Anna von Hausswolff, “Live at Montreux Jazz Festival”
By Andrew Parks · January 13, 2022 Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

Maybe it’s the lapsed Catholic in me, but something about the omnipresent pipe organs and gothic, panoramic grandeur of Anna von Hausswolff’s 2013 album Ceremony gave me goosebumps. That’s mostly due to von Hausswolff’s masterful way of ratcheting up tension while keeping any sense of release to a minimum. In that way, her songs can often feel like a horror film.

That quality is especially apparent onstage, a platform von Hausswolff often treats like an exorcism. It’s no wonder why Nick Cave asked her to open the Bad Seeds’s performance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 2018, from whence this recording originates. Mixed beautifully on Queen’s former Neve 8048 desk—the same board that produced their iconic Bowie collab, “Under Pressure”—Live at Montreux Jazz Fest is a little over an hour-long and features just six songs, but it unfolds like a sprawling epic. While her last solo LP (2020’s All Thoughts Fly) was strictly instrumental and centered on von Hausswolff’s pipe organ passages, this live set draws on the raw power of two earth-shaking recordings, 2015’s The Miraculous and Dead Magic from 2018.

Fleshed out with a full band (including her sister Maria and a few members of her drone project BADA), this isn’t a show in service of selling albums so much as an ominous rock opera that must have reduced the venue to rubble. Outside of the relatively quiet respite that is “Källans Återuppståndelse,” von Hausswolff leaves us very little room to breathe or reflect on what just happened. A 20-minute rendition of “Ugly and Vengeful” is particularly tense, slowly but surely building to a climax so potent that the night could have ended right then and there.

Instead, “Come Wander With Me / Deliverance” ends up having that honor, and it rises to the occasion with slashing guitar licks and a telling refrain: “I will never be free.” Of what we’ll never know, but the feeling is universal, and most definitely mutual.

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