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The Dø: 27 Sept. 2009 - Empty Bottle, Chicago

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Wednesday, Sep 30, 2009
Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

Creating a live performance full of win, French-Finnish duo The Dø could have easily entertained an audience of thousands.  Olivia Merilahti was electricity personified.  Flipping her long lustrous hair, coming up to the tip on the stage and leaning into the audience were two of her frequent rock moves.  Dan Levy chose to engage the audience with his sudden floor kneeling.  But despite the sense of developed chemistry between he and Merilahti, it was she who truly stole the show.


It’s both an interesting and unusual combination for a band to be part French and part Finnish, though it worked for folk band Mi and L’au.  The Dø have a much different performing ethos than that duo, however, with a live sound deeply rooted in pop and rock.  In concert Merilahti’s lyrical delivery came off similar to the album, for the most part, but with an emphasis on the faster-paced songs overall.  She could easily play to the most enticing melodies and riffs while keeping her lyrics perfectly on target.  The presence of a live drummer maintaining a fantastic sense of timing throughout also helped.


On their 2008 album,  A Mouthful, a visceral shift in moods occurs over its 15 songs—even among the singles.  While songs like “Tammie” and “Aha” have an energetic drive to them, “On My Shoulders” is as melancholic as it is beautiful.  “Song For Lovers,” “Searching Gold,” and “When Was I Last Home” are simply sentimental songs rather than dance tracks.  Making the album increasingly diverse, it ends on a very raw and turbulent note with “In My Box,” which serves as a stark contrast between both the more stripped down intimate songs and those that feel like instant pop hits.


The Dø’s nearly hour-long set began like their album does with the aptly named “Playground Hustle.”  Some of the samples in that song, as well as “Queen Dot Kong,” seem reminiscent of those used by Solex from The Netherlands and certainly add to the flirty appeal of both tracks.  In contrast, “At Last!” was full of vivid longing, especially the way Merilahti tends to emphasize her words. 


By the third song the band abandoned the album order, switching to “The Bridge is Broken” which came off as an edgy lament.  “On My Shoulders” had a similar tone as Merilahti repeatedly asked, “Why would I carry such a weight on my shoulders? Why do I always help you carry your boulders?”  It’s impossible not to hear her cry without sympathizing.  Her accent, and the way she stretches out certain syllables over others, tends to make her sound even more tortured and anguished. 


Perhaps the best song of the night was the one not sung in English: “Unissasi Laulelet.”  It contained guitar parts memorable enough to match Merilahti’s wondrous vocals.  It’s undeniable how well the band kept up their presence and energy throughout the set no matter what they were playing—a night that, at times, felt as rough as it did playful.  Dangerous mood swings would be more common at The Dø’s shows if they just weren’t so satisfying to relish in every minute.


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