The tambourine has always been an underrated musical instrument, relegated to the “background” girl a la Springsteen, or molested by some foppish uber-bored British gloomster up front. But, Gustav Ejstes knows how to work the tambourine, and when he whips his head around, blond locks thrashing about like Robert Plant’s, I wouldn’t mind getting hammered by this rock god.
Dungen, the Swedish quartet fronted by Ejstes, embarked on their first headlining US tour this fall after trotting through various stateside festivals last summer. They charmed the pants off us Austin-Americans with their polite Swedish between-song banter (“It is, uh, very warm here,” Ejstes said on what was a 108 degree day). And the band’s adorable Swedish psych lullabies weren’t bad either.
Ta Det Lugnt, their American debut, turned the clock back to a time when having a beard wasn’t ironic and dropping a sheet of acid was considered polite; it’s got Bonham-strength drums, electric organ, fist-pumping guitar solos, and flute solos. So, to say they “rocked” would be doing a disservice to their psych heritage. How about this instead: “Dude, they smoked!”
Guitarist Reine Fiske (in a white linen pajama getup) released thunderous feedback from his axe and bassist Henrik Nilsson laid down the foundation, while drummer Frederik Bjorling threw bricks. Notably, the bongos from the record were missing.
Ejstes, dressed in a black t-shirt and curiously tight jeans, peered out from behind his luxurious drape of hair, bewitching all the ladies with arrows of hot, throbbing Swedish rock. “Festival”, a breezy semi-ballad, lulled the audience into a warm, womb-like sleep. Then, Ejstes broke out the flute for “Sjutton” and all hell broke loose. He galloped between flute and piano; he was like Pan, half-man half-goat, but with elegantly conditioned hair. (During the next song, a man behind me kept screaming “Where’s your flute, now?” I wasn’t sure he was threatening or legitimately curious.) A majority of the audience looked confused by the flute, bewildered even, like it should never be seen beyond grade school recitals and New Age festivals.
For his part, Ejstes looked legitimately amazed that this many people had come to see a band sing in a language none of them could understand. But maybe that’s the point, and it finally really is about the music, man. Dungen’s got the whole psych/folk gig down, and the on-stage energy to boot. As they blazed through “Jamna Plagor” the whole crowd seemed to lapse into a Woodstock acid casualty jam, dancing and actually uncrossing their arms. When Madonna demanded we get into the groove, she was talking about Dungen.
Several cuts from the album followed, Ejstes’s sensual Swedish flowing over them. I was busy looking for a Plant-like bulge, which would have really tied the whole show together. Their last song turned into a 10-minute stone jam, and Ejstes’s mastery of the tambourine was unveiled once again. He beat it. He apologized to it. He threw it down the stairs. He caressed it. And because no one knew what he was saying, it seemed even more electric, like the Kingsmen’s “Louie Louie” on ‘ludes.
That very night, miles away at the Austin City Limits festival, Coldplay’s guitarist must have broken into a sweat as he realized he’ll never be at the Edge, and that Dungen rocked harder than any Live Aid he’d ever play. It was exciting, and there was something in the air that proved it (no, not just weed).
At the end of the last song—which had no less than three interludes which caused the crowd to clap until the drummer kicked back in—Ejstes looked up, dropping his tambourine. He had forgotten we were all there, but he was glad to see that we still were.