Magical if you’re on this side of the line in the sand

The Sandmen **** (4 stars out of 6); December 21 at Vega

“There’s an end to everything wonderful – there’s a crack in everything beautiful” their song ‘Get Ready to Leave’ reminds us and it’s a sentiment worthy of tonight, as it’s clear to see that The Sandmen are respected and adored. The Danish rock group, who since forming in 1985 have released nine albums in between break-ups and changing members, last surfaced to pull the plug on a tour in 2009 – with no promise of a return – only to pop up three years later at a sold-out Vega. 

Loyalty and nostalgia are the overall themes tonight. It’s the feelings for this band that set the atmosphere: a mutual feeling of gratefulness. The Sandmen are happy to be back to share their songs with their old loyal fans from the early days. Some in the audience have even brought their kids to pass on the rite of passage. It’s like the band and audience are reuniting in a different time and age.  The Sandmen are still, despite years of absence, right at the core of what moves people.

It is a more laid-back Sandmen (regular/original members: Allan Vegenfeldt on vocals and Michael Illo Rasmussen on drums; regular member Stefan Moulvad on guitar; with Jens Hein on bass – Ole Wennike apparently has tinnitus – and Palle Hjort on keyboards) on stage tonight, playing classic hits like ‘A House in the Country’ and ‘5 Minutes Past Loneliness’ from the album Sleepyhead – which is one of my favourites. Among the other highlights are ‘How Come’, a great song that reminds me of an early Beatles track (think ‘A Hard Days Night’) metamorphosing into full-blown Led Zeppelin; a cool version of Prime Mover (a Leather Nun cover) with lots of pedal and heavy guitar; and ‘Long leg Sally’ to which the whole of Vega goes wild singing along to.

Vegenfeldt is on good form tonight. Smiling and gesticulating, he steps back and forth like a restless boxer before a fight, in between his vocals shaking his maracas or playing additional melodies on his Nord Wave keyboard. His voice still fulfils the expectations, still edging desperation, just how we have come to like it, though for me, the volume of the vocals are en tand for lavt – a little on the low side for most of the set. Towards the end he has a magical moment going into Jim Morrison territory in ‘Am I Grooving You’ where I wish he would have stayed a while longer.

Moulvad, who took over from the legendary now deceased Sam Mitchell in 2003, doesn’t try to replicate the heavy rock riffs and Hendrix blues guitar his predecessor was famed for. It means the old songs lose some of their raw edge. The later songs suit his style far better I reckon, like in ‘White Trash Red Front’, which is great live.

Hein (from Mellemblond) together with Rasmussen supply a rock-solid base. Rasmussen is still tight and cool as ice and hard like someone who has done it all a thousand times. Tonight he seems right on top of things, sitting comfortably in his seat smiling and checking out the faces in the audience while playing. And the highly intense Hjort (from The Savage Rose) adds a new spark to the sound and does a very entertaining performance on keyboards – very interesting to watch – and altogether they justify their right to party on. 

The concert has a good energy level throughout, though a little less edgy than in their early days. By all means a good gig – though personally I was not totally blown away. I guess you needed to know all the songs back to front.

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