Friday 30 July 2010

The Black Keys Keep Momentum

The Black Keys - Brothers (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
After releasing several studio albums the dynamic duo from The Black Keys slowly have gained popularity. Their bluesy garage rock sounds a bit more polished on this new album but still hasn't lost any of the appeal of the earlier ones. The result is a nicely balanced LP that could even find its way to a wider audience. Read more!

Thursday 22 July 2010

Consolation From The National

This album has been out for a while but I just didn't get to writing this review with all the concerts and festivals lately. But these guys really deserve a thorough review. The release of The National's latest album 'High Violet' is already their fifth and yet they have been a relatively unknown band so far despite their highly acclaimed ealier albums, at least outside the hardcore indie community. But that's all about to change. I didn't know too much about the band either but the internet had been buzzing for months already about this release. So what was all the fuzz about?

The National - High Violet (Ronald Says 9 out of 10)
It doesn't happen a lot but when I first heard the record I immediately fell in love with it. The dark and sad sound with the warm voice of Matt Berninger combined into tranquil songs are pleasant to listen to. Although the songs aren't cheery and the lyrics are very sad it never gets really too depressing. Instead the warm songs are consoling. Like a strong arm wrapped around you, a shoulder to cry on. Not like someone who's trying to cheer you up, but someone that's listening and is crying with you. A bluesy melancholy mood that you don't want to get out of but want to immerse yourself in for a while.

Although their earlier albums all are very good on this album everything comes together. It's a well balanced record. The songs are little gems and there isn't a weak spot to find. The lyrics have great ringing lines that work well with the gloomy music.
Like in album opener 'Terrible Love':
But I won't follow you into the rabbit hole
I said I would, but then I saw
Your shivered bones
They didn't want me to

Or from 'Conversation 16':
I'm a confident liar
Have my head in the oven so you know where I'll be
I'll try to be more romantic
I want to believe in everything you believe

Singles 'Bloodbuzz Ohio' and 'Anyone's Ghost' are well chosen and deservedly are getting quite some air play. Without a doubt this is album of the year material and it will end up high on many year lists. It sure will on mine.
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Monday 19 July 2010

Everyone's A Winner At North Sea Jazz

What a dilemma it was a few months ago: going to see Stevie Wonder and miss the Worldcup final with maybe the Dutch team. Or pick another day and miss Stevie. In the end we decided to take a gamble and go for Stevie. And of course the Dutch team made it to the finals! But the North Sea Jazz organization wasn't ignoring the soccer fans and made sure everyone could see the final game on big screens. And surely we would win and celebrate with Stevie Wonder! What a great party that would be!

North Sea Jazz Festival Ahoy Rotterdam, Sunday July 11 2010
First we had to make it to Rotterdam's Ahoy in the heat. That turned out to be easier than last year. So right on time we met our friends and got ready for the first gig.

Stanley Clarke (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
The Hudson hall was already full by the time we got there. So we waited in line in the smothery heat with many others. My friends gave up in the end but I decided to give it a few more minutes. Finally I was able to get in to find out it was just as warm in the hall itself. But I really wanted to see Stanley Clarke. One of the great bass players around he played his contra bass most of the time I was there sitting on a bar stool. He left plenty of room for the other musicians to show their stuff. Especially piano player Hiromi was playing with lots of energy and creativity. Of course the master himself proved why he's one of the greatest. But after half an hour of continuous sweating my shirt was soaked and I had to leave to get some fresh air.

Elvis Costello and The Sugarcanes (Ronald Says 6 out of 10)
I found my friends again with Elvis Costello. He was playing bluegrass songs with his acoustic band The Sugarcanes. Although he's a great singer and musician the performance never really came alive. They were having fun themselves but it just wasn't a fortunate combination. Hopefully next time he will bring his usual stuff again.

Richard Bona (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
Time to get moving! Richard Bona is a great bass player from Cameroon and just the guy you need for a lively performance. Dressed in an orange shirt with Dutch flag he was ready for the finals and ready to play a hell of a gig. He played swinging songs with typical African vocals. And some killer grooves on his six string bass guitar. Playing with a big smile most of the time he was filling the hall with good vibes.

Michael Moore Fragile Quartet (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
Moore shows he's is a great clarinet player. He brought a dynamic band and especially drummer Michael Vatcher proves to be a creative musician using all kinds of percussion instruments that I've never seen before even glasses filled with water (or vodka it was hard to tell from where I was sitting). It looked like he brought a box from his attic with him. They play a variety of mostly calm songs but stay safely within their boundaries. Very enjoyable though.

Unfortunately McCoy Tyner with Joe Lovano are playing the Hudson as well and of course it's full again. That's a big letdown but we don't want to wait in the heat again. So we decide to wander around a bit, grab something to eat and get ready for the big World cup final. A nerve wrecking final that obviously doesn't meet our expectations. It's a bitter loss especially since the Dutch players seemed busier practicing their Kung-Fu moves than playing soccer. We're all a bit down but fortunately there's still one gig left: Stevie Wonder!

Stevie Wonder (Ronald Says 9 out of 10)
The stage is still dark when we hear the sound of guitar. It turns out it's Stevie himself with a portable keyboard who is slowly walking onto the stage. He treats us to a set filled with lots of his hits of course. He's playing piano and keyboard in his familiar poses and of course some harmonica too. You can tell he's aging by the way his voice sounds in the high notes but that's really a minor point. He's also playing some jazzy tunes. 'Take Five' is one of those but somehow this doesn't sound too good as he admits himself at the end. Today he can get away with it and it's all forgiven when he's playing great versions of 'Higher Ground', 'Don't You Worry 'Bout A Thing' and of course 'Superstitious'. The persistent rumour that Prince will show up turns out not to be true but Stevie Wonder really doesn't need him. He calls Quincy Jones onto the stage for a hug but nothing more. I was amazed to see how firmly he's in control of the band and everything that's happening around him. What a true legend!

So in the end I'm sure everyone has gone home with a happy feeling. The lost final already is long forgotten...
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Thursday 15 July 2010

Texas Cowboys Want To Take It Higher

Family members noticed this band in the Melkweg line-up and looked them up on YouTube. They decided it would be fun to see Texas Hippie Coalition perform and soon I was interested too. So I joined them to see these Texas cowboys live on stage.

Texas Hippie Coalition at Melkweg Amsterdam, July 10 2010 (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
They are an impressive bunch. Singer Big Dad Ritch is huge and could have walked straight from a Porky's movie set. The rest of the band all have wild hair, big tattoos and chains linked to their pants. Bass player John Exall keeps swinging his long string of hair for almost most of the night. Guitarist Eddie Bishop shares a joint with the people in front of the stage and the rest of the band. It must be hard to resist when playing in Amsterdam.

Their Pantera inspired sound is a mix of loud metal and some more laid back southern and stoner rock. The slower songs get too corny as they start to sound like Nickelback. Some songs are too easy and they need to avoid the rock cliches more. But they make up for their lack of originality by putting lots of energy in it and despite their higher state of mind still are able to play a good set. The band probably don't take themselves to seriously either. They are playing Europe for the first time and are trying to gain a foothold over here. But they may need a bit more than a lifted spirit to make that happen.
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Monday 12 July 2010

Rock Werchter 2010 Day 4: A Day With The Rock Gods

Again the sun was relentless and it would turn out to be another hot day. The heat was getting the best of us but we would hang in there. Time for some screaming guitars to wake us up! And a nice zeppelin in the sky to accompany us. Do you think John Paul Jones saw the air vessel?

The Van Jets (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
And this band was just what we needed. In the shade of one of the light towers we watched them pour their rock riffs over the decently filled field. This promising band has some nice solid 70s inspired rock songs. Singer Johannes Verschaeve is a convincing frontman that is able to transfer his energy to the crowd so they received a good response.

Sweet Coffee (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
I like a good cup of coffee especially one of those sturdy espressos. Nice and bitter so without sugar. I was expecting a more jazzy sound from this Belgian band but it turned out to be a mix of soul and dance. It kind of sounded like Faithless on valium. Not bad though and the vibes were pretty good. Just maybe a bit too sweet for my tasting.

The Black Keys (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
Nothing sweet about this rocking duo. Especially drum player Patrick Carney was putting lots of effort in his drum playing. His face turning more and more red and sweaty during the set. For a moment they had two more musicians helping them out. But they really didn't need them to produce their rough blues and rock songs. The main stage does seem a bit big for only two people. By this time the burning sun really got too much so we stayed in the shade of one of the food stands to check out the next couple of bands.

Alice in Chains (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
Their glorious return with the album 'Black Gives Way To Blue' put them back on the rock map. They played a tight set and looked more comfortable than the great gig back in August. The slow heavy grooves were going down well with many people and the new songs blend in nicely with the older hits. It looked like the boys were enjoying it a lot and I'm sure they have won some hearts over. Ending the set in style with 'Rooster' while Dave Grohl was watching in approval.

Vampire Weekend (Ronald Says 6 out of 10)
It's hard to write an objective review about this band. I tried to watch them objectively as well but could not. Their happy tunes do not remind me of Africa at all but really get on my nerves. Their live performance wasn't that special either so I really don't get all fuzz. Don't worry, it's me not them I guess.

Them Crooked Vultures (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
I cannot watch this band objectively either. With members of my favourite bands including one of my favourite drum players showing off his skills and the fun they are having every performance of these guys is a treat. Great grooves, killer riffs and mouthwatering jams always make my day. So I left my shady spot to get a closer look once again. Too bad this time the zeppelin didn't swing by.

Arcade Fire (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
I never really paid much attention to Arcade Fire. Although I heard good things about them they somehow never really crossed my radar. It must be the combination with indie folk that kind of puts me off. But it was a pleasant introduction to their music. Good moments alternated with weaker parts but all in all they played a good set. They haven't really won me over but they sent out good vibes.

Pearl Jam (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
The ultimate festival band was closing this year's edition of Rock Werchter. They are one of my favourite rock bands and I don't agree with all the sceptics that say their best years have long gone. And they showed they're still on top of things with an energetic and convincing set. A weird moment was when they all left the stage early in their set but maybe Dave Grohl called that the burgers were done. Eddie Vedder mentioned they were having a backstage bbq with Alice in Chains and Them Crooked Vultures and Grohl was minding the grill. Vedder looked really eager and aggressive just the way I like it. Their show flew by and before I knew it they were playing their last song MC5's 'Kick out the Jams' with the Them Crooked Vultures members and fireworks helping them out. I guess they were done bbqing.

The fire continued on the festival site where small fires were started. Fire and heat surely seemed to be the common theme this year. The level of the bands was very high and we had seen great music. For the last time we walked back along the many bars and food stands, got ourselves a last cervela and returned to our tent fully satisfied where we laid our sore overheated and tired bodies to rest. The next morning we woke up it was cloudy and raining. Time to go home.

See more pictures over here:
Rock Werchter 2010 Day 4 Pictures

Rock Werchter 2010 Day 1 Review >
Rock Werchter 2010 Day 2 Review >
Rock Werchter 2010 Day 3 Review >

Read more!

Saturday 10 July 2010

Rock Werchter 2010 Day 3: Perfect Festival Day

We were looking forward to this day since it had some nice bands lined up and it promised to be cloudy. But again the sun was forcing us out early. And before we knew it we went through our daily regular routine and made it to the festival site early.

Taylor Hawkins and the Coattail Riders (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
The first one up is Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins. After his relaxed performance in June we decided to come up close to the stage again and got a top spot in front of the stage. They again were having lots of fun although this stage was a bit too big for them. But it's always a treat seeing a drum player like Hawkins beating the crap out of his kit.

Das Pop (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
Belgian band Das Pop had no trouble filling the main stage as they brought lots of inflatable palm trees to add to the tropical feel. Ironically the sky had filled with clouds and the monsoon rain had started. No problem for these guys because with a lively and energetic set they put a smile on every one's face. Some palm trees even made it into the crowd. Haven't seen them afterwards anymore. They would look great with my hammock at home. By the end of the show the rain had stopped, things had cooled down and we had perfect festival weather for the rest of the day.

Yeasayer (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
I don't know what to think of their albums. They have so many ideas and styles that sometimes you feel a bit overwhelmed. But so many people were praising their live performances I really wanted to see them. Live on stage this overwhelming feeling of too many ideas was gone completely. Instead I was overwhelmed with all the creativity. They played a very tight set that was well balanced with all their different styles. Everyone was loving it and this was definitely a pleasant surprise. Time to pick up their albums again and see if I can absorb it better this time. And of course turn up at their live gig in Paradiso at the end of October.

Porcupine Tree (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
One of the bands I definitely wanted to check out was Porcupine Tree. Their complicated music sometimes makes me listen in admiration and other times makes me tired. But things can be so different live on stage. First I listened outside the Pyramid Marquee and watched them on the big screen. But shortly after they sucked me into the tent to watch it up close. Great musicians were putting down breath taking music with great effort. And everyone was watching with their mouths open.

The Ting Tings (Ronald Says 6 out of 10)
What is left after the big hype? New bands have taken their place as the hippest band on the block. What is left isn't enough to lay down an entertaining show on the main stage today. Of course everyone is dancing to their few hit songs including mega hit 'That's not my name'. But besides that that they didn't have much to offer.

Florence + The Machine (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
This lady is creating her own hype. She seems to draw bigger and bigger crowds and I still don't know whether to like it or not. Her singing works better for me in some songs like 'Dog Days Are Over' than in others where it's starting to get on my nerves. Fact is that she's killing it in the Pyramid Marquee today with an energetic set that sends everyone out with a blush on their cheeks.

P!nk (Ronald Says 5 out of 10)
She may look a bit out of place on a rock festival but most festivals like to surprise us sometimes. She still drew a big crowd because everyone wanted to see the killer show that was promised. And she was off to a flying start. Dropped from a cage that was lifted above the crowd she kicked off with her first song. An impressive stage set representing a carnival with lots of visuals supported her. But she also showed that she doesn't have many good songs. Apparently she feels like that herself too since she played many cover songs and not even that good. Combined with an overacting band I couldn't watch it anymore. The carnival started to look spooky and in the end we had been watching an expensive cover band. Even the flying wasn't real.

Rammstein (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
If you want overacting and a show that will blow you off your socks leave it to these guys. They have taken overacting to the next level. Is it theater with music or music with theater? Their show has all the known ingredients: lots of fire and fireworks, scary looking greasy musicians and bombastic metal riffs. But all with a wink of course. Their music with repeating distorted metal chords isn't all that great and many songs sound a alike. But no one wanted to miss a spectacle like this.

With all that fire we were longing for some fried chicken. So we were off to get one and swallow it down with some more beers. My body was already protesting with every muscle and joint aching. Nothing a good night sleep can't fix!

See more pictures over here:
Rock Werchter 2010 Day 3 Pictures

Rock Werchter 2010 Day 1 Review >
Rock Werchter 2010 Day 2 Review >
Rock Werchter 2010 Day 4 Review >

Read more!

Friday 9 July 2010

Rock Werchter 2010 Day 2: Divine Orange

The forecasts were promising a hot day and they didn't lie. We saw the temperature sign hit 42 degrees centigrade and boy was it hot. But this day was gonna heat up even more since the Dutch national soccer team were playing Brazil in the quarter finals of the world cup. Where were we gonna watch the game? But first a few bands to start the day (after some coffee of course).

Rock Werchter Festival Werchter Belgium, Day 2 July 2 2010
An early rise and shine resulted in the second day in a row we arrived at the festival side early. So in a relaxed mood we got our coffee and started slowly by sitting in the grass checking out the first band on the main stage.

Customs (Ronald Says 6 out of 10)
Suited up with a singer that looks like that guy (Ross) from the endless soap 'The Bold and the Beautiful' Customs play music inspired by Editors, Interpol and Joy Division. Not the most happy music and with a gorgeous day like this not an easy first band to swallow. But certainly enjoyable although Editors would prove later that day there's still a long road ahead of them.

Balthazar (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
This young indie pop band was a pleasant surprise with their fresh sound that's already pretty unique and hard to describe. I read somewhere it was a mix of dEUS and Arctic Monkeys but that's not really accurate. I'm definitely gonna check out their debut album 'Applause' that was released a few months ago.

Then it was time to find a place to watch soccer. They were supposed to show it on our campsite but we were told they didn't get permission. In the end we walked into the small Werchter town and found out that a few k's further there was a bar showing it on TV. Later on we heard the local government didn't allow any public screenings of the event so were in luck. Through the sweltering heat we made it to the bar that was absolutely packed with Dutch soccer fans. Somehow we made it in a few meters and were able to watch our team beat the Divine Canaries with 2-1 in a mad game while the temperature in the bar seemed to reach boiling point. Needless to say the place was absolutely going nuts when the final whistle blew. Absolutely epic!

Editors (Ronald Says 9 out of 10)
Now we felt like celebrating and although Editors doesn't really play party music it was great. Although their performance last year was brilliant and hard to top this one comes really close. If you hear all those great songs it's hard to believe they only made three records so far.

The Specials (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
And the party continued with The Specials. I was surprised to hear that not many people knew this legendary ska band. But I'm sure many people do now. It was impossible and too hot to go into the Pyramid Marqee tent and watch them closer so we decided to dance outside instead.

Green Day (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
So many people are always excited about this band's live performances and by the look of all the people watching them many seem to like them. They do have very lively performances and put a lot of effort in it but with all the people they pull on stage and the silly jokes it gets a bit corny after a while. More than two hours are really long and it all feels like a circus act. Once you take off all the make-up of a clown there's nothing special about it anymore.

LCD Soundsystem (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
Fortunately I didn't have to watch Green Day's full set but had a good excuse to leave them. Probably one of the last times I'd see them on stage James Murphy & Co. put up a lively set sending out good vibes. At the end everyone was dancing in the light of the large disco ball at the center of the stage.

So an orange coloured day comes to an end. Time to cool off with a few more beers and some sleep before the relentless golden ball comes to wake us up again.

See more pictures over here:
Rock Werchter 2010 Day 2 Pictures

Rock Werchter 2010 Day 1 Review >
Rock Werchter 2010 Day 3 Review >
Rock Werchter 2010 Day 4 Review >

Read more!

Thursday 8 July 2010

Rock Werchter 2010 Day 1: Rough Start Glorious Ending

The worst part about a festival for me is getting there. Being stuck in traffic, loaded with all your luggage trying to find a spot to put up your tent. And no, I'm not a happy camper since I don't really like the camping bit. But of course all the music and good times make up for it plenty.

Rock Werchter Festival Werchter Belgium, Day 1 July 1 2010
Two of our friends found out that in the end they didn't get their tickets due to a failed payment and had to drop out. Then my sunglasses broke even before I got in the car (but usually they break anyway). When putting up our tent we broke a tent stick (eventually fixed it with our MacGyver skills). One of my friends realized he lost his camping wrist band somewhere when we just walked off the campsite ('No sorry sir, you're not allowed back on the camping ground without wrist band...'). Fortunately the girls found it again.

Finally when exchanging our drink ticket pre-sale vouchers they miscounted the tickets as I found out when I recounted them two meters from the booth ('No sorry sir we cannot give you the missing tickets since you walked away...'). But that was all well again too after going to the front desk for nothing and returning to the ticket office preparing for an argument that eventually didn't have to take place ('I think you were right after all sir...').

In the end beating the traffic by a somewhat illegal action, making it to the festival site before most of the 80.000 other people did, drinking our first beers, and being in time for the first band for the very first time in our Werchter history made up for it. Werchter 2010 was off!

Kyteman's Hiphop Orchestra (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
After playing every stage in The Netherlands Kyteman could now prove he's ready to take on the world. With his 22 person strong orchestra he treated us to a show full of soul, jazz, funk and hiphop like we're used of him. Maybe not a sold out Heineken Music Hall or Lowlands Alpha tent main stage performance but still very nice. What a way to start the day!

Skunk Anansie (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
Oh those Golden Years when I was in the prime of my youth and Skunk Anansie were one of the hardest rocking bands on stage. Well, they sure are back with a trip down memory lane playing their biggest hits. Although I like their up tempo songs best Skin proves she's still full of energy and can rock any main stage. I can't tell if they played any new songs but there is a new album on its way due in September.

Stereophonics (Ronald Says 6 out of 10)
Being in a rough period because of the death of their former band mate drummer Stuart Cable maybe played a part in the weak performance of Stereophonics. Fact was that they routinely worked their way through their set list full of hits. Singer Kelly Jones obviously didn't have any fun at it today and never being much of a talker ignored the crowd completely. Too bad for a band with many festival friendly songs.

Muse (Ronald Says 9 out of 10)
Fortunately Muse were there to close the day. A band I have seen many times and never seen play a weak set. This time was no exception. Although sizing their stage set down a lot compared to their full concerts they still brought plenty of visual spectacle and played a concentrated mind blowing set. Although I still don't really like the songs of their last album the older songs made up for it. Whether you like them or not they know how to please a festival crowd.

We decided not to stick around for Faithless to see if he could top it off and went for a few more drinks to close off a nice first day with lots of sunshine. Time to hit the sack and prepare for the tropical second day.

See more pictures over here:
Rock Werchter 2010 Day 1 Pictures

Rock Werchter 2010 Day 2 Review >
Rock Werchter 2010 Day 3 Review >
Rock Werchter 2010 Day 4 Review >
Read more!