Shady Oaks /w Marni Kruse @ Bastard Bar, Tromsø

by Emīls Vilcāns

shddyoaksmrnkrsFinding the way through the snowy streets of Tromsø, Northern Norway, there, once more, the door opens to the cavern of Bastard Bar on the evening of 23rd of February, sheltering those thirsty for brew and some acoustic vibes. Awaiting for the debuting local blues project Shady Oaks and singer-songwriter Marni Kruse as support, a sensible ease is lingering in the bohemian space, soon ignited by jazzy folk and heavy blues. 

Receiving the hardly-noticeable stamp on the palm of my hand, I finally end up in the dim ambiance of Tromsø’s Bastard. Sight out for a nice spot to sit down, I notice a guy who goes by the name of Håkon Johnsen, a local singer-songwriter. Some months ago, stepping onto the stage of Tvibit with a full-band, Håkon delivered two songs – Curse the Moon, a melancholic This Will Destroy You atmosphere piece, and Stay Hard, a more indie-rock’ish adventure with a crescendo typed culmination. Mingling with the crowd and greeting whoever comes through the door, Håkon is also the reason for this late gathering. Presenting himself from an entirely different angle, he will later on step onto the stage as Shady Oaks for his debut-performance. Until then, a meet-and-greet is at hand with the local beer still tasting fine. With nothing indicating of the gig starting for the next 10 minutes, I finally notice Marni Kruse, a singer-songwriter hailing from Faroe Islands, also lingering about the bar. Some air-signals passed between the two musicians, Marni steps onto the stage , picks up his guitar, sits down, greets and naturally just goes for it.

Opening up with the unreleased view The New York Taste, Marni fills the air with a catchy chord progression and his fast-paced vocal expression, bringing about the NYC scenery. Somewhat spitting out the lyrics in the style of Ray Charles on Hit the Road Jack, his style is more like a crossover between jazz, rock’n’roll and ska/punk. Continuing in a similar fashion on his Bullshit Advice, a song questioning the point of handing advice to a certain type of people, he brings in a loud and bluesy harmonica for the chorus parts. This Trip Needs A Rocket mellowing the performance down a notch, shares a dreamy vibe with the works of Ben Howard and Benjamin Francis Leftwitch. Whereas his hit-song I Need to Chill, a lazy-sunday’ish jazz tune about the stressful time of preparing for a musical at the Rytmiske Højskole in Denmark , is a smooth word association accompanied by elegant harmonica and word-mumble sections. Arriving at his latest work Walking Under Stars, Marni ignites with a fast-strumming guitar and long harmonica notes, creating a wholesome adventurous feeling of hitting the road and simply being in the moment. Surprisingly, with only 5 songs in, he thanks the audience and passes the tag onto Shady Oaks, leaving behind an uplifting mood and a crave for an encore.

Shortly after Shady Oaks takes over the stage and swoops the dreamy post-gig vibe out the door with the very first notes of Dark was the Night, Cold Was the Ground. A rather Morricone influenced heavy blues track with an emphasis on the slide-guitar that reminds me of Greg Dale‘s contribution on Scott Kelly and the Road Home. Putting himself completely out-there, the nearly aggressive strumming and sliding on his retro Hofner archtop acoustic, creates a rather doom’ish aura, only enriched by his occasional raspy voice. Arriving at the song If I Could Only Fly, Shady Oaks pays his homage to Blaze Foley, later on also covering Skip JamesHard Time Killing Blues. Worth a mention is also his original Deadly Night Shade with its limboistic atmosphere, non-harmonic chord progression and a sensible struggle imprinted in his vocal out-put, clicking with the likes of Efrim Manuel Menuck of Thee Silver Mt. Zion. Returning to the bluesy slide-guitar, he goes onto Hazy Eyes, a whiskey craving ballad, with lyrics such as: “If I could have another whiskey, the night would be seen through hazy eyes.”, later on loosening up for a jam of the theme. With 8 songs in, the latter being Through the Clouds, a Dylanistic tale of a happy day, Shady Oaks takes his bow and, despite all the heavily atmospheric bumps along the way, lets his audience off on an uplifting note.

Honestly, Shady Oaks left a good impression from the very start with the daring move of completely turning the tables on the overall vibe. To what seemed like a hush in the audience, I assume nobody was actually ready for the atmospheric impact with the first sounds from Dark was the Night. Especially with Marni ending his set with the careless Walking Under Stars. Nevertheless, over the 8 songs played, he showed an ability to create a cohesive jam-structured songs, imprint sensible emotion to his perfectly fitted raspy vocal and simply shed some nicely crafted blues. If you’re in the beautiful town that is Tromsø this weekend, witness Shady Oaks live at the Stakkevollan Ungdomsklubb hosted Bukta Battle Semi-final #2 on the evening of 17th of March, where the remaining bands get a chance to compete for a spot at Buktafestivalen (20-22 July, this year featuring Elder, Alice Cooper, etc.), as well as professionally record a single.