Daniel Norgren’s Wooh Dang was one of my favorite albums of 2019, and his live show that I saw in Portland in October of that year was startling and uplifting – and also one of the last live shows I saw before the pandemic shut down nearly all in-person performances worldwide. Now Norgren has released his first ever live album, compiled from the last few dates of his shortened 2020 tour, in late January and early February of that year.
Wooh Dang, the Swedish musician’s sixth album overall, didn’t prepare me for the nature of his live show. The album was a pensive and joyful exploration of Norgren’s feelings about the birth of his first child and leaned heavily toward country influenced, psychedelic folk rock. It’s probably not hyperbole to say he worships at the altar of Neil Young. Live, he and his band stretched out in extended improvisations that somehow combined elements of Grateful Dead jamming, indie noise rock, and avant garde Scandinavian jazz.
I’m happy to say that Daniel Norgren Live beautifully captures that ecstatic live experience. Designed to be released as a two LP set (which is scheduled for June 2021, following streaming release on January 15), it more or less alternates shorter tracks with extended workouts, most of which lean heavily on Norgren’s guitar. The songs are taken from the past four Daniel Norgren releases (Buck, Alabursy, The Green Stone, Wooh Dang).
An early favorite of mine is Norgren’s blissful meditation on mortality, “Black Vultures,” which starts out as a solo piece with just Norgren and his electric guitar, slowly adding band members and volume. A close second is “Moonshine Got Me,” which features stellar interplay between the bass guitarist and Norgren’s bluesy electric picking.
The album opens with the gently realized “Everything You Know Melts Away Like Snow,” eight minutes of Norgren’s quavery tenor vocals, strummed guitar and droning organ, its shuffling rhythm laid out on minimal bass and brushed traps. That’s followed by the 13 minutes of building turbulence in the bluesy rocker “Howling Around My Happy Home.” The lovely five minutes of the gentle, folky “People Are Good” slides into the longest track, all 17 minutes of “Music Tape.” This meandering ballad starts with a verse about finding a tape of music in his grandpa’s house and shifts from soft to loud at each transition points. Mostly the song acts as a showcase for the juxtaposition of Norgren’s wide-ranging electric guitar explorations and his minimal lyrics of mundane happenings, all adding up to a meditation of the cyclical nature of life and art. Though he mostly uses a clean indie-type guitar tone, here he delves into wah-wah and more. (See his Facebook page for photos of his complex guitar pedal setups. )
Wooh Dang is represented by two songs, “The Flow” and “So Glad.” “The Flow” is a much more muscular and uptempo take on this song, complete with grungy guitars and an ecstatic crowd. In conjunction with this release, Norgren is showcasing a new video for the studio version of “The Flow” directed by Minha Kim.
“So Glad” finds Norgren solo, accompanied only by himself on piano, which is where we also find him on the album closer, “Like There Was A Door.”
On several of Norgren’s songs in his now extensive catalog, he occasionally resorts to a variety of wordless vocal techniques. For some singer songwriters it can come off as a trick or can seem like they couldn’t come up with one more verse, but with those like Norgren who obviously are deep observers of life and who feel things just as deeply, the technique can be actually better than words. That’s the case on the final chorus of “Like There Was A Door,” which he delivers in a piercing howl that holds the audience spellbound until they explode in howls of their own as his fades away.
Until I can once again join fellow music lovers in front of a stage occupied by musicians pouring out their hearts and dazzling with their instrumental and vocal techniques, I’m going to frequently put on Daniel Norgren Live and let it console and uplift me.