Honningbarna at Whelan’s (Upstairs), 14 January, 2015
Two tracks. That’s how long it takes the honey children’s baby-faced frontman Edvard Valberg to get over the modest turn out on a wet Whelan’s Wednesday and launch himself into the heart of the bouncing front row.
It’s the Norwegians’ fourth visit to the venue over the past two or three years, and with each return they seem even livelier. They also get more abrasive and at an ever increasing risk of pumping a boot through an aged floorboard or taking someone out whilst leaping off a table somewhere far from their designated performance area. There’s only one reason you’d ever take your eyes off a live act like this, and that’s to grab friends from nearby before they miss something.
Valberg’s throaty vocal – backed by a three-piece roar that comes through as an angry clashing harmony – holds the fort over barely melodic guitars and a hefty, thrashing bass. Honningbarna sing entirely in their native Norwegian, but the bitter snarl on Valberg’s face at certain points and the unmistakeable intent of Fri Palestina drills the message home. It’s a message of anger, but also of hope. Of the idea that the world is a state, but that we can still do something about it. Apart from Fuck Kunst (dans dans) that is. That one’s just about how much art sucks. And as good as Honningbarna are, they mean their own art too.
Valberg’s cello, for which the band have long been known – a gimmick of sorts, but a mighty impressive one given the way it’s played like a thrash guitar part with a bow – is conspicuous by its relative absence tonight, featuring just two or three times. Instead tracks like Noen A Hate and Protokoll highlight the strength of Honningbarna’s three-part axe line up, each sporting their own unique stage uniform, and each to be found inciting a shoving match in the front few rows at various points in the set. It’s loud and extremely rough around the edges, but squeaky clean punk is a musical misstep anyway, and the jarring shenanigans are all kinds of brittle fun.
Charmingly awkward banter with the audience aside (how one man can leap like a demented salmon one moment and look nervous the next in front of the same crowd… well you’d have to ask him), the only English we get all night is a riotous closing cover of The Clash covering The Equals’ Police On My Back. But in some ways only catching the gist of what this snarling bunch are on about enhances them. At least this way the music shines through and we don’t risk being turned off their performance should the politics prove to be anything less than we’d hope. Though given this is a band that reject alcohol on tour simply so they can donate their rider to charity, we’re confident the words might hit the mark, too.
A more vibrant show you’d do well to catch. We spot two members of the band sat in the bar drenched in post-marathon quantities of sweat straight after they skip off stage, shaking the hand of each new convert as they stumble – ears ringing – back into stormy Wexford Street. They qualify as vaguely inaccessible even by punk standards (anyone fluent in Norwegian around here?), but that Honningbarna keep showing up in Whelan’s to play to crowds not much denser than you’d find queuing for breakfast baguettes down your local Centra is frankly disgraceful. That they keep tearing the roof off the place regardless says all you need to know about them.