The Raveonettes: 9 April 2011 - Kansas City, MO

The Raveonettes performed their music minus any noticeable mistakes, but they used few tactics to appeal to the audience.

The Raveonettes
City: Kansas City, MO
Venue: The Record Bar
Date: 2011-04-09

The Danish alternative band, the Raveonettes closed out the first annual Middle of the Map Fest, trotting up to the stage, such as it was, at midnight. The singular duo made its second appearance in the Kansas City area in roughly six months. The band last played at Lawrence’s Scion Garage Fest in October, 2010. But tonight’s sonic display was something of a different monster, as the band was tight, cutthroat, and decidedly unapologetic in terms of its overall approach, attitude, and musicianship. It was an excellent show but few actually noticed. The Raveonettes, Sharin Foo and Sune Rose Wagner, played most of the nine cuts from its latest album, Raven in the Grave, which had been released a mere four days prior to the gig. Thus this officially sold-out festival slot was nothing more than a de facto record release party, and it showed: while the songs were well-done and sounded well, the band was less loose and open.

The other half of the one hour set predominantly entailed standout and popular tracks from previous albums, but it was not particularly a fair and balanced sort of arrangement. In point of fact, only one track from the band’s last album, In and Out of Control (2009), made the list, the infectious, undeniably good “Heart of Stone”. Foo has stated that she didn’t feel totally “connected” with the last album. On the other hand, three tracks predictably arose from the band’s influential third album, Lust Lust Lust, “Dead Sound”, “Lust”, and of course the mandatory, signature track, “Aly, Walk With Me”. Wagner’s unending guitar riffing on “Heart of Stone” was considerably well-played, but at the same time it turned rapidly tedious, despite its accompanied noise, drum-banging, and electronic sound effects. Same with the uber-sedating closer “Aly, Walk With Me”, save for its louder, more rocking bits. But the band even played rarer material (“My Tornado”) from its first EP, Whip it On (2002).

Still, aside from hawking Raven in the Grave nearly to the crematorium, it was rather troublesome and dodgy not to play at least one or two more songs from In and Out of Control. For example, the roughly two-minute “Oh, I Buried You Today” could have been performed by Sharin Foo alone; as she brilliantly rendered it in Lawrence last year. Another great live song from the band’s last album also probably should have been played, “Break Up Girls!” is a remarkably fine, loud, material highpoint last year too, but it does require more than one band member to pull off an effective rendition.

Let's get to the new material: Sharin Foo prefaced the hypnotic song "Apparitions" by stating its name, thereby applying suggestion, one of the few solid tactics used by the band. As it turned out, the audience happily cheered at its end. Other songs from Raven in the Grave didn’t fare so well; the stellar, decadent “Evil Seeds” should have garnered more applause than it did. New songs were indeed played well, and they were well-rehearsed by the band, but the audience remained unaware and largely quiet. There was an absence of screams. That gets me to one of my main points of criticism: the band must not be bashful about its showmanship and its ability to engage, but not pander to, the audience.

The Raveonettes performed their music minus any noticeable mistakes, but they used few tactics to appeal to the audience. Their tactics: two drummers; suggestion; dancing; promoting the new album twice; playing most of the new album. Sharin Foo used three of these, but ultimately the band’s stage presence was too bubble-spaced and reserved, cautious but not boring. Alas, the hillbilly surf-rock song “Love in a Trashcan” received the loudest cheers. From Raven in the Grave two songs were vividly euphoric, “Recharge & Revolt” and “Forget That You’re Young”. Foo and Wagner’s vocals were virtually indistinguishable, but these two songs mainly featured just one vocalist. Wagner opened the show with “Recharge & Revolt” picking up a silver mic off the floor. He put stress on the song’s canned vocals while he let a hired gun take over on guitar. Foo’s vocal work on “Forget That You’re Young” was sincere and melancholic, but also precise and significant. Her slow dancing was most charming and seductive as well; it was a keen action.

Nevertheless, there was a profound cleavage between both band and audience. (An apt metaphor: the cleavage was nearly comparable to the de-militarized zone that sits between North and South Korea.) Simply put, the band must appeal to the crowd. Selling records may be fine, but people also buy into bands. Why not ask for song requests? Why not cover Buddy Holly or the Velvet Underground? I recommend “Heroin”. Why not play the band’s recent cover of Stone Roses’s “I Wanna Be Adored”? Why not play another song from In and Out of Control? Why not play some of the more provocative material such as “Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed)”? Hole’s Courtney Love has noted that fans in the U.S. “demand a lot” relative to European fans, and I would respectfully submit that this point is doubly so if an audience doesn’t know the ditties: first the crowd expects to learn the songs and then it seeks some combination of technique and ostentation, or meltdown. Frankly, the audience at this gig was silly and appalling, and appeared unfamiliar with either the band or its new material. An exceptional show, with few exceptions.

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Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

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Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

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