Articles: St. Thomas: Borderline, London (Guardian - January 2002)

St. Thomas - Borderline, London, England - 01/18/02

It's rare for a band to confound expectations, but that's what St Thomas achieve. You would hardly guess from their folk-tinged album, I'm Coming Home, that the quintet hail from Norway: not from their music, which distils all the most beguiling sounds of the US alt.country scene, and certainly not from their English lyrics, which are pithy, poetic, surreal but shrewd.

Frontman Thomas Hansen sings with the diamond-edge enunciation usually associated with opera singers (or, admittedly, those for whom English is a second language), but his voice also bears such an uncanny resemblance to Neil Young's that the 25-year-old could be the venerable rocker drunk on the elixir of youth.

The one thing about the band that does confirm preconceptions is the start of their live show. They shamble on, looking like inhabitants of the hippie house in Lukas Moodysson's Together, confer quietly and launch into song. Hansen's voice is astonishingly pure; the backing (violin, accordion, guitar and brush drums) is gentle, wistful, even tentative. It's tentative, though, because Hansen only wrote this song on Sunday. This is followed by two other new songs, one of which was "practised in my living room with a couple of joints one time".

Nothing in the diffident, earnest quality of these songs prepares you for the band's confidence, or for how forthright and entertaining their frontman is. The only clue to Hansen's cheekiness lies in his conferring sainthood upon himself with the band's name. On stage, he effervesces heavily accented comic banter. He interrupts one song to explain "This is like a guitar solo" and introduces several others as "very beautiful".

He tells us to buy the album, then asks about our jobs to make sure we can afford it. Before long he's inviting us all to stay a few nights on the couch in his new flat in Berlin, giving the audience a star rating ("four out of five - that's really good in English standards"), and instructing reviewers: "Please don't write Neil Young, because it's totally different songwriting."

He's right: when the band play live, Scandinavian sounds woven deep into the fabric of the songs suddenly emerge. Intoxicating traditional folk melodies lurch through A Nice Bottle of Wine, while In a Forest finds a passionate Hansen practically yodelling - a sound that ricochets across the room like an echo through a snowy landscape.

And then they play Goodbye Emily Lang, and suddenly the room is full of jangling spurs and cowboy hats. It's enough to make you feel dizzy.

MADDY COSTA - (rates the concert four out of five).



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