A band like Covenant hits the Twin Cities once in a blue moon, and thanks to Kilted Farmer Koncerts, those who enjoy their synthpop and dark ambiance were given a treat. On April 4, 2018, the Amsterdam Bar and Hall was filled with excitement and some nostalgia. Along for the ride were three local and semi-local opening acts: Le Hearse from Minneapolis, the Sweat Boys from La Crosse, Wisconsin, and Endless Blue from West Bend, Wisconsin. Covenant is on tour promoting their new album, The Blinding Dark, which offers fans their signature dark synthpop with Eskil Simonsson’s deep and enchanting vocals. The album offers the sound they are known for, but taking it a bit darker and more ambient than they have previously—though it still offers more upbeat tracks perfect for breaking out the double-stacked stompy boots.
Le Hearse, an electroromantic outfit out of Minneapolis, opened the show. Le Hearse is typically a “one-man” band by Charles Sadler, but while on stage his wife Kelly provides backup synth, and together they certainly made beautiful music—if you will excuse the cliché. They performed a brief set to start the show off with classic, danceable synths and vocals that tied them together with and without modulation. Le Hearse was an excellent choice to set the stage, with Charles sporting a pair of Taiko pants that he later told me his mom, Claire (also known as “Granny Goth”), had made for him. Charles indicated that he has synesthesia, which allows him to see audio, and as a result he listens to and is influenced by things that “don’t sound like mud,” such as prog-rock, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush, Howard Jones, and of course the headliners, Covenant. He saw Howard Jones at the Roy Wilkins in the late eighties and was blown away, deciding that he wanted to make that kind of music and working towards that goal since. After listening to his set, the classic influences were certainly there, as well as a broader sound that makes his music unique and wonderful to listen to and experience.
The Sweat Boys are absolutely something else; they provided an immensely entertaining interlude during the show, as they provided upbeat, athletic, and vaguely erotic dance theater to their stage show. Their music is reminiscent of Johnny McGovern, bringing dancepop and synths with eroticism and humorous lyrics. It is nearly impossible not to involuntarily move along with their music and their chants of “SWEAT!” throughout. They all have monikers they use: Benny Sweat, also known as lead singer Ben Koch; Bod Stewart, aka Seth Langreck; Otto Bahn, or, alternatively, Sweaty Mercury, aka AJ More; Sam DeMerit, who I did not get a moniker for; and keyboardist the Sweatuation, or Gym Jones, also known as Dylan Lambert. Ben, Dylan, and AJ had originally worked together under the band name H. P. Hovercraft, which then evolved into a noise outfit called Brunch, and then from there it evolved into the Sweat Boys. Ben is the man behind the fitness machine, Dylan runs the keys, and the rest add to the overall persona and help with the mixing. AJ calls the Sweat Boys “sex positive, fitness positive, super extra heavy on the entendre, fun dance pop,” and I absolutely cannot refute that—it is all of that and more. It has to been seen and heard to be believed, and I cannot stress this enough: go see this band live, it is absolutely worth your time. The music is amazing and fun, and the show is just brilliant.
If you put Amethystium, Ani DiFranco, Massive Attack, Tori Amos, and a guitar into a blender, you’d have Endless Blue. They manage to take the best parts of each of those performers and bring it together into one amazing package. Laura Hillman’s voice could melt frozen butter, and tucks right into the downtempo trip-hop that plays with her by Nick Mitchell, Kent Zocher, and Scott Feldstein. Nick and Laura founded the band; Laura spent time in Germany and got into Portishead, Tori Amos, Natalie Merchant, and Metallica, while Nick brings more of rock and blues into the mix, and between the two they both add a touch of jazz. With regards to their darker lyrical content, Laura mentions her mother’s reaction: “what happened that makes you write these things?!” But it is a format and poetry that works for them, and when they attempted to write more upbeat pop tunes, it “sounded like your creepy uncle wrote it.” The group listens to an eclectic sampling of music; for some it’s big band and swing, for others it’s electronica like Venus Hum, or rock music. These influences are certainly heard in the music they play, and their set was beautiful—it was the type of music that doesn’t make you dance, it makes you close your eyes and sway with it. You feel it. It’s soothing and dark and just a little haunting, and absolutely worth a listen or 10.
Covenant has been a staple of the goth music scene since they were released their first single, Replicant, in 1992, and their first album in 1994. Their sound is deeply rooted in synthpop and EBM, bringing a deep ambiance with it. Their synths are lingering and haunting, and Eskil’s deep ethereal voice takes their music beyond just your average synthpop venture and brings it into the overall “goth” umbrella. I had the opportunity to speak with Daniel Jonasson briefly before their set, where we talked about his career with DuPont, as well as his various promoting opportunities in Sweden where he hosts a weekly synth night, Synth After Work, and had a music festival called Tinitus. While unable to speak with the rest of the band, the show spoke for itself. Extended darkness with long lingering synth notes kept us on the edge as we eagerly awaited the arrival of the band on stage; fog machines pumped the stage and kept the band enclosed in a veil throughout. While it made it difficult to take pictures, it did add to the atmosphere of shadows and light the band evokes with their music. They played as many of their classics as they did from the new album, and all were played to perfection. Eskil kept us wanting more, and with each song played the audience craved another; they of course played the club hit “Call The Ships To Port,” and came back for an encore with more of their former hits. It was seemingly endless, and the crowd was on board for all of it. Having never had the opportunity to see them before, I can’t compare it to previous shows, but I was entranced for all of it and I cannot wait for the opportunity to see them live again. One bucket list band down, so many more to go.