Norwegian singer Aurora Aksnes, aka AURORA, only stands at 5’3″, but her presence filled First Avenue last night. Aptly named “Your Downtown Danceteria,” the venue hosted plenty of dancing in support of her Infections Of A Different Kind Step 1 release.
It had been two years since she last performed in the Twin Cities and as she mentioned, “we have all grown up so much since then.” I was standing nearby a pocket of young kids who knew every single word and bopped up and down the entire time with an unconditional enjoyment in her music. AURORA seems to bring that out of everyone, no matter the age.
First to the stage was indie pop musician Eoin French, or Talos. As the curtain rose to a heavy droll of bass, 5 members laced the stage. Centered with three keyboards, flanked by two percussionists, Talos dove into his set. Splashed in reverb, his falsetto vocals drifted across a nearly subdued audience. With easy comparisons to James Blake, James Vincent McMorrow, and even Bon Iver, his first song, “Odyssey,” intrigued the audience.
His sparse, almost dub-like electronic music gradually built up over his 30-minute set. Each song introduced another angle and dynamic of the band. Halfway through the set, “See Me,” a track off his 2019 release Far Out Dust, silenced the crowd. The stillness of the venue focused on his searing voice.
The band was also a delight to engage with. At times they were hunched over keyboards and mixers, texturing the sound, while others moments involved guitars and bass, layering a wall of noise. The bass was mixed extremely heavy, but it helped balance out Eoin’s high voice. It was the final song of his set, “Your Love Is An Island,” that got the crowd clapping and jumping along. An extended 6-minute version, it culminated with a bowed guitar, heavy keyboards, and dramatic percussion. It was a memorable ending to the experience of discovering a new artist.
From the moment the large video screen lifted, it felt like First Avenue was in AURORA’s magic snow globe. Four large hanging jellyfish loomed above, while a river valley backdrop hinted at a kingdom beyond. This sense of mystique and lighting environment surrounded the layered AURORA fittingly, as the group started with “Churchyard.”
Then they quickly jumping into “Warrior,” a percussion dream. AURORA had the audience mesmerized. Her first interaction with the audience included thoughts about penguins, removal of her shoes, and receiving a handmade gift from the audience, of which she received 3 more throughout the night. Gift giving is one of the oldest traditions in human history. We are social creatures who enjoy each other’s company and express our feelings through gifts. This ritual is engrained in our DNA. Seeing this admiration and appreciation of her fans throughout the night showcases the connections we can have through music.
It was during “Murder Song (5,4,3,2,1)” when we got our first full band break. Stripped down to just a guitar and sweltering vocals, AURORA told a darker story.
He holds the gun against my head
I close my eyes and bang I am dead
I know he knows that he’s killing me for mercy
It’s one of the common themes in her music. Although oftentimes dressed like a sprite, floaty and primitive, her music can be violent and has darker themes in it. Like a musical version of Stranger Things, there’s depth to her stories and past. “Animal,” a new single off her album, triggers the same violence combined with love. This balance definitely connects to all ages, as the variety in the audience suggested.
The lighting show gradually took over toward the end. “Forgotten Love,” “I Went Too Far,” and her set-ending “Running With The Wolves” featured extensive arrays of colors, flashes, and timed spotlights on the hanging jellyfish. It had been a long time since I’ve seen an artist incorporate this much design and intention into a performance. It also gives the audience moments and memories of being in that magical snow globe with AURORA. As she pranced and danced around the stage, each burst of energy received crowd applause. It was her gift back to us.
The encore saw AURORA spend 5 minutes engaging with the audience, to tell the story behind her title track “Infections of a Different Kind.” The row of young kids next to me absorbed every word, while the older generations held up their cameras to capture the performance.
Her gentle voice drifted through the song and was the perfect selection to encapsulate her talent. As a final song, “Queendom,” played, once again the snow globe was shaken by dance. Seeing AURORA is to put yourself in an atmosphere and suspended moment, all of which is generated by the imagination of her music. It’s a performance that hastens love, heals pain, and keeps that darker side at bay.