Live Show Review: VNV Nation — September 24th, 2017
As a significant change of pace from my usual fare of extreme metal shows, I was able to attend the Ottawa debut of long-standing EBM veterans VNV Nation. I had no idea they had never played in Ottawa before, so I am doubly glad I seized the opportunity to buy tickets within hours of their going on sale.
The show featured only two acts: the headliners and the opener, a Canadian DJ from Edmonton, Alberta, named iVardensphere. The latter's performance was a one-man show, and a bit of a throwback to the era before electronic shows were largely performed with a laptop. iVardensphere's setup was fairly minimalistic, comprised solely of a large bank of drum machines.
Since I had no previous knowledge of iVardensphere, I am not sure how much of his show was improvised and how much consisted of their album material. In my post-show research, I did find "Bonedance" (YouTube link) which was very similar to the opening portion of the show, though there were some minor differences in pacing and the samples used.
The whole iVardensphere set was approximately 45 minutes in length, and I really enjoyed it. The live-mixing was fun to watch, the sound was groovy and featured some really heavy moments that appealed to my inner metalhead. DJs don't tend to inspire me to buy their recorded material as I find they tend to be better experienced live, but iVardensphere overcame that bias and they made a new fan in me. (Throwing in a sample from Airplane! in the closing song was a nice added touch.)
The transition between opener and headliner was managed very quickly and efficiently. I had no idea VNV Nation had more than two members, but their live entourage consisted of a drummer, two keyboardists — who also had laptops running — and the frontman, Ronan Harris. Right away, the he engaged the crowd and kept them in the palm of his hand for the entirety of the show.
The premise of the tour was that VNV Nation were playing material from their older albums, Empires (released in 1999) and Automatic (released in 2011). In practice, however, they ended up playing mostly songs from Empires — even dipping into the Burning Empires EP material — though they did include "Gratitude," "Radio" and "Control" into the set. I don't think anyone was disappointed that the Empires-era material was featured so prominently, as that album is a genre classic whereas Automatic is relegated to being 'merely' just a good record.
The set felt shorter than it actually was, as the band played an assortment of crowd favourites from both albums. I was elated to hear "Standing" played live, as that is my favourite VNV Nation track out of their entire discography. They even played a dance mix version of it afterward, and explained to the younger members of the audience what "singles" were back in the day. If the fact that Empires is almost old enough to drink didn't make me feel old, that bit of stage banter sure did. Inducement of mild existential crises aside, the whole set was tight, perfectly executed, and made for a really enjoyable show.
After just shy of 2 hours, VNV Nation's set was over. I was exhausted, absolutely drenched in sweat, and completely satisfied with the show. Ronan ended the night with a brief anecdote about being called a "faggot" in a small town on the outskirts of Ottawa — a story that was eminently believable given my own personal experience. It was an amusing ending to a great show, one that outstripped my meager expectations of an EBM live performance — something I had never experienced before. If you ever get a chance to see VNV Nation live, I implore you to avail yourself of the opportunity — you will not be disappointed.
Published: September 28th, 2017