Rainbow flags and Valentine hearts
Love was in the air as Norwegian sensation AURORA played Seattle’s Showbox Theater
Lori Ann Reinhall
The Norwegian American
From the time of Ole Bull and Edvard Grieg in the second half of the 19th century, Bergen has prided itself as being a very musical city, and that tradition continues today. One of the fastest-rising stars on the Bergen music scene is Aurora Aksnes, stylized as AURORA. Recently, she embarked on her second international tour, first with stops in Brazil, then North America. From the reviews so far, the tour has been nothing short of a sensation, as the Bergenser is met by adoring crowds wherever she goes. Fortunately, I had the pleasure to be part of them on Feb. 14 at Seattle’s historic Showbox Theater.
Coincidentally, Aksnes was born on the same day as Edvard Grieg, June 15, in Stavanger in 1996. She grew up in Os outside of Bergen and started making music on a toy piano at the age of 6. At age 9, she started creating lyrics for her homespun melodies, and she has been going full-speed ever since. All this talent didn’t go undiscovered for long, and by age 19, AURORA released her first full-length album. It was a hit in Norway, and before long, she was a new voice in the international arena.
I have to admit that before going to the Showbox, I was not sure what to expect. As a classically trained musician who likes to dabble in Nordic folk music, I wanted to keep an open mind and experience something new. My only preconceived notion was from a brief encounter with Aksnes about two years ago in a café in Bergen. I had been struck by her youthful, elfin-like appearance, and I expected her to be somehow different than your run-of-the-mill pop star.
Stepping into Seattle’s Showbox Theater is like stepping back into time with its famous art deco interior dating back to 1939. There is something sensual about its columns fanning out into the ceiling almost like stalks erupting into flowers, highlighted by accent lighting in hues of red—all perfect for a Valentine’s Day concert. Called the “Palace of the Pacific,” the Showbox was designed by Seattle architect Bjarne H. Moe, an immigrant from Trondheim, Norway. The venue has seen the likes of vaudeville greats Al Jolson and Jimmy Durante, Mae West, Nat King Cole, Dizzy Gillespie, Lady Gaga, Coldplay, Soundgarden, and now AURORA.
The theater was packed to capacity. The opening act was a five-man band from Ireland, Talos, led by singer Eoin French. With dual drummers and guitarists, French pulled in his audience with his smooth tenor voice as he worked the keyboard. The band has a distinctively Celtic sound with a strong electronic beat, yet the feeling of the music was tender and emotional. Talos set the mood and would also prove to be the perfect back-up band for AURORA.
As the band cleared the stage, a view of the backdrop emerged. The setting looked like a scene from a Norwegian folktale straight out of Jon Bauer. Huge illuminated jellyfish hung from the ceiling, transfiguring the scenery into an underwater realm. Stage lights of rosy purple and blue enhanced the atmosphere.
The singer emerged like a graceful fairy, at age 22, just as young and natural as I had remembered her. Without a trace of make-up and her light blond hair chopped into a pageboy with signature braids straight out of the Viking Age, AURORA’s appearance is unmistakably Nordic. She has a distinct look all her own: natural, sweet and vulnerable, even childlike.
Sweet and vulnerable are also adjectives that can serve to describe the singer’s voice: it is clear and sweet, youthful and pure. She is able to hit high tones with crystal-clear precision, yet the singer commands a wide range going down into the mezzo register. AURORA takes her audience into angelic and ethereal realms with ease but can transition into a pulsating earthy beats. Her repertory goes from ballads to animal calls. Dramatic swells interplay with emotional heartfelt lyrics, mostly in English, all delivered with perfect diction.
AURORA’s performance is carefully choreographed, from jumping bursts of energy to graceful flowing hand movements, reminiscent of a relaxing swim. This serves to enhance the mood of the music, almost as if the singer has developed her own body language. The feeling is comfortable and soothing for the audience, and the connection was apparent.
This connection between performer and audience is deepened when the singer speaks directly to them in her soft, sing-song voice. Like a lover, she reveals her innermost feelings onstage. She talked about the meaning of her songs, but also about how she was feeling at the moment: her jetlag, her death-like exhaustion, the energy of the crowd, her love for them, and the rebirth gained onstage: “I love you all so much,” she said. The adoration was mutual. “We love you, Aurora,” was heard over and over, as fans waved Valentine hearts and rainbow flags to her.
Love and sexuality are predominant themes in AURORA’s songs, and she has a special connection to the LBGTQ community. She is open about having had relationships with both women and men, and in her worldview of “queendom,” every type of love is accepted and embraced. This was deeply felt at the Showbox, where toward the end of the show she wrapped herself in a rainbow flag, as if she were symbolically embracing the audience. The crowd was ecstatic.
AURORA ended her show with a ballad, a genre where I feel she is at her best. As a child, the singer used to listen to Enya, Bob Dylan, and Leonard Cohen, and I thought I could hear their overtones in her finale. Wrapped up in the music, I felt sad that the evening was drawing to a close, but the roaring applause lifted everyone up at the end. With kisses blowing across the stage, it was the perfect end to a most unusual Valentine’s Day.
To learn more about AURORA and to follow her tour itinerary, visit her website at www.aurora-music.com.
This article originally appeared in the March 8, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.