Wednesday 29 June 2011

Sniffing The Grass: A Rock Werchter 2011 Warmup

Pinkpop was a good way to warm up for the big festivals. Glastonbury is a wrap. It's high on my list of festivals I really want to experience some day. But this year we are going down to Belgium again for the Rock Werchter festival. Let's see what our plan is there besides drinking those cheeky yellow fellas.

If we can beat the always horrific traffic jams and make it on time let's kick it off with Warpaint and see what the ladies have in stock. Then maybe grab a bit of Seasick Steve before we get to the first must-see of the festival: TV On The Radio. Then let's party with those crazy Swedes The Hives. Maybe find out what all the James Blake fuzz is about and then rock with Queens of the Stone Age of course. I heard Eels is rocking these days as well so let's check that out before going to see if Liam can really do without Noel in Beady Eye. Hurts made a good impression on Pinkpop so we want to experience that ourselves. Day 1 is a wrap! We should be drunk by now.

Rise and shine to check if Mona can prove they really are the next best thing. Otherwise we can always go check out Grouplove. Then it's a few hours of free-wheeling and making sure we miss My Chemical Romance and Ke$ha. But we'll sure be back and ready to rock with our one of our favourites Triggerfinger! After that we stick to the main stage and find out if White Lies have improved, listen to the always impressive The National, see if Arctic Monkeys can rock just as hard as in Paradiso and then we'll probably be just as drunk as the guys from Kings of Leon.

Yes! The breakfast will be serverd loud and rocking with Rival Sons. That oughta wake us up. Maybe check a bit of The Pretty Reckless before drinking a beer with those nice guys of The Gaslight Anthem. Now may be a good time to have some grilled chicken before dreaming along with Elbow. If we have some time left catch a bit of Bright Eyes. Now we have to choose between the two ladies PJ Harvey and Selah Sue. Maybe both? Portishead makes me nervous and Coldplay makes me sleepy, so maybe a good time to have a snack before finding out if Underworld can still make me dance. Should be easy because we're probably drunk.

No reason to start early today. Maybe wake up with Everything Everything but they proved to be too much last year. Then it's time for break through band The Vaccines and must seeTame Impala. Sorry Kasabian, that means I won't be able to come and watch you guys, maybe next time. Then we have time to prepare mentally for the great Nick Cave with Grinderman. One of the things I'm really looking forward to. Of course I don't want to miss those old metal heads Iron Maiden. For us they are the closing act since A-Trak, Robyn and Digitalism aren't my cup of tea. Although I heard the last one may actually be worth checking out so I may give that a try. Most certainly The Black Eyed Peas are not since they must be the worst closing headliner ever on this festival. Ah well, at least there will still be beer. So I guess we will be drunk before the festival ends.

Take a look at the full line-up over here. Don't forget to check back after the festival for all my reviews and pictures. After I got all those beers out of my system of course.
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Tuesday 28 June 2011

Unexpected Afrobeat Party With Jungle By Night and Fela!

After the Arctic Monkeys gig we decide to take a look in the smaller room at the second floor. A duo Buke and Gass are playing somewhat weird but impressive music. A combination of distorted acoustic guitars and bass with foot percussion. But my eye catches a keyboard with the words "Jungle By Night", the name of that exciting young afro-beat band. And I remember reading something about an after party with the band from the musical "Fela!" about the godfather of afro-beat himself, Fela Kuti. Time to stick around and forget about sleeping.

Around midnight the boys of Jungle By Night take the stage and play a few songs from their album. And like always they know how to get everyone dancing. The young crowd, consisting mostly of young girls, are loving it. After a while they introduce the musicians of the Fela! musical band who then take the stage. They start playing a few songs from the musical with a couple of Jungle By Night musicians modestly joining them. Slowly more and more people take the stage including African singers and the lead actor playing Fela, Sahr Ngaujah.

The result is a continuous jam of great swinging music. The musicians sure look like they are enjoying it a lot and Sahr proves to be a great front man who can fire up a crowd. The members of Jungle By Night are also becoming more confident and play some great solos. With the party still going strong we have to bail out though if we want to catch some sleep at all. What a great legendary end to an already perfect night!

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Arctic Monkeys Heat Up Paradiso

The band from Sheffield just released their fourth album Suck It And See. An album that shows a band with a grown up sound and an inspired front man. The last time they were playing in Amsterdam there was quite a bit of criticism about the songs coming off the third album Humbug not being good enough, having a slower and too unwieldy sound. Now they are playing a smaller venue to showcase their new album.

Arctic Monkeys at Paradiso Amsterdam, June 23 (Ronald Says 9 out of 10)

Guitarist Spike (Frans van Soest) from the Dutch band Di-Rect is the one to warm up the crowd with his other band The Deaf. According to the band they were even asked by the Arctic Monkeys themselves. They do a great job with catchy garage punk songs and a very excited Spike who probably had more than just apple juice and M&M's.

When the Arctic Monkeys take the stage the crowd gets really excited. And the boys make sure they don't loose this excitement for the rest of the night. They play songs from every album where maybe 'Humbug' is less present. This may be striking since that's the album fans were most unhappy with. I still don't agree since clearly it's a transitional album that may prove to be very important in the band's development.

But fair is fair to say that the songs of the new album 'Suck It And See' blend in perfectly with the ones from the first more rough and uptempo two albums. Even though the new songs are more intelligent, less rash and show more depth, they go perfect with proven hit songs like 'I Bet You Look Good On The Dance Floor' and 'Brainstorm'. The crowd seems to know them word by word already. 'Library Pictures' is already becoming a fan's favourite. Even the much criticized 'Brick By Brick', with drummer Matt Helders on vocals, works very well. That same drummer is so important for the band with his solid and creative grooves and hooks.

Alex Turner still is the somewhat distant front man, since he doesn't seek much contact with the crowd. But his poses are convincing and he's showing more charisma than ever before. Bass player Nick O'Malley and guitarist Jamie Cook are kind of performing out of the spot lights but are the much needed basis for the band. Everything shows that this band has come such a long way from their first album that pulled them out of the anonymity all of a sudden and pushed them onto the honor roll of indie rock.

And everything tonight shows they earn that spot. They still are that exciting band with brilliant twists that can light up a place like Paradiso. And that's exactly what happens. The crowd is going crazy and everyone from the front to all the way in the back is dancing and jumping to their music. The four guys suck it all up in their familiar relaxed and cool way. But I'm sure they are stoked themselves as well inside.

And so a great night ends you would think. But that same night had another pleasant surprise up its sleeves.

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Saturday 25 June 2011

Genius With Crazy Primus

The only time I saw Primus play was when the earth was still flat. It was at the Pinkpop festival and they made the crowd bounce so hard it resulted in a 1.2 earthquake. A few years after that it looked like they had disbanded and it got silent. Until a few months ago when a new album was announced and a European tour to kick off in Amsterdam. It can't be a surprise that this guy was present as well.

Primus in Paradiso Amsterdam, June 18 2011 (Ronald Says 9 out of 10)
Two giant astronauts are waving at us from the stage. Their helmets are used to project a colourful collection of video clips, that are just as crazy as the band itself. Their music is impossible to describe and you get tossed between rock, funk, math rock, punk and more. Front man Les Claypool and the master mind of the band doesn't want to have it any other way. He thrives on the twists and turns of their music and the way it puts people on the wrong foot.

They head it off with 'To Defy the Laws of Tradition'. The threesome is back in the same line-up as they once were even before their first album release. What follows is a incredibly tight show with lots of variation in the set. A great overview of what Primus is all about and the quality of the band. They play a few songs from their upcoming record as well. Guitarist Larry LaLonde and drummer Jay Lane have no trouble following the complicated rythms and twists. They even can afford to not play big hits like 'Tommy the Cat' and 'Too Many Puppies'. But with the two hour show and so many other great songs they don't have to. Especially when no one seems to mind what song they play. It all goes down great.

Claypool, with his collection of different basses and his striking appearance, is the big star of course. The way he moves around the stage easily earns him a position at the Ministry of Silly Walks. But the man is a brilliant bass player. His sense of humour explains the style of music. The small speeches in between songs are in the same line. After two hours there's time for one encore 'Southbound Pachyderm'. This show only makes you beg for more. I can't wait to hear the new album. Hopefully it won't be another 15 years before I see them again.

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Thursday 23 June 2011

Heather Nova Returns To Sea

Halfway the nineties Heather Nova was a star among the generation of alternative music lovers at that time. With her typical high vocals and sultry gaze she was a popular artist. She played all the big stages of every festival and was especially successful with the albums Oyster and Siren. After that the lady from Bermuda continued making albums, but could never really match her former success. Slowly she disappeared from the spotlights. Now here's 300 Days At Sea, a record with a story.

Heather Nova - 300 Days At Sea (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)

As a child she travelled on a boat for a while with her parents. But after her dad wasn't capable of sailing it any more it was sold. Later on it eventually sank to the bottom of the sea. A fisherman, at the same time fan of Heather, dived to the wreck and brought back the compass. At long last he was able to give it back to her. This reminded her of the three hundred days at sea. She got inspired by that and wrote the songs for this album. She gathered the old band from her successfull period and recorded the record in her own house.

The result is an album that goes back to her sound of those successful nineties. Dreamy music with the well-known high pitch voice of Heather. The first single 'Higher Ground' is a fine exampled of a typical Heather Nova song when she's at her best. Like a boat on a calm sea it is floating along and slowly unfolds itself in the chorus. Sometimes the songs are tiny and modest ('Everything Changes'), other times more exuberant ('See A Little Piece Of Tomorrow'). But always tasteful, full of emotion and melancholia. Especially in these songs, the fairy-like ballads, she excels. And this album is full of it like in the beautiful 'The Good Ship Moon'. The lyrics are mostly poetic and of course she uses many metaphors and references to life at sea.

Heather Nova is finally showing her best side again. This album can easily join her most successful albums. If she can truly revive the glory days is doubtful. The musical landscape has changed too significantly. She probably isn't interested in that herself anyway. In the end she's an artist at heart who wants to deliver the best. And she succeeded.

This review has been published on ROAR E-Zine in Dutch over here.

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Monday 20 June 2011

Pinkpop Ends With Perfect Storm

When the Pinkpop festival announced they had put Foo Fighters down as the headliner on the third day I didn't need any more convincing to buy tickets for that day. It may be the sad truth but it turns all other acts on Pinkpop Monday into support acts. Of course we would definitely check out some of them since there were some pretty nice ones. The three day festival with Coldplay and Kings of Leon headlining the other two days did however program lots of mediocre acts so it wasn't hard to pick out the most interesting ones without having to run around or making tough choices.

Pinkpop Festival, Day 3 Monday June 13 2011
And we continue our festival traveling success streak. Without traffic jams and long queues we make it onto the festival area long before the first band will start playing and we're sipping beers that go by the brilliant name Brand in no time. This day sure was off to a good start!

Dazzled Kid (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
First act to check is Tjeerd Bomhof and his solo project Dazzled Kid. I already saw the Voicst front man a while ago and was impressed. He's bringing the same big band onto the stage this time as well. But the singer is off to a hesitating start though and seems a bit tensed which isn't weird on a big festival like this. During the first couple of songs he manages to pull it together though and slowly grows into it. His voice isn't too great today and this is noticeable in the higher registers. Maybe it
s the nerves but with this great band it doesn't matter and the sound is good. It even turns magical now and then like in 'Stronger'. By the end everyone is loving it and Bomhof's emotions explode in the last song '99 Cent Dreams' when he starts trashing the drum kit.

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Go Back To The Zoo (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
This band are rocketing upwards in their career. I've been following them for a while now and saw them live in beach bar Timboektoe about one year ago with a few hundred people. Now they're playing the main stage in front of 50,000 people. The boys must have been dead nervous but are hiding that well. The band manages to put down a big sound that's needed for this huge crowds. Singer Cas Hieltjes, in a bright green African shirt, acts like he's used to playing huge crowds and is using most of the stage. They brought confetti canons, inflatable elephants, a big jungle picture at the back and a huge gorilla inflates itself during 'I'm The Night'. They are a hit producing machine and especially the up-tempo songs are working very well. Their slower songs aren't as good but they know how to balance that in their set list. Half of the crowd is jumping and cheering and when they close with their big hit and best song 'Electric' the field explodes.

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The Gaslight Anthem (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
With a big picture of a skull in the back and lots of tattoos you may expect a heavy rock band. But this band are inspired by Bruce Springsteen and play rock songs in the same style. Looking at their faces you can see they aren't as dangerous as it seems. Their songs are good and sound great live. Singer Brian Fallon looks like a nice guy and is chatting away. His voice sounds clear and their show is nicely balanced. It just is lacking a bit of danger. If they can put a bit more spice in their music and performance it could turn into an unforgettable show like their big inspiration The Boss proved two years ago.
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Kaiser Chiefs (Ronald Says 6 out of 10)
They have played every major festival several times and are an audience favourite. Their lively shows with the ever active front man Ricky Wilson resulted in many memorable moments. But their hitmachine came to a grinding hold with their third record and the songs of their upcoming record aren't really promising either. And that's obvious in their performance today. All their hits are still good for a bouncing crowd and many people join the sing-along verses. But their setlist isn't well chosen and the new songs are scattered throughout it causing many dead moments. They aren't really catchy and no matter what Wilson tries they don't go down easy. Of course they have to change direction since they can't keep on producing the same anthems over and over again. But they may have gone down the wrong road since their show has given in on energy and speed. A real shame.
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Foo Fighters (Ronald Says 10 out of 10)
Then it's time for the long awaited headliner. And Foo Fighters live up to every expectation and more. They have an impressive list of big stadium rockers and start firing those onto the crowd. The weather gods aren't really cooperative and the first real rain of the day starts coming down. But that doesn't bother Dave Grohl and the others at all. Instead it adds to the great atmosphere of the excited crowd. It even adds a rainbow to the already impressive light show and causes Grohl to stop and enjoy it for a moment. Then it's full force ahead again. The band shows how to close a festival as the main headliner. It's the perfect rock show. Two hours in total which is 30 minutes longer than planned. No leaving the stage before the obligatory encore as Grohl explains it. Why leave if they can just keep on playing? This is a no nonsense band, no arrogance, no faking it. Just good honest giving it all rock music. And that's truly admirable. To top it off they play one of my favourite Queen songs 'Tie Your Mother Down'. Epic.

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Thursday 16 June 2011

Explosive New Album By ASIWYFA

ASIWYFA? Yes, And So I Watch You From Afar are a band from Northern Ireland that play a mix of math rock and prog rock. No vocals, just lots of guitar, pounding drums and enthusiasm. Especially that last ingredient makes their live performances a real treat as I experienced a year ago. Now they have released their second full length album Gangs.

And So I Watch You From Afar - Gangs (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
And that album is full of explosive new songs. You can hear the excitement back in it. Like their live performances it will simply blow you off your socks. Even though it's related to math rock you don't have to worry that it's too much of guitar fiddling. Instead their music is full of great grooves and hooks.

If you're into heavy guitars buying this album is a no brainer. Even better go check them out live too! I had to pleasure of seeing them once and am dying to see them again. So far without luck since I had to miss their gig last December in Amsterdam and unfortunately can't make it to festival De Beschaving that they're playing this weekend. And guys please re-release your first album and EP since they're impossible to get. Best enjoyed with the volume knob turned up completely.

Listen to 'Gangs' on Spotify

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Sunday 12 June 2011

Relaxed Evening On Indievloot

Record store Concerto, concert venue Paradiso and music magazine Oor came up with this small festival. A collection of indie bands spread out on one evening. Oor gave away 200 guest list spots and I couldn't let that pass. It turned out that most visitors were on the guest list. So it was pretty quiet compared to let's say the London Calling festival. Good thing was you could walk from one performance to the other without worrying about getting in or standing in the back all cramped up.

Indievloot at Paradiso, June 7 2011

No Joy (Ronald Says 5 out of 10)
First up are this band from Canada They are unlucky to lead it off since only a few of the visitors have made it in by now. Singer/guitarists Jasmine White-Glutz en Laura Lloyd have thrown their hair in front of their faces and kick it off. Lloyd will even keep it there for the rest of the show which is loud, noisy and it's impossible to hear anything from the vocals. Of course this is all part of the music and image of a noise/shoe gazer band, but it makes the performance really static and hard to enjoy.
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Blues Brother Castro (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
There's more to enjoy with this Dutch band. They play a varied set of garage rock songs. There's a lot of energy coming from singer Leon Caren while the rest of the band backs him up quite stoically. But their songs are convincing and sound solid enough to make this a good performance.
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The Cave Singers (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)
The only time that it's crowded this evening is when the Cave Singers take the stage of the small hall. It's completely packed and some people even have to stay outside. And they prove that this amount of interest is completely justified. Their mix of americana, country and folk is catchy and well performed. It sounds like a crossing between the old Kings of Leon and Mumford & Sons. The three men are obviously enjoying themselves and at the end of their set get a well earned applause.
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Waters (Ronald Says 5 out of 10)
By then Waters have taken the stage in the big hall. This stage is clearly to big for them. Their songs don't really catch on and singer Van Pierszalowski (ex-Port o'Brien) doesn't have a great voice. He sings out of tune a lot and isn't able to catch the high notes. Although the bands tries hard it's not convincing.

Wye Oak (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)
There's a lot of interest for Wye Oak as well. Their name is on the rise and many people want to check out the duo. The songs are dark and in slow tempos. Drummer Andy Stack is playing both drums and keyboars at the same time which is impressive but it causes the grooves to be simple and without a lot of variation. Singer Jenn Wasner has a pleasant voice that sounds a lot like Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie. It's quite a nice performance but there could be more variation. Maybe that's why only a handful of people make it to the end of the performance.
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Herman Dune (Ronald Says 6 out of 10)
The last act we check out is Herman Dune. They are described as an anti-folk band formed by the two brothers David-Ivar and Néman Herman Dune. Their songs are cheery and sound simple. The musicians aren't really charismatic though and not much is happening on stage. Many of their songs sound alike but it's clearly enough for some people to dance. Could be the beers working as well of course.
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Hopefully more of these Indievloot events will follow. It's a nice concept with interesting bands and a diverse audience. Although it already drags a fair amount of hipsters, like most of London Calling's audience, that only seem to be interested in chatting to each other and looking hip instead of enjoying music. Hopefully it can attract more (music minded) people since that would make most of the performances and the festival itself more lively.

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Tuesday 7 June 2011

Arctic Monkeys Fool Everyone

After two successful albums Arctic Monkeys were heavily criticized for 'Humbug'. Their radical change in sound and production proved to be too much for many. But it was clear the boys were becoming men and were moving into a more mature direction. I thought that album wasn't bad at all but merely a logical part of that transition. And then a while ago there was 'Brick By Brick', a somewhat cheesy but at the same time catchy rock song with drummer Matt Helders on vocals. Combined with a minimal and empty album cover many feared the worst. But the band told everyone to suck it and see.

Arctic Monkeys - Suck It And See (Ronald Says 9 out of 10)

Listening to the album it's clear they played a joke on all of us. They must have been laughing their heads off when they thought this one up. Critics were already sharpening their knives to write them off for good. But the song and album cover are by no means representative for this album. The songs show that the band is still growing. It differs from 'Humbug' but also isn't a return to the sound of their début.

Instead it sometimes reminds of singer Alex Turner's side project The Last Shadow Puppets. But the songs do contain the twists that they are so good at. Turner once again proves he's one of the most talented song writers today. They are full of intelligent and creative lines that at the same time are smart and witty. The songs are less dark than the ones on 'Humbug' but have a lighter touch.

At the time of 'Humbug' with its radical change in direction my guess was that within two albums the Arctic Monkeys would come up with a master piece. 'Suck It And See' isn't brilliant enough to earn that title, but it certainly is very good and proves the band is coming close. I'm sure in a few years time their fifth album will be an instant classic.

Listen to 'Suck It And See' on Spotify

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Wednesday 1 June 2011

Wealth Of Ideas From Mr. Love And The Stallions

Already releasing their third album Mr. Love And The Stallions are still relatively unknown. Despite being 3FM Serious Talent and the use of their single 'Fill Me Up' in a cup of tea commercial. The new album Playgrounds is supposed to change all that. And it looks like they have big ambitions with it and are hoping to finally achieve success. But without doing to many concessions so it seems, since Playgrounds isn't a standard indiepop record aimed solely at a big audience. It does have a few nice indiepop songs with the familiar ingredients like catchy guitars and easy singalong choruses ('Radio 4 AM').

Mr. Love And The Stallions - Playgrounds (Ronald Says 7 out of 10)

But in general the album holds more songs that lean towards alternative rock as we know so well from dEUS. Singer Bas van Looy's voice sounds a lot like singer Tom Barman of the Belgian band and the addition of violin completes the comparison. The track 'Make Love' even reminds a lot of the dEUS hit song 'Suds & Soda'. This isn't much of a problem since the record is nice enough with interesting findings and jangling indierock songs. The eleven tracks are varied and full of creativity and experiment.

Sometimes it's all a bit too much though. Like the song 'Lucky Man' that really has a lot of different changes and parts. There's also a chance of putting too many ideas in a single song. Because of all this variation the band's direction isn't always clear. Maybe that's the result of their ambition to finally be able to score and therefore they have written some radio friendly songs. It results in a bit of strange contrast with the other more alternative songs. This isn't really disturbing though and doesn't affect the overall quality of the album.

Playgrounds simply has turned out to be a fine introduction for these five musicians. They are showing that they have a lot to offer and are skilled musicians. If the record will be picked up by a bigger group of fans remains to be seen. But they should be able to make quite an impression in the Dutch alternative scene.

Listen to 'Playgrounds' on Spotify

This review has been published on ROAR E-Zine in Dutch over here.

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