On the first real winter day in New York, Danish punk band Iceage officially kicked off their tour at 285 Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The show (which followed a last-minute free gig at Wesleyan University) came less than three months after the band announced its move from small independent label What’s Your Rupture? to the much larger Matador Records, and the difference was apparent. By the time the band took the stage, the cavernous warehouse space was packed with sweaty bodies, perspiring from both the physical intensity and feverish romanticism of an Iceage performance.
The 285 Kent show was the first of two New York gigs on a 41-date tour in support of Iceage’s new album, You’re Nothing (due out February 19th), and the band dedicated nearly its entire set to the new material. The rest of the lineup, with New York hardcore staples Deformity opening, followed by the recently reformed Raspberry Bulbs and Nomad, work in a similar format to the headliners, with anxious bass-driven punk cloaked in reverbed vocals.
As Iceage opened their set with “Ecstasy,” the latest single from the upcoming album, frontman Elias Rønnenfelt commanded the stage with his unique blend of indifference and spirit. Thirty seconds into the song’s distorted riffs, someone in the crowd launched a firework onto the stage, leaving a small trail of destruction as fleeting as its initial flame. This didn’t seem to bother Iceage in the slightest, as they kicked the attack back into the audience.
After years of touring, the young Copenhagen band have tightened up. Dan Kjaer Nielsen’s drumming felt especially cadenced as he played militaristic drum marches against the clever, subtle disco influences on “Ecstasy,” adding to the track’s interplay of self-doubt and sexual exploration. Next came “Everything Drifts,” with Jakob Tvillig Pless launching into a distorted bass line, gaining momentum with each hit of Nielsen’s snare and reaching the climax while Rønnenfelt crouched low to deliver the line “You come empowered, but power sparks fear.” The audience transformed into a body of attentive faces, patient fists in the air, but they fully engaged only as the band launched into one of the set’s few older hits, “White Rune,” with Rønnenfelt crawling out into the crowd.
Two years have passed since the band’s debut record, New Brigade, and the anxious post-punk clangor of guitars, drums and bass continues to choke the vocals, making their live songs hard to shout along to. Yet “Morals,” arguably the catchiest song on You’re Nothing, managed to command an audience chant of the chorus, “Where’s your morals?” well ahead of the track’s public release.
Even before they announced the new album, Iceage would often end sets with its title track, “You’re Nothing,” an anthem that seems to encapsulate who they are: “Remove yourself / from patterns laid / all through a life / Look at yourself / That’s right, you’re nothing.” Breaking free from the confines of a punk show by ignoring everything but the music, they ended “You’re Nothing” – and the night – the way they began: looking at the ground, standing strong, playing for themselves first. Iceage knows there’s no freedom without control, and they’ll make damn sure you know it, too.