Friday, 11 August 2017

On Stage: The Afghan Whigs @ Paradiso



It isn't always a good thing that bands reform after quitting years before that. The musicians have grown older and the old chemistry simply isn't there any more. Times have changed and whatever made the band once relevant has faded, leaving nothing but a trace of what once has been. But since The Afghan Whigs reformed some years ago, they delivered two very good albums and it seems their live shows are definitely worth it as well.

The Afghan Whigs at Paradiso Amsterdam, August 9 2017



In the nineties the band around the illustrious front man Greg Dulli, left quite an impression especially with the albums Gentlemen and Black Love. They could rely on a strong live reputation that resulted in a group of loyal fans. By now they have an impressive catalogue to choose from and this promises to be a good night.



Dulli walks on the stage and starts 'Birdland' all by himself before the rest of the band joins him. His voice is impressive and hasn't lost any strength over the years. Ed Harcourt, who also is the support act on this tour, joins them as an extra guitar player. Guitarist Dave Rosser who played with them since their reunion, sadly passed away earlier this year. The band salutes him later on and dedicates Pleasure Club's 'You Want Love' to him.

The group plays a very strong show and restrains itself from being a crowd pleaser by simply playing their biggest hits. Instead a lot of songs from the last two albums make it onto the set list, emphasizing that the band likes to look forward. The songs are versatile with strings arrangements added to some of them where others lean heavy on guitars. Sometimes four guitars can be seen, but the band knows how to balance this very well without creating a big blur of guitar sound.



It is clear this group knows how to write good songs with rich arrangements and also how to bring them live. In the beginning the sound mix isn't great but after a few songs everything sounds amazing. The band hardly takes any breaks between songs keeping the show running very smoothly. Dulli is addressing the crowd now and then and it looks like he's enjoying himself a lot. He throws in a snippet of The Doors' 'LA Woman' at one point and ends 'Lost In The Woods' with The Beatles' 'Penny Lane'.



The band leaves us after a five song encore that includes the Bonnie Raitt cover 'I Can't Make You Love Me' and ends with the fan favourite 'Faded'. Some fans can't get enough and scream for another encore, especially to hear their big hit 'Gentlemen', but the show has ended. That is fine really and The Afghan Whigs proves it is possible to stay relevant even after reuniting, by living in the present and not the past.



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Setlist:
01. Birdland
02. Arabian Heights
03. Matamoros
04. Fountain and Fairfax
05. Light as a Feather
06. You Want Love (Pleasure Club cover)
07. Honky's Ladder
08. Oriole
09. Toy Automatic
10. Can Rova
11. Algiers
12. Going to Town
13. Demon in Profile
14. It Kills
15. John the Baptist
16. Somethin' Hot
17. Into the Floor
18. Son of the South
19. Lost in the Woods
Encore
20. Parked Outside
21. Royal Cream
22. Summer's Kiss
23. I Can't Make You Love Me (Bonnie Raitt cover)
24. Faded


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Monday, 7 August 2017

On Stage: Daniel Norgren @ Caprera Bloemendaal



One of the nicest things about live music is to see a show you were not even planning on seeing and get completely blown away. This is what happened to me when I saw Swedish artist Daniel Norgren four years ago at the Into The Great Wide Open festival. Now I own almost all of his records and try to make it to his show whenever he is playing in the neighbourhood.

Daniel Norgren at Caprera Bloemendaal, August 5 2017



This time the modest Swede is playing at the beautiful open air theater Caprera in Bloemendaal, a small village at the coast of The Netherlands. The first time I was here six years ago, I saw The National play a stunning show while the rain kept pouring down. Today it is raining as well, where I was hoping for a nice summer evening. It doesn't matter too much and it certainly won't get me down.



The first couple of albums showed Norgren as a blues musician with gritty blues songs in the style of Tom Waits. He slowly moved more into Americana, country and folk territory and now seems to have found a style that really fits him. I'm not even a big fan of country and folk but there's simply something about his genuine and heartfelt music that I find irresistible. The last few albums are drop dead gorgeous with beautiful atmosperic songs that he mostly recorded with a four-track recorder all by himself. On stage he is playing solo once and while as well, or with a few friends.



Today he's playing with drummer Erik Berndtsson and his long time steady force, bass player Anders Grahn. But first they start out by just the two of them, where Grahn is playing the organ. All three musicians are versatile artists who will be playing several instruments throughout the show. While the rain has stopped, it's a very strong start of the evening where Norgren is showing his sensitive side with a few of his most captivating and breath taking songs. Slowly the music unfolds while the evening progresses and the band is cutting deep through Norgren's catalogue.



He's showing what makes him so good, which besides the wonderful songs are his way of patiently crafting his music, bringing lots of dynamics into it by using small pauses and putting a lot of variation in it. It means we hear a lovely folk song like 'Waiting For You' and later on the always amazing 'Moonshine' that sounds like a long blues jam with shredding guitar solos and wild drums, and everything in between. Norgren's voice can be soothingly soulful and gritty, adding to the variation.



At the end of the night once again he impressed me and has won people over who came here without knowing who was playing. A well deserved standing ovation leaves him with no other choice than to come back twice for a few more songs. The tree musicians watch the crowd and receive the applause with a shy smile on their faces. I simply cannot get enough of this wonderful artist and will definitely see him next time he comes around again.



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Sunday, 30 July 2017

On Stage: U2 @ Johan Cruyff Arena



Like many people I really started getting into U2 when they released their epic album The Joshua Tree. I was a teenager and got to see them for the first time a few years later after Rattle and Hum came out. I didn't miss any tour since then, until two years ago when I decided to skip the Innocence and Experience tour. Their musical glory days are long gone and their concerts with more show and visual entertainment than music didn't really work for me. Afterwards I regretted that when I read the reviews and heard the stories. Time to make it up!

U2 at Johan Cruyff Arena, July 29 2017



Thirty years after the album, U2 have built a tour around The Joshua Tree. Not only to celebrate the album but also because the album's themes are relevant nowadays again. Back then the world was in a dark place like today, facing many challenges, and the album was about both the dark side and the spark of hope, a tree in a dead landscape. U2 wants to plant the tree again and show there is a way out of these dark times once again. When the tour was announced I was on vacation and wasn't able to get tickets because of that. I thought it wasn't a big deal, since I also don't like this big stadium with its poor sound and lack of atmosphere.



After seeing videos from the start of the tour and reading the reviews I changed my mind. Time again to call Ticketswap to the rescue and after weeks of trying I made it through. So on a rainy Saturday night in July I find myself in the big stadium, getting warmed up by Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds. I like his music and it's entertaining to hear them live again together with a few Oasis songs. But he's not exactly putting a lot of effort in it to win people over. Of course he has seen it all and may not need this support slot to take it to the next level.



After a while we see drummer Larry Mullen Jr. walking to the small stage in front of the big stage with the huge screen that fills the entire back of the stadium. He's still in the dark and sits down behind the drum kit that has been put up there. Mullen starts playing the famous drum groove of 'Sunday Bloody Sunday' while the rest of the band join him one by one. U2 is warming us up with a few of their most famous songs. 'New Year's Day', a wonderful version of 'Bad' including David Bowie reference. Only a few spot lights are on the band members, a rare view of this band and one we haven't seen for a long time. 'Pride (In The Name Of Love)' follows, the song about Martin Luther King, a man they always have admired. During the song the giant screen switches on and we see the words of King's famous "I have a dream" speech rolling by.





The screen colours solid red and we hear the humming sound of 'Where The Streets Have No Name's intro. The band walks onto the big stage, pauses there for a moment next to the big tree before kicking into the legendary album. An empty road shows and we're on the move. We know we're going to hear the entire album tonight, track by track in the record's track list order. Every song has a stunning visual on the big screen, most of them done by Anton Corbijn, the Dutch photographer and film director, who also made the famous picture of the record's artwork. Bono salutes him a few times during the concert as he salutes a few other people and references David Bowie a few times more. The visuals are lush, incredibly clear without taking the attention away from the music. Instead they are actually supporting it, emphasizing the themes of the songs and the album.



After the opening track and hit songs of the album 'I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For' and 'With Or Without You', the band goes into the more grim part of the record, the vicious 'Bullet The Blue Sky', working their way up to the dark end. The songs are still timeless and the reason U2 wanted to bring them alive in 2017 is quite clear and otherwise the visuals and Bono will explain it. Because this is U2 and you know the singer will address some of the world's biggest problems and give their vision. However you notice this band is no longer a young band. Besides the fact they move a lot slower around stage, the songs also sound less fierce and lack a bit of the old fire. However together with the visuals, the strength of the songs themselves and the enthusiastic fans, the music doesn't miss its impact and the message does come across.



After the album we get treated to a long encore with some of their biggest hits of the last two decades, when their music became less urgent and successful. Nevertheless U2 proves they are still a one of a kind band that still manages to maintain a unique level of live shows that is able to move and inspire a lot of people. They proved me wrong of thinking I had seen all they had to offer and had no reason to visit their shows any more. They can count me in again the next time they visit our country and hopefully the world is seeing brighter days once again.



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Setlist:
01. Sunday Bloody Sunday
02. New Year's Day
03. Bad
04. Pride (In the Name of Love)
The Joshua Tree
05. Where the Streets Have No Name
06. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For
07. With or Without You
08. Bullet the Blue Sky
09. Running to Stand Still
10. Red Hill Mining Town
11. In God's Country
12. Trip Through Your Wires
13. One Tree Hill
14. Exit
15. Mothers of the Disappeared
Encore
16. Miss Sarajevo(Passengers cover)
17. Beautiful Day
18. Elevation
19. Vertigo
20. Mysterious Ways
21. Ultraviolet (Light My Way)
22. One


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