Monday, 27 June 2016

On Stage: Parquet Courts @ Paradiso

Another great album Human Performance was released by Parquet Courts this year. The band keeps knocking them out effortlessly, as if it comes really easy to them. They are also known for good live shows but after seeing them a few times they haven't been able to convince me yet. Maybe it was the wrong moment on the festivals I've seen them play. Time to see if Paradiso can get the best out of them.

Parquet Courts at Paradiso Amsterdam, June 23 2016

Dutch newest sensation Canshaker Pi are opening tonight so I make sure to arrive at the venue on time. These youngsters managed to create quite a buzz and their music sounds thrilling indeed. On stage they are a ball of energy and the laid back rock songs gain extra bite. It's nice to see more and more young bands embrace this sound from the nineties and bring it into this era. Keep an eye out for this band.

The crowd is definitely ready for the main act now. The band starts out a bit slow and I always have to get into their indifferent style. You can hear why there songs are so good though with subtle elements like little keyboard parts. A guy climbs the stage to stage dive and kicks down one of the microphones. Of course this is a dumb move that seems to annoy the band. Especially Austin Brown seems to be real grumpy about it. The band takes long breaks between songs now to complain about it. When a beer lands on stage it makes their mood even worse and they are now really testing the crowd. When a girl shouts “shut the fuck up” it doesn't really help.

It doesn't improve the band who are now playing their songs on routine. Especially the slower ones are now missing their effect. Halfway the set there's a short rebound when they play a few aggressive songs in a row showing their quality. But this band comes across as provoked and nothing can save the night anymore. The end of the set is better again but the band finishes their set and quickly leave the stage. Sometimes testing your audience can help to keep them focused but tonight Parquet Courts were just in a bad mood. Hopefully I get to see them some day when they are at their best.

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Saturday, 25 June 2016

On Stage: Orchestra of Syrian Musicians

Blur's Damon Albarn has always been interested in music from different cultures. It resulted in several collaborations with African musicians and he also got to know the Syrian Orchestra that in the end played on the Gorillaz song 'White Flag'. The war in Syria tore the country apart including the orchestra and many of them had to leave the country and are now scattered across the globe. Together with his African Express group Albarn managed to get many of them together for a series of concerts that kicked off in Amsterdam.

Africa Express Presents the Orchestra of Syrian Musicians at Royal Theater Carré Amsterdam, June 22 2016

The concert is part of the Holland Festival in Amsterdam and takes place in the beautiful Royal Theater Carré. The musicians of the orchestra only had a few days to rehearse the music they will play tonight. To make it even more special a few hundred refugees have been invited for the concert. The crowd is a colourful mix of Holland Festival visitors, Blur and Damon Albarn fans, world music fans and people from countries like Syria and Iran. All that combined makes this night beforehand a success.

The orchestra consists of a string section and some traditional instruments most notably an Arabic flute, combined with a choir. Behind the choir a giant screen is showing visuals by Tammam Azzam and Jaber Al Azmeh, that are sometimes abstract but at other times represent the harsh reality of the war. First the orchestra plays a few pieces by itself before the first guests appear on stage.

One of them is Paul Weller who is playing a version of his big hit 'Wild Wood'. The sound isn't great tonight where you can hear the volume going up and down several times and clunky running around with microphones and chairs. It doesn't bother anyone for a bit. There are more guest appearances by people we probably never heard of but are known in the Arabic world. Faia Younan is singing beautifully, we can hear the amazing voice of Mounir Troudi and the sensational Noura Mint Seymali who is firing up the crowd.

There's even more! There's a hiphop performance by Bu Kolthoum, Eslam Jawaad and Malikah. Two African musicians, Bassekou Kouyate and Seckou Keita combine beautifully with the Arabic music. Kouyate can make his ngoni do anything he likes and the Keita is playing beautifully on his kora with a big smile.

Smiles is what we can see lot tonight. The musicians are smiling and are clearly enjoying this night. People in the crowd around me are smiling because of the wonderful music and I'm sure the refugees in the crowd are smiling, listening to the songs and music they know, forgetting about their misery for a while. And Damon Albarn is smiling and cheering at the side of the stage. It's clear he doesn't want to be in the spot lights tonight. It's not about him and he makes sure the spotlights are on the orchestra. Only once he's in the spotlights when he plays the guitar at the front of the stage for one of my favourite Blur songs 'Out Of Time'.

Rachid Taha is the one to close the night and you can leave that to him. He looks like he had a jolly day and is in for a little party. He's firing up the crowd and people are getting out of their chairs to dance and clap with him. So maybe it wasn't all that tight or well-organized tonight, but what can you expect when it's already an achievement getting all these people together? It's not the point anyway. It's great to see this wonderful musicians together and bringing all these different people together tonight, playing and enjoying music together, proving that music unites us all no matter what. As long as there's music there's hope; don't let them ever take that away from us.

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Friday, 24 June 2016

Best Kept Secret 2016 Day 3

Finally day three of the festival brings us sunshine and a lot to look forward to. After a crowded and wet day we could do with a little warmth and relaxation.

Best Kept Secret 2016 Day 3, June 19 2016

What better way to start the day with a karaoke? I can think of a few. The Indie Karaoke is actually good fun where people could enter in advance to sing a song with a professional band. So we hear songs from Oasis, The Hyves, Blur and more. The karaoke singers aren't all that good (and they shouldn't be), but put a lot of heart into it and are having a good time. And so are we!

Ryley Walker
We stayed longer at the karaoke than I planned but I manage to catch a few songs by Ryley Walker. I saw him last year and was pleasantly surprised. He's not your regular singer songwriter but brings a lot more to the table. His compositions are well thought through and I like the jazzy vibe his songs have now and then. I'm glad I could catch about 15 minutes of his performance in the very hot stage Three tent.

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This new band managed to create quite a hype with their catchy poprock songs while they only released a few songs. When you see them play live, it's not that strange that people pick up on them. The young lads are active and energetic on stage and definitely not shy. Their music is catchy but still packs enough meat to chew on. They already look like they have played all the big stages and have studied their rock poses. It results in an entertaining show and the future looks bright for this group.

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Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Ruban Nielson and his band had quite a year. After their album Multi-Love broke through, it seems they have toured continuously. It didn't wear them out. On the contrary, this is their strongest show I have seen them play. The band sounds tight like always and their set is well balanced. The songs sound even stronger live and it rubs off on the crowd who are greeting the songs with loud cheers. It turns the tent into a festive dancing party.

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Half Moon Run
We end up at the main stage where Half Moon Run wants to start their show, but the stage has a power failure. Only one mic is working so the two singers decide to use that one to do a song with just the two of them. Of course everyone loves this and the band have everyone eating from their hand after that. It's quite nice to hear them play in the sunshine, with their innocent music folk music with beautiful harmonies, but it's not my cup of tea.

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Israel Nash
We head over to the other side of the festival site instead to catch a bit of Israel Nash. Now that's more to my liking. It's good honest Americana and psychedelic rock with lots of character. The band look like they came from the seventies. They bring exactly that vibe to the stage and into their music. Nash's voice is great and the band is wonderful. Really glad to have caught a bit of this.

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This band from Brooklyn returned with a new album Amen & Goodbye and it's always good to see them play live. I don't know the new album that well yet, but I've always had a weak spot for their mix of catchy electronic music with African and Eastern influences and danceable grooves. I'm glad to find out they still now how to make this mixture sound good on stage. The band looks pretty pleased themselves and especially their hit songs are greeted with loud cheers. Today everybody wins over here.

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Band Of Horses
The right band at the right time at the right spot, that's what happens with Band Of Horses. They are playing the main stage in broad daylight when everyone is buzzing from the booze and in a cheerful mood. The band looks in good shape themselves and their sounds has beefed up quite a bit. The crowd and the band get the best out of each other and when some people bring a life statue of a horse in, things can't go wrong any more. An inspired performance of 'The Funeral' is even moving to hear.

A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse!?

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Sometimes there are bands that everyone keeps raving about and I simply don't get it. This is the case with Wilco. Yes, they are a good band, but I dont find them that special. I decided to give it another try and although the band plays well I simply don't feel it. According to many it was the best performance of the weekend but I decide to take a look somewhere else.

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We end up at stage Three where Badbadnotgood are playing. It didn't quite grab when I listened to their music but live their mix of jazz and heavy grooves are working quite well. I read a description that called them "crowd surf jazz" or something and that's actually describing it well. Especially the jazzy tunes with great solos are wonderful. It's great to see so many show up and enjoy this explosive show.

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Fat White Family
I try to get a bite to eat but this turns out to take longer than I want to. In the end I make it into the tent way too late and only catch the end of their show. By then the band has already torn the place apart telling from the way the band looks and the way the crowd is going mental. At least it's a good and fitting end of the weekend.

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So there you have it. I end up with mixed feelings about this weekend. We saw some great bands and wonderful music but had trouble finding the vibes we like so much of the pas editions. It seems we are not alone in this and by growing their festival Best Kept Secret may have lost some of their faithful early birds. Sometimes it's better to just keep it a bit of a secret.

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Best Kept Secret 2016 Day 1
Best Kept Secret 2016 Day 2

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