It can be a little nerve-wracking to see a band huddled together just minutes before they’re scheduled to make their live U.S. debut, but it’s even more nerve-wracking when it seems like the band might implode on stage. Perhaps that’s overstating it—ok, fine, I’m overstating it— but tensions were high last night as the young members of Swedish punk band Holograms tried to figure out their pre-show technical difficulties at Manhattan’s Mercury Lounge. Fingers were pointed. Words were exchanged. At one point the drummer made a fist, but no punches were thrown. It was intense. For a few minutes I began to think the show might not happen at all.
After a brief respite, the band made an announcement. “The synth doesn’t work so we’re gonna play without it,” said guitarist Anton Spetz, looking glum and defeated. This presented a few problems, the most significant being that the Hologram’s excellent self-titled debut is far more of a synth-pop record than a full-on punk guitar assault. Over 12 tracks of varying complexity, the album conjures a desolate landscape of societal unrest and personal anxiety while cushioning the often bleak lyrical sentiments with jubilant synth parts that transform the band’s harsh ideas into snotty pop nuggets. It’s the type of record that sounds simple on first listen, but begins to reveal complexities and nuance the more you listen to it. Equal parts Ramones-style punk, Wire-inflected post-punk and Cure-addled new wave, its an album that’s hard to pin down.
With keyboardist Fillip Spetz sitting out the show in the audience, the band was forced to soldier on as a trio, giving their not particularly dense sound an even more skeletal makeover. The Korg keyboard sat at the center of the stage like a corpse at a crime scene. For much of the first song the band members rarely looked at each other, as if they were each trying to figure out who was responsible for the technical failure.
With the second song, the abrasive anthem “ABC City” the trio picked up more energy, perhaps feeding off a jubilant crowd that was still looking to dance despite the lack of keys. As the beleaguered band kept playing, their songs took on a more visceral quality, drawing attention to the thunderous rhythm section. Vocalist/bassist Andreas Lagerstrom even began to loosen up, his face going from “My cat just died” depressed to “I lost $5″ bummed. “It’s really weird playing without a synthesizer,” he casually observed at one point. He was right, but the group made it work.