic opening with “The Crowning” (first song from their new CD Colonia), which is a deliciously subversive show tuney piece with tinkly toy piano and acerbic lyrics of a royal coronation. They followed with a mix of tracks from their two albums including a Daniel Johnston cover “Walking the Cow” (on their first CD), and a Grace Jones cover, “I’ve Done It Again”. Nina and Niklas performed the duet “Golden Teeth and Silver Medals” (from the new album) which normally would be way too schlocky for my tastes, but done live in the subterranean Middle East turned cabaret for this evening, I really enjoyed it, and they harmonize beautifully together. “Bear On The Beach” was incredibly lovely, followed by another standout, “I Signed The Line”. I quite liked “Algebra” as well (from their debut CD), but I don’t have that one yet so I’m not as familiar with it. They finished with “Stronger Than Jesus”, and came back to do two encores, to rapturous applause.


Highlights for me from their new release, as I’m listening to it now: “The Crowning”; “Stronger Than Jesus” – a playful sixties sound belies the bitter, cynical lyrics, with the great line “We’re believers trusting strangers, any monkey looking like a savior”; “Bear on the Beach” – beautiful, breathy, wistful, with those lovely vocals; “I Signed The Line” – sweet song of marital regret; “It’s Not Easy to be Human Anymore” – very, very pretty, melancholy, dreamy orchestration with Nina’s crystalline vocals; and the delightful closer “The Weed Had Got There First”.


~ Setlist ~
The Crowning
Love Has Left the Room
Frequent Flyer
Angel Sadness
Walking the Cow (daniel johnston)
Golden Teeth
I’ve Done It Again (Grace Jones)
Bear On The Beach
I Signed The Line
I Can Buy You
My America
Stronger Than Jesus

Song for the Leftovers
The Weed

Note: Boys Keep Swinging (David Bowie, from his Lodger album) was on the setlist for the encore, but wasn’t played. Bummer!

They’re currently on tour in the U.S. and Canada. See their MySpace for their schedule. Highly recommended!

CNN interview with Nina Persson – January 8, 2009

The Independent (February 1, 2009)

The Telegraph (February 5, 2009)

The Sunday Mail (February 8, 2009)

A Camp on MySpace

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1 Comment

  1. Thank you for this wonderful review, very well-written. I saw the band in NY and they pretty much blew me away. I’m a big Cardigans fan and haven’t really known about A Camp until late last year and I was very impressed. Nina’s voice is something else and is the reason why I’m a big fan of both bands. Since The Cardigans are on hiatus right now, I thought I’d better catch A Camp on tour and I did and it was fantastic.

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