ULVER Delivers A Stunning Performance For Their First Ever North American Appearance
Images and words by Stefan Raduta
Twenty-six years, don’t they go by in a blink of an eye?
It’s been a long and arduous road for Ulver to get to this point. They finally performed live in North America for the first time, and what a spectacular moment it was for everyone present! This is what true success looks like, my friends. It takes a lot time, and a lot of struggle.
The Kristoffer Rygg I saw last night at Irving Plaza was very different than the one I saw at Roadburn two years ago. Much more relaxed, much more confident. He was ready, this time. He knew he had it. They all knew, and it showed.
But let’s go back in time for a bit, because everything changed that evening in Tilburg. I still feel like that was their big crossroad, that one concert, almost two decades since Bergtatt saw the light. I remember it like it was yesterday because in all my years of attending concerts and traveling for music I don’t think I saw another band being under so much pressure, both from inside and outside, like Ulver at Roadburn Festival in 2017.
That was a make or brake moment for them. They absolutely had to deliver, there was no other way out. Over two thousand people were not only as ready as they’d ever been – some thrilled, others in extreme doubt – but everyone was just so damn curious as to what would transpire. We were all rooting for them but all bets were off, you could cut the tension and excitement with a knife. Why?
Ulver’s concert on the same stage three years before, when they performed Childhood’s End in entirety, didn’t go quite so well with the public for various reasons. There’s no reason to beat around the bush, it just didn’t stick. To me they seemed way too relaxed and overconfident…but in hindsight I think it just wasn’t the Ulver people wanted to see after waiting all their lives…just covers? Really?
I hated it and like many others left after a few songs, having now more reasons to poke fun at my friends who insisted I’m missing out on something, although I knew I’d never stop loving them. I mean, this band gave me Kveldssanger, an album I’ll take to the grave with me – how could I ever hate them? But the real question was, would they be able to finally turn it around, that night?
And boy, they did. And they did it in such extraordinary fashion, stealing every beating heart in the audience by slowly seducing them with their new sound and unique visuals. It was trippy, man. It felt like a dream. I think it was a life-changing experience for everyone present, just so unspeakably beautiful. And who remembers that guy who yelled “Now play some Black Metal!!” from the top of his lungs all the way in the back (while the audience was still processing everything silent as a mouse, hah) after the third song, making the whole venue just burst into laughter?
Man, what a Moment that was. I will never forget it, especially Garm’s short but playful answer, one that was betraying an extremely nervous but somewhere many layers beneath, a happy person who knew he had finally done it. He was living his dream you see, people were finally responding to his music the way they should always have. He knew, at that moment, that he had won the crowd. And after that immense glacier breaking laughter, it was smooth sailing for Ulver.
Actually forget about sailing, they had switched into a space ship.
There was something else that gave them wings, of course. For the first time since Perdition City, after seventeen years, they had released again an album that not only everyone without exception could get behind, but it just took a whole new unexpected world by surprise. With The Assassination of Julius Caesar, a masterpiece of rare beauty that will only age better with time, Ulver not only emerged more stronger than ever, but the world was finally there for the taking. And that they did.
I felt a tremendous amount of relief for Ulver that night. I was so proud of them. We had all been rooting for this band to come through and that unique joy, to witness it all for the first time next to people from all over the world who always stood by their side despite all the over the top weirdness, was incomparable.
Ulver was finally Ulver, they had metamorphosed into something that you couldn’t compare yet was ever so familiar. The naysayers were silenced. And finally, I couldn’t poke fun at my friends anymore but I was very happy about it.
And what can be said about their concert last night? What can be said about their first ever concert in North America? Well I feel I’ve ranted enough and I need to catch some sleep. Best you ask someone who was there. I took some photos so we can all have a souvenir. But I do know I saw a lot of smiling faces and tears of joy.
A lot of dreams came true last night. It was beautiful.