It’s hot in the tiny backroom of this Islington pub conveniently called The Islington. We’re around 50-60 people in here at tonight’s sold-out concert. It’s cold outside, bitterly so. But in here, there’s warmth and no sign of bitterness. This gig is a party that could just as well take place on a summery beach at sunset, Union Square in New York on a cloudy autumn day or a field full of blooming flowers in spring.
Brothers Moving are no slouches. They have perfected the art of playing on streets and town squares, on mountain tops, at festivals or, like tonight, in a small pub venue in North London – any type of location imaginable. Their music is straightforward, on the verge of being predictable sometimes. Simple chords. A bit of rock and roll. A bit of blues. A bit of reggae. Finally, adding a sea shanty-vibe, with vocals reminiscent of Louis Armstrong or Dr John. It’s a charming blend brimming with life, straightforwardness and extroversion.
The band consists of two brothers (I think there used to be a third brother in the group at one point): Aske (vocals, lead- and rhythm guitar) and Esben (vocals, rhythm guitar, kazoo) Knoblauch. Further members of the band are Nils Sørensen (bass, mouth-organ, backing vocals) and most recent member Leonard Kiel (drums), who is so new that tonight’s gig is his first with the band.
It’s also the band’s first-ever gig in London. At first, they mainly busked in San Francisco and later New York but have since expanded to playing in Russia, at the Grand Canyon, and now also a pub gig in London.
The set consists of acoustic compositions expressed through hard strumming and coarse singing. They also play a handful of cover songs, some of which I’m not sure whether they were on the original setlist or not. For instance, when Esben’s string breaks and while a roadie (or friend?) restrings it, the band plays what seems like an impromptu version of With a Little Help From My Friends (more Joe Cocker than The Beatles) before Esben gets his guitar back and they can start playing the next song as planned.
The guitar still needs a bit of fine-tuning, though. While Aske plays a solo on his guitar, Esben’s tuning adds a few off-notes that give the music a hint of avant-garde jazz for a moment until Esben is back in tune and the four musicians ease into the song as it should be played. It’s a great moment and an excellent example of what a tight band can do. Instead of taking a break while waiting to fix the problem, they play through it while simultaneously sorting it out, making the ‘problem’ a part of the performance. It’s endearing and the way it should be.
They hammer this point home a few songs later when it’s Aske’s turn to break a string. Conveniently enough, it breaks towards the end of the song, Can’t Deny, in which the lyrics go, ‘You can’t deny what’s happening here is so sad, so sad… It’s so sad what’s happening here’ – which he turns into a joke about feeling sad about the broken string. Aske strings the guitar himself while the others continue showing they’re a bunch of musicians used to playing in the street and dealing with whatever technical issues you might face while keeping going on. There’s no time to take a break in the street ‘cos you’ll lose your audience, so why not keep the music going while restringing and tuning back up?
Esben gets his kazoo out (this is not a euphemism) several times to great effect. The innate noise that a kazoo makes could get tiring, but he somehow pulls it off, partly ‘cos the music lends itself to that particular sound, as does his silly, madman personality. A touch of a ragged jazz show tune, Cab Calloway style, is part of this band’s musical uniform.
As I only know one of their songs in advance, the last one, Sorte sigøjner (one of the few songs that they sing in Danish), the only songs I’m familiar with are the cover songs: Minnie the Moocher, With a Little Help From My Friends, One Night, Roxanne and Satisfaction. All of them get the crowd singing along in perfect call-response style. But to be fair, most of their original songs also get the crowd singing. I seem to be the only one here who doesn’t know most of the tunes in advance.
All the covers are great, except Satisfaction (The Rolling Stones). I don’t think the band manage (or maybe don’t even want) to capture the raw, sexual energy that someone like Mick Jagger can bring to a song. The original song is so sexualised, and Esben doesn’t add the sexuality to the song that it needs to thrive. They somehow make a sexual piece asexual, almost comical, and that treatment of this particular song doesn’t work for me. Brothers Moving are at their best when they can be a little bit silly and goofy – the life and soul of the party complete with costume changes, as illustrated by Esben changing his sweat-soaked t-shirt after a few songs. However, it doesn’t make much difference as the second t-shirt gets soaked with sweat within a few more songs.
And this is symptomatic of the whole performance. No one can accuse Brothers Moving of being afraid to sweat and getting their fingers dirty. There’s barely a moment of standing still, especially Aske, and Esben look exhausted when the concert ends. It has been not only a concert but also an athletic effort. It’s a band with undeniable energy and thirst for life and eager to share their positive vibes with anyone coming their way.
Brothers Moving setlist