Monday 25 June 2012

Sniffing The Grass: A Rock Werchter 2012 Warmup

It's June, rain, strong winds and thunderstorms are beating down on the low lands. That means the festival season is at full swing and it's almost time for our yearly trip down South to our favourite Belgian festival Rock Werchter. This time they added a third stage, which means there'll be more bands and more choices to make. So let's line them up and see what we can expect. See the full line-up over here.

We can take it easy driving to the festival since the first band I want to see is Bombay Bicycle Club. The little hype around them seems to have quiet down by now, but they are still worth a visit to the new stage called the Barn. Later on it's The Maccabees on the same stage that still need to convince me. We're gonna get insane in the membrane with some old school hip-hop by Cypress Hill. Let's take the Garbage out with Shirley Manson and co. and see if they still got it. Elbow is always a great festival act although we've seen them so many times now. I can't remember anything about the last time The Cure were visiting this festival so I'll pay better attention this time with this legendary band. The last album by The Kooks wasn't that great and their music is actually a bit too teen-girl-happy for me, but somehow I always enjoy watching them. Justice may just be the right band to finish us up for the night.

After the first day, which on paper is the busiest day for me, we have an early start today with School Is Cool. Hopefully they can get rid of that ferocious hang-over on the second day that always seems to trouble me every year. Miles Kane is having a great year and made a good album, so I'm definitely gonna watch him again. Then there's not a lot to my liking. Time to stroll around a bit, have some food and drinks and then maybe see a bit of the Gossip. I can only grasp a bit of The Temper Trap before rushing back to the main stage for Jack White. Will he bring his guys or girls band? I never can get enough of the always great dEUS. And of course I certainly can't get enough of one of my other favourites Pearl Jam. After Eddie and friends I want to catch Beirut and their interesting indie music. That will probably wrap up today, after of course finishing off with a few more cold beers.

My body has gone into survival mode by now, so let's start slow and soulful with Michael Kiwanuka followed by the great Alabama Shakes. Then we're gonna pick it up a few notches and rock hard with Wolfmother and Kasabian. Then I'm finally gonna see My Morning Jacket, one of the best live bands around according to some. Then it's time for some "Frietje Stoofvlees" or some grilled chicken and apple sauce. Or maybe check out M83 after all? Of course we'll be back on time for Editors. It's going to be interesting to hear how their sound has changed. Guitar player Chris Urbanowicz didn't leave for nothing I guess. Third day down, one more to go.

Belgian band The Hickey Underworld make interesting music so we'll start off early with them. Then we can stay at the main stage for The Vaccines who will most certainly play some new songs. I love Noel Gallagher's High Flying Birds and am really looking forward to seeing him play. Then things slow down too much for me or just aren't my cup of tea. Maybe see Ed Sheeran, since I recently won a signed 7" of The A Team that sounds pretty nice. We may as well just stick around for Florence + The Machine and Snow Patrol before the closing act Red Hot Chili Peppers will hopefully finish up with some musical fireworks. I was a big fan but kind of lost interest after the last few albums and a bad performance a few years ago. Hopefully they can win me back over. The Jupiler most certainly will have by now.

You can find a downloadable time schedule on fellow blogger Tbeest's blog or over here.
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Friday 22 June 2012

Drive Like Maria Don't Need To Wear Helmets No More

A few years ago Dutch/Belgian rockers Drive Like Maria all of a sudden surprised with their first album Elmwood. The record was full of sturdy stoner and blues rock tracks. Live this was even more of an experience, where they were wearing stunt helmets at the beginning of their show. Then it got quiet, they built a small studio in Italy and started recording new songs.

Drive Like Maria - Drive Like Maria (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)

Some critics found they didn't have their own sound and were copying too much from other bands. Singer Bjorn Awouters was playing the drums at the same time, which isn't ideal when playing live on stage. So for this album, simply called Drive Like Maria, they got in drummer Bram van den Berg. This worked out very well.

Their sound has developed and got wider, the album sounds more balanced. The songs have more melody and variation. It's not just rock in the highest gear any more, although fortunately there is still plenty of heavy rock left. 'Black Horses' and 'Ghostrider' have great riffs where guitar player Nitzan Hoffmann is showing her skills. It's clear van de Berg is a hard hitter. His grooves sound solid and tight throughout the album, giving bass player Robin van Saaze enough to lean into.

But then it's time to take it more slow. 'On The Road' and 'Bury My Heart In The Desert' are convincing ballads brought with plenty of feeling. 'Howl' featuring Intergalactic Lovers singer Lara Chedraoui and 'Boomerang' show yet another face of the band. Both songs are more radio friendly and could appeal to a wider audience.

Drive Like Maria have made a wise choice. Instead of repeating the same trick, they have taken the time to develop and improve. The band moves onto the next level with their second album. It does feel as if this is just a stop in between and they have a lot more coming. Let's hope so and in the meanwhile enjoy their lively performances.

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Monday 18 June 2012

The Stone Roses Give One Of The Best Worst Shows Ever

At the end of the eighties The Stone Roses delivered their epic self-titled debut album. It changed the music scene forever and left its marks in music history. They were one of the bands to ignite Madchester back in the days. The four piece tried to follow up on that, but their second album couldn't come close to its classic predecessor, things go ugly and they vanish. Until last year when a reunion was announced, one that was highly anticipated by me.

The Stone Roses at Heineken Music Hall, June 12 2012

The band have always been precarious and have played notoriously bad shows in the past. Amsterdam is only the second reunion show of the tour, that will have its climax in the UK later this summer. Over half of the venue is filled with UK fans, where the band are still huge. There's no support act and the fans are eagerly awaiting the band. They appear on stage and open up with 'I Wanna Be Adored'. Right from the start people are excited and sing along with every word.

Singer Ian Brown is holding two jingle sticks and will do so for the rest of the concert. Since they are not even near a mic, they can't be heard, but he probably feels comfortable with them. He still is the likeable rascal he's always been, pointing at people in the crowd, waving and now and then throwing smiles around. But as the show progresses it's clear that his voice isn't great and he's singing off-key most of the time. Drummer Reni seems unhappy throughout the show, looking for a roady several times. The harmonies he's singing with Brown are sometimes just painful to the ears.

Bass player Mani is enjoying the hell out of himself, playing with a big smile on his face for most of the gig. Guitar player John Squire is looking a bit indifferent, while playing his unmistakable guitar parts. The band doesn't sound too tight and actually sounds weak at times. However the combination Mani and Squire still is a good one. Their seventies style grooves still have their great moments and sometimes are showing some of the sparkle of the past. On top of that the band's epic songs are just too good. When they play 'Waterfall' or 'She Bangs The Drums' it all seems to come together again. 'Fool's Gold' even sounds better than ever with a great jam and Squire in the spotlight.

The later it gets and the more beers are downed the more cheerful the crowd gets. Mates are standing shoulder to shoulder, singing along with their childhood tunes. The atmosphere is just great. It makes up for the weak performance and turns the night into a success. At the end the lights are turned off, the band leaves...and doesn't come back. No 10 minute 'I Am The Resurrection'. Only Brown is appearing back on stage to tell us that "The drummer's gone home" and "The drummer's a cunt!". Did we witness a The Stone Roses meltdown this early in the tour? Who can tell, but they can never take this one away from us. No band can play so bad and still cry victory as The Stone Roses.

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1. I Wanna Be Adored
2. Sally Cinnamon
3. Mersey Paradise
4. (Song for My) Sugar Spun Sister
5. Where Angels Play
6. Shoot You Down
7. Fools Gold
8. Tightrope
9. Ten Storey Love Song
10. Waterfall
11. Don't Stop
12. This Is the One
13. She Bangs The Drums
14. Made Of Stone
15. Love Spreads
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Wednesday 13 June 2012

ill Offers More Of The Same

Since 2005 ill from Atlanta have been working on their music. In 2007 they already released a first album and last year its successor was released in the US, Gotten Gains. Now this record has been released in Europe as well. Apparently they find it the right time to try to make it here. From the first song on it's clear the threesome like it rough. Heavy riffs and loud drums pound the listener. It's a combination of grunge and stonerrock. Music that comes to mind is Soundgarden, Queens of the Stone Age and Stone Temple Pilots. Heavy stuff and not a bad starting position for something good.

ill - Gotten Gains (Ronald Says 5 out of 10)

But singer Ryan Waters doesn't have the vocal reach of a Chris Cornell, even though he does sing convincingly. He's not a singer with a notable singing voice though. The band is pretty tight, the songs are decent and it all sounds clean. But like the vocals, the band doesn't show anything extraordinary. They definitely can't come close the level of the mentioned big names. The songs are too simple for that and don't stick out enough. The record and the band are both more of the same. In the US there's plenty of these kind of bands and we already met a lot of those in the nineties. Over here you can find a lot of examples too and there are numerous bands who are a lot better than that.

Still a song like 'There Are Worse Things Than Being Alone' sounds fine. It has a catchy riff and keeps momentum. But it's all quite straightforward. Another example is 'Castration', which sounds alright, but it misses a lot of subtlety. And it's not really original either of course. Gotten Gains is one of those albums that just won't stick. When you play it, it sounds okay. You nod your head to the heavy grooves, but when the record has finished, you already have forgotten about it. The band probably won't leave a lasting impression over here.

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

Listen to 'Gotten Gains' on Spotify.

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Thursday 7 June 2012

Crazy Ride With White Denim

It's nice when a band can blow you away with great music. White Denim is one of those bands that surprised me a lot a few times. I got to know them when they released Fits a few years ago. Successor D was even better and their performance on Lowlands last year made me want more. And I finally got more.

White Denim at Melkweg Amsterdam, May 28 2012 White Arrows are the support act for this leg of the club tour. And they do a decent job. Their music is interesting and the boys put down a good show. The band does need some more variation in their songs and stage act. The Springsteen cover 'I'm On Fire' may be a funny gimmick but it's nothing more than that. They better leave it out.

When White Denim start off they don't cut around the bush. A fifteen minute jam sets the tone for the night. What follows is an over ninety minutes roller coaster ride into space. I got their début album Workout Holiday after their performance and it shows how much this band has grown over the years. The mostly garage rock from the beginning has evolved into a spacey mix of jazz, blues soul and rock. They fly into any possible direction, extending their songs into long hypnotizing jams from time to time.

That doesn't mean the performance is a complete wild mix of songs. The band can hold everything together nicely which alone is a great achievement. They are playing their music full of fire and make it all look so easy. The complex rhythms, grooves and riffs seem to be child's play to the band members. Guitar player Austin Jenkins is a good addition to the band. It keeps the songs going all the time at the same level even when singer James Petralli isn't playing himself. And he seems to have a lot of fun at it. Many times he's playing with a big smile on his face. Together with Petralli and bass player Steven Terebecki they're sometimes moving towards drum player Joshua Block as if they are still playing in a garage. This band is tight and loose at the same time.

The small venue has filled up nicely, although there's still room for more people. It's hard to believe this band isn't drawing bigger crowds. It's obvious it's hard to stand still. Most of the people are dancing or at least nodding their head. Hard cover fans are completely going crazy at the front of the stage. When they have ended their set the band has to answer to the loud cheers and play a few encores. This performance was over in no time, but also seemed to last for hours. White Denim truly take you onto a fabulous journey beyond time and space.

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Monday 4 June 2012

Bombay Show Pig Have A Lot To Show Off

I already wrote about this band a few times. Dutch duo Bombay Show Pig seem to have come out of nowhere, but the truth is that they have been around for some years. Drum player Linda van Leeuwen and guitarist Mathias Janmaat have been out there for quite some time in other bands. They formed this group while studying at the music college. Originally they started out with three but singer Christian Kratzsch fell off the wagon down the road. Now the remaining two are taking turns singing. Last month they released their first full album Vulture/Provider.

Bombay Show Pig - Vulture/Provider (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)

The physical record itself (and I'm looking at a vinyl copy) already is worth the purchase, since the art work is just stunning. And this is representative for the whole album. It's obvious they spent a lot of time and effort on it. The production is spot on, the songs are of a high level and the music is great. They recorded the album in producer Simon Akkerman's Epic Rainbow Unicorn Studio at the same location as Colin Benders' (who we know as Kyteman) Kytopia studios. So whenever they needed help, they could just ask anyone who happened to be around. As a result the record has several guest musicians, and this gives a broad variation in music. By taking turns in vocals, the songs get a different character, adding even more to the variation.

There's some use of electronics like drum loops and samples, laying down several layers in the music. 'Sharp Like' is a good example of this. It starts out with strings and then slowly builds up to a big explosion of noise. Most songs have a tight heavy groove as a foundation. Van Leeuwen is doing a great job here. It gives songs like 'Heart In A Headlock' and 'Ill Intention', which are quite heavy, the solid support they need.

Most tracks are short, but still there are enough twists and turns to give them enough dynamics, without losing a to-the-point feel. Only once does a song run beyond five minutes, 'Start/Rewind', that bundles the essence of the whole album: noisy, heavy parts are followed by quieter more mellow pieces. And this is exactly how the record turns out: many songs are quite heavy and full of noise, with room for more mellow tunes, like the very catchy 'Stuck In My State Of Mind'.

It's good to see, and remarkable at the same time, that they have managed to find a way to play this rich variation in songs convincingly live on stage with only the two of them. They are both taking care of the electronic instruments next to their regular instrument. I can only recommend to go see them perform. And at the end of the show get that great looking album. Preferably that eye-popping vinyl beauty.

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Friday 1 June 2012

Pinkpop Mellow In Hot Sun

This year I only needed one word to make the trip down south to the Pinkpop festival: Soundgarden. I just can't get enough of this band and somehow managed to never see them live in the nineties. The rest of the program didn't really look spectacular although there was probably going to be plenty to enjoy. The weather forecast couldn't have looked better so we headed to the festival in good spirit under a clear sky and a bright sun.

Pinkpop Festival at Landgraaf, Day 2 Sunday May 27 2012

We followed the same routine as past years: driving there following our gps navigation and ignoring all the official festival traffic signs. We made it to the small town centre of Landgraaf without a problem and only 10 minutes after the festival gates opened we were ordering our first and last cup of coffee of the day. Enough time to get in the festival mood, go over the schedule and get a good taste of the cold beers. The festival season was taking off for us.

Babylon Circus
First up are Babylon Circus, a ten piece band from Lyon in France. They are playing a mix of reggae and ska. With the sun climbing higher you can't have a better start. And the band members know this as well. They are putting a lot of effort in it, firing off their catchy summer tunes to the crowd. So even though part of the crowd alreay have one hot festival day behind them, many people are showing off the first dance moves of the day. The French musicians are a great festival act and are just what you need to get a party started.

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The sun is already starting to burn on our necks and faces so it's time to take it a bit slower. Racoon have grown from an indie rock band with jumpy songs into a pop band with mostly acoustic and folky sounding slow tunes. For me this is their weak spot. Many songs have the same tempo and for someone who doesn't know them very well, they are hard to keep apart. But they are playing them with a lot of heart and very convincingly.

Singer Bart van der Weide has a great unique voice, that can be vulnerable at times but also powerful at other times. The addition of strings is a smart move. They add more depth to the music. It gives them a chance to play their version of 'Eleanor Rigby', which is the highlight of their set. Their own songs can't match that, although 'Don't Give Up The Fight', that was written for the a little boy called Jayden who passed away, is putting a lumb in many a throat.

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Time to spice it up a bit again. Well, a bit. Mastodon are not the band to take it slow. Their havy guitars and grooves are beating down on the crowd. It may not be really subtle, but it is quite effective. Especially when they pace themselves a bit it reminds me of Therapy? from time to time. Other times it kind of gets too rough and it loses too much dynamics. All in all not a bad way to keep us from slowly dozing off in the sun.

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The Kyteman Orchestra
Colin Benders took our country by storm a few years ago as Kyteman. His debut album with a mix of hip hop and jazzy tunes was an instant hit. But especially the huge band live on stage was an impressive sight. His second album The Kyteman Orchestra that was released in March is even more ambitious. Pieces of opera and classical music mixed with hip hop and jazz. I can only respect Benders for taking up such a complex, ambitious and risky project, but the album didn't really appeal to me. But his live performances gained a lot of critical acclaim again.

And he is proving that on the Pinkpop main stage. The big stage is full of musicians, instruments and a complete choir. The variety in sound and musical directions don't miss their effect. Some people are watching in awe while other people turn their back. I guess it may not be the kind of music for every one, but I think it is a huge hit again. It's very impressive how Benders managed to translate his complex music into a live performance.

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Finally it is time to meet one of my favourite bands up close. And up close we get. We go into the front pit as close to the stage as possible. A loud and low noise is revealing their arrival to the main stage. They kick off with 'Searching With My Good Eye Closed'. From our position the sound is pretty bad. During the song it is improving, but it never really turns decent enough. Chris Cornell's voice sounds great today and once again is showing why he's considered one of the best rock singers. It's great so see the band back together. Matt Cameron is driving the big heavy engine with some tight drumming.

Maybe the band isn't as tight during the whole set or they may be less active than in their glory days, but I'm definitely enjoying any second of their set. For a true fan like me it's just great watching them play classics like 'Spoonman', 'Rusty Cage' and 'Black Hole Sun'. They end their set with a great 'Slaves & Bulldozers'. So it didn't really become legendary, which apparently disappointed some people. But it was still an excellent performance for any Soundgarden fan or any one who likes some good heavy rock music.

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Since Keane and Linkin Park aren't really our cup of tea, we decided to have another beer and take on our three hour drive back home. Day two of the festival wasn't exactly spectacular. It had a couple of good performances but nothing extraordinary or surprising. None of the bands really outdid themselves. But with the nice weather, good music, great company and the return of my heroes it was still a successful day. Our festival season has officially been opened!

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