On a sunny Sunday afternoon, standing on a stage, somewhere above a recreational baseball field in Chicago's Union Park, thousands of eager fans looking on with squinted eyes beneath a beautiful blue sky, Dungen's Reine Fiske lost the connection.
Not with his band or with an adoring audience, happy to be at one of the band's first few American shows. No, Fiske lost the connection between his guitar and his amp, all on loan from some American band or another to the blonde-locked Swede. For almost all of the band's 30-minute set, Fiske looked embarrassed and furious, laying into solos on a beaten Fender Strat only to be flummoxed by very little, if any, sound coming back at him from the stage's monitors or, more importantly, from massive speakers straddling the stage. At least four people fiddled with the chords, and--eventually--one tired stagehand simply squatted behind an old Marshall stack, holding cords in place to give Fiske his connection.
When even that failed before his solo that leads out of the closer, Fiske stormed off, plopping his guitar down and slinging the chord to the floor. Backstage, he brooded.
Today, he's not brooding or storming off anywhere, but--once again--he's losing his connection. At home in Stockholm, Fiske hears three words before the next three blur into complete static; when he speaks, it sounds as if he's holding a paper cup tied to a string to one ear, with the other cast across the Atlantic. Ironically, through this weak signal, Fiske explains that, when the band gets to America, they'll be buying all new equipment. No more borrowing, no more renting. The band wants this American tour to work.
"It seems like the best way to do it, you know," he says. "It will be good to have our stuff there, finally."
Eventually, the connection is too low to continue. It's impossible.
"You can't hear me either?" Fiske asks, politely and--on this connection--very, very quietly.
Eventually, he supplies an e-mail address and promises to have some answers the following evening. See, for Dungen, success in America has been about maneuvering beyond obstacles. And they have. Ta Det Lugnt (literally, Take It Easy) was released on the tiny Swedish imprint Subliminal Sounds; copies arrived in America, and when Pitchfork Media gave the album--a brilliant, bombastic romp through acid solos and kaleidoscopic fancy--a 9.3 out of 10.0, things took off. It became nearly impossible to order the album stateside, but before long invitations were pouring in. Last month, Kemado Records reissued the album with distribution through Hollywood Records, a five-track bonus disc included.
But, still, Fiske--who met bandleader Gustav Ejstes while mining hours of Swedish television footage for a seven-hour film collage on Sweden in the '70s--is more enthusiastic about the older material. Between the band's first two records and Ta Det Lugnt, Dungen's sound evolved from 18-minute way-out psychedelic trips of the mind to three -to- seven-minute pop songs smeared by the band's brilliant aesthetic--flute solos, guitar histrionics and gorgeous melodies gone mad.
"Naturally, I think the more loose and stretched out feeling is closer to us as individuals and in concept, in general," Fiske says, explaining why he prefers the earlier, unhinged Dungen. "We basically draw on our resources and the result is always different. If Gustav does something completely on his own though, it's his world, which often is staggering at times."
More staggering, though, is the chance that these four friends from Sweden, stuck on a sound that is decades old, began one of the year's most anticipated stateside tours just this week.
"It's not unsettling at all. Everyone should know that we really love doing what we do, and that we are honest in what we do."
Dungen plays Cat's Cradle Tuesday, Sept. 20. The show starts at 9:15 p.m. Tickets are $12 in advance, $14 day of show. Mia Doi Todd opens.