Philadelphia’s smoking ban has inadvertently created a smoke screen for touring bands. Gone are the days when fans would firmly entrench themselves stage-front as the band set up and sound-checked. Now, nearly everyone takes the opportunity to step outside for a quick toke. It is understandable then, that Love Is All might have felt a little miffed when they took to the stage at The Barbary and were faced with only five or six people scattered haphazardly across the floor. Fortunately, this number was slightly deceiving. As soon as the first fuzzy notes rang out, the room started to fill with people who had previously spent the past 30 minutes outside, smoking and soaking up the sun’s rays.
You can’t blame the fans, though. The Barbary, as a venue, is a little ill suited for shows that start at 6.30pm, as this one did. While I welcome the fact that I was home and in my pajamas by 10pm, the dark, dank confines of this relatively new Philadelphia venue is more conducive to the banging club nights it holds when darkness falls, than actual shows which are often interrupted by slivers of daylight sneaking in whenever a door opens. Still, even as the crowd filtered back in during the first song, it was slightly disheartening to notice that this show wasn’t sold out and actually, perhaps only half full. Love Is All had traveled all the way from Sweden for a short tour and this was the best welcome Philadelphia could give them?
Then again, can we blame Philadelphia? It seems as though we’ve reached a saturation point when it comes to Scandinavian music. For the longest time, American audiences have treated anything from this part of the world with automatic reverence. Much like foreign films, which can wrap up ennui in the most appalling piece of narrative and still be accepted because it’s in a different language or spoken with an accent, too many foreign bands get by because of their nationality, not musical talent. Love Is All, however, is an anomaly as they deserve any hype they get regardless of the passports they hold. The five-piece band deals in skuzzy lo-fi appropriations of pop and post-punk, adding a twee overtone to their tight, taught songs, which are topped off with female vocals and squawking saxophone.
Like their debut album (Nine Times the Same Song), which packed ten tremendous songs in 30 short, breathless, but very, very good minutes, this show was also short but just as exceptional. Live, Love Is All is akin to a cavalry charge. At any given moment, elfin singer Josephine Olausson will give her band mates the nod and they all charge towards their mics, joining her in a raucous choral corral. It’s a gang mentality. They are both emphatic and euphoric, always crossing that musical finishing line with their arms aloft and voices raised. And this is what makes Love Is All so great; the sheer exuberance with which they play each song, coupled with their ability to evoke the many variations of the four-letter word their band name contains in short, succinct, three-minute pop tunes. And like their keyboard, which is held together by electrical tape, Love Is All’s songs are similarly stuck together and always sound as though they are close to collapse.
With a second album already in the can, Love Is All let loose several new songs. And while they weren’t as instantaneously catchy as their initial recordings, they definitely showed promise. “Wishing Well”, the show’s opening number, is their most prototypical ‘pop’ song, a jaunty little number whose only failing is that it might be a little too straightforward and clean cut compared to their typical scuffed-up pop. “Give it Back” is a cowbell and saxophone driven number (I know that sounds weird, but it isn’t), while “Last Choice” is almost electro sounding, the serrated guitars making it sound too harsh to ever be called twee. Best of all, though, is “New Beginnings”, which features call and response vocals and the band’s patented cavalry charge sing along.
As you would expect, it’s the older, more recognizable songs that get the crowd going. Things don’t really kick off until the fifth tune, which is a storming run through “Ageing had Never Been his Friend”. Despite the small crowd, it only takes one person to start dancing before the rest follow suit. By the time they return for a one-song encore the audience is clamoring for more; but we don’t get it. Then again, we don’t need it. The band is economical when it comes to the music they make and their shows follow suit. Leaving us wanting more might mean that the next time they come around, there might actually be more of us there. I certainly hope so. The band’s new record is apparently going to be called A Hundred Things That Keep Me Up at Night; number one on my list: Why isn’t Love Is All a bigger Swedish export than Ikea?