On Trial/Wonderweasel - Gaswerk (Foyer) - Winterthur, Switzerland, 17 December, 2003

Uploaded to Aural Innovations: January 2004

I was happy that Denmark's neo-psych/stoner band On Trial came to Switzerland. Recently, I had made a trip to Copenhagen myself, figuring that I shouldn't expect bands from that far away to be showing up here in my backyard. I had originally learned about On Trial (and other great bands) from fellow AI foreign correspondent Scott Heller, and managed to get copies of two of their CDs shortly thereafter. In the past year, they've put out a new studio offering entitled 'Blinded by the Sun,' a CD appearing on the emergent Molten Records courtesy of one Richard Allen, who seems to have put his Delerium label (that released On Trial's excellent 'New Day Rising') to bed now. (Look for it on the TeePee label in the US, with slightly different tracklisting.) Because I couldn't stay until the final note of this gig, I don't know whether the band was selling this (or any other) CD from the stage. But shortly after this gig, I ended up stumbling upon it in a HMV in London and bought a copy then (so guys, you made a sale that night even if you weren't aware of it!).

OK, but first things first... Gaswerk is a cool club in a small industrial area of Winterthur, a mid-sized town not so far north of Zürich. Close enough to my home that normally I can see an entire show and ride the last train home, even on a weekday. (but..) They have both a larger room for well-known acts that draw 300 or so (Nektar is booked there for April '04, and that will be my first concert experience in the larger hall), and the smaller 'Foyer' for more intimate gigs and a comfortable capacity of maybe 100. A local Swiss act, that I had never heard of before and can find nothing about via websearching, called Wonderweasel, appeared first. Because they came onto the stage roughly 40 minutes late (according to the intended schedule, something that is usually followed in Switzerland much to the amazement of many non-Swiss), I thought perhaps they were dragging their feet hoping to get a bigger audience. But later On Trial themselves admitted that they were very late in arriving and the whole schedule got put back because of them... honorable of them to come clean, as audiences rarely know what's going on otherwise.

Anyway, Wonderweasel were quite an interesting group... certainly a throw-back to the 70s (even though nobody onstage looked a day over 25), something in the neighborhood of Atomic Rooster. A mix of progressive, psychedelic, and straightforward classic blues-based rock. The keyboardist was rather impressive, coming off very much like Dave Stewart (of Egg & the Hatfields, not the Eurythmics guy obviously). I think he was even playing an old Rhodes piano at one point. They began with two extended instrumental pieces that were titled (I peeked at the setlist) "Jurassic" and "Sonic <>" but then went on to do vocal tracks for the rest of the 45-minute set. I think they could probably use a bit more seasoning to sharpen up their live performance, but there's definitely raw talent there and I will try to find out where they might be playing again in the area. By the end of their set, a crowd of 75 or so had been built, all of whom seemed to enjoy Wonderweasel as well, and I didn't get the impression that there were (m)any of their friends in the audience. So I suppose that means something then.

On Trial set up as fast as they could, which still took some time as there wasn't much shared and so a 'tear-down' stage was required initially. Eventually they got going at about 10:40... so I knew that (with a last outgoing train at 11:52) I wouldn't be hearing an encore. Happily, they kicked off with the great melodic-though-powerful "Flashinghast," and then next I think was "Lovecraft" from the 1997 'Head Entrance' album. Soon thereafter came "As if..." another track from 'New Day Rising.' But then scattered throughout the performance were some unfamiliar tunes, which confirmed for me that there must be at least one newer disc out there that I didn't have. As of today, the band features Bo Morthen (actual surname - Petersen) on vocals, a dual guitar attack featuring guys named Bjarni and Henrik, and then Nik on bass, and a new drummer named Anders (which is confusing, 'cause they used to have a different Anders on guitar). Their overall sound stays fairly closely with the boundaries of bands like Monster Magnet and (post-1997) Amorphis. Morthen (or Petersen really), a tall thin guy with decidely non-stoner hair, has an excellent singing voice. And their songwriting is strong, which means their performance can still be enjoyable even though they experiment and jam on stage (seemingly) much less than some of their compatriots in Scandinavia.

Toward the end (for me) I remember hearing "Do You See Her?" and I think "Pot of Gold" was in there somewhere as well. But then, shortly before what I assume was the intended climax of the show, I had to slip out the back door and zip back to the station. I also miscalculated the distance a bit, and nearly missed the bloody train (luckily it came in at the first platform, otherwise I might still be there waiting!). Sadly, quite a few others also snuck out early on this Wednesday evening - Switzerland is a notoriously early-to-bed country. And so, even before I left, the audience had dwindled to less than half. And though I doubt anybody (apart from myself) really knew the group beforehand, I'm pretty sure it was not due to displeasure, but rather just getting past their bedtimes (how sad). In the early stages with a full audience, they all seemed to enjoy the music and the sound was really good and just about the right volume level (some clubs I've been to have decibel limits... apparently not here). Anyway, so I didn't get to say hello to the band or buy anything, but I did manage to snag one of their promo posters off the wall and so I did get a souvenir of the show. And now I do have their latest CD (they have also an LP out of just cover songs, if anyone still has a record player), so I can say now that On Trial is still definitely going strong. With a release now in America, perhaps they'll be making regular trips around the better part of the 'Western' world, so check in at www.ontrial.dk every so often to find out when they might be coming your way. Definitely worth checking out, and staying up late for! (www.teepeerecords.com for the US release)

Reviewed by Keith Henderson

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