Jenny Hval and band at Chicago's Constellation May 15th, 2022 - photo by Dave Robbins
On Jenny Hval’s bandcamp page there is a quote. “In 2020, like everyone else, I was just a private person. No artists were allowed to perform. I was reduced to ‘just me.’” For those who have experienced her previous theatrically crafted performances and followed her perceptive conceptual albums tackling imposed meaning, language games and sensual connections, the question, who exactly is Jenny Hval was hidden inside her electronic conjurings stalking her personal thoughts and fearless queries with evocative abstractions.
Embarking on her North American, a six-city tour with five fellow musicians, Jenny stepped out from behind her art to reveal the artist, a direct, sweet and funny person. Gone was the large intestine feather boa, the miming clowns, couture costumes and computer accompaniment. Jenny’s co-vocalist, percussionist and supplementary keyboard player Jenny Berger Myhre said the band felt somewhat naked playing without all the theatrical trappings and apparently, a large orange tent was abandoned for her stage design due to its musty smell. Instead, Jenny presented her latest album, “Classic Objects,” as an opportunity to connect to her fans on a personal level.
Chatting between songs, engaging the audience and interacting with her band, Hval’s first of two Chicago shows at the intimate Constellation revealed many facets to Hval and her music. Some might have been surprised she was unaware her performance that night coincided with a lunar eclipse, a natural assumption since her lyrics and her novels evoke a visceral awareness of her surroundings. “Lunar eclipse, apocalypse,” she rhymed wanting to know more after the show and using it as an opportunity to launch into the celestial, “Jupiter.” Conscious of chatting too much, her anecdotes spoke to her unquenchable curiosity and constant surveillance. Laughing at her own inability to open her water bottle, she claimed she’s not super professional and probably will never be. She mentioned her dog, Cleo, being the cameraperson for the video backdrop that played during, “Cemetery of Splendour.” Her band introductions were warm and jocular, debating the singular form of congas between her two percussionists.
The shift in performing with a laptop programmed sideman to live musicians benefited the new album’s dreamy textures and heavenly revelry. Centered around her gorgeous voice, Hval’s curling verses floated over Håvard Volden’s graceful bass and Kyrre Laastad’s supple drums as soothing musings from, “Classic Object,” wove fantastic tales with moody nuance through the whimsical fingering of keyboard pianist Johan Lindvall and guitarist Daniel Meyer Grønvold. Coloring from a talented palette, each player blended and complemented one another, vagrant layers coalescing into a haunted aura of sound and story.
While Hval’s set pulled down the barrier between performer and audience, the opener, Discovery Zone literally placed a curtain between the stage and attendees. Projecting fascinating computer movements to accompany her sensual Krautrock mind-trips, multi-media artist JJ Weihl took the room down a stroboscopic rabbit-hole that hit the head and the hips. The former Fenster founder proved to be a flexible spectacle whether stepping out to dance or manipulating a computer-boosted theremin