It’s telling that, when young Søren Christensen, the sharp-beaked organist of Danish quartet the Blue Van, is asked what he’d like to explain to Americans about his homeland, he gives a wistful lesson on Freetown Christiania, an independently governed, egalitarian hippie commune by the sea in Copenhagen. The walled-off borough, intersected by the regionally famous Pusher Street, was founded in the early ’70s by retreating flower children, whose laws included no cars, no guns and no hard drugs (though, of course, certain soft ones remain legal). To a thrill-seeking, shaggy kid following the rock ’n’ roll dream from the sticks of Denmark to an international stage, the streets of Christiania might as well be heaven’s waiting room.
“The conservative government hates it because of what it symbolizes,” Christensen says of the town today. “Now they’re talking about opening it up and developing down by the sea, building over all the wooden houses and the history.” He pauses for a second as if to consider the naïveté of the next statement: “Maybe I can make a difference.”
Even if Christensen’s waifish frame does little to stop the wrecking ball, with his musical companions, arguably the most internationally successful Danish music-makers of the past decade (a minor crown, sure, but certainly a notable one), at least his voice of concern is getting louder with the band’s escalating fame.
The band has rocketed in popularity with the American release of The Art of Rolling, a set of decidedly nostalgic rave-ups bathed in Hammond organ and accented with power chords and panicked drumming. But where the Blue Van bests most of the increasing number of Kinks/Small Faces/Cream bandwagoneers is with something important: Then, just as now, there were throngs of bands with the right amps, big cocks and good hair, and then, just as now, a knack for writing memorable melodies — choruses that actually crash though your head all afternoon — that separated the Rod Stewart-wheat from the Alvin Lee-chaff.
“I won’t judge the other new bands that we get compared to,” Christensen says, “but many of the bands that play that style of music now just kind of follow a pattern that they think will be popular. We’re playing it because, since we were kids, it’s the only music that has gotten us excited.”
Whether you become acquainted with the band live (near-fatal guitar acrobatics, passable English banter) or on the record (near-fatal guitar acrobatics, nearly passable English lyrics: “My angry heart have had enough,” etc.), the foursome who grew up playing together in the farming community of Broenderslev is purely, distressingly exciting.
“Back home, the town has only 200 people or something,” Christensen says of the band’s tiny hometown. “The people there think we’re the Rolling Stones or something.”
The Broenderslev consensus is only a few years off the mark. From the hollering opening of “Word from the Bird,” to the syrupy “oohs” that sweeten “I Remember the Days,” the record is a spot-on update of the rough-cut rock of the early ’70s. It’s all sex and strut, and — here’s where else they stray from most contemporaries — the tunes are constructed with enough youthful exuberance to reach out to more than an exclusive audience of loner, creepy, middle-aged record collectors. When singer-guitarist Steffen Westmark screams, “It’s all over ’cause he’s on board” through the refrain of “The Remains of Sir Mason” (a fist-waving homage to the 19th-centry British inventor of the steel pen?), he’s a more desperate nephew to Animals’ vocalist Eric Burdon. But for the generation of kids who teethed on more modern dilutions, the Blue Van is a godsend. Not to mention the perfect sound track if you ever find yourself wandering down Pusher Street.
Appears 2:30 p.m., Monday, May 30, at the 89X birthday bash in and around the Fox Theatre (2211 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-471-6611). Go to 89xradio.com for info. Nate Cavalieri is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]