Saturday, 22 September 2012

British Night With Graham Coxon

Only last month he was playing Hyde Park with Blur. Tonight he's playing solo for only a few hundred people with his band. Guitar player Graham Coxon doesn't mind. He released his eighth solo album earlier this year, A+E, which shows what a versatile artist he is. And tonight he's proving that on stage as well.

Graham Coxon at Melkweg Amsterdam, September 18 2012

When you listen to Blur albums and Coxon's solo albums, it's clear that he had a big influence on the Blur sound. And with that he had a big influence on British music history as well. Therefore it's hard to believe that this great musician is playing for that few a people. One advantage is that we can move up close to the stage to watch him play. He's no show guitarist and shredder like Steve Vai or Joe Satriani, but it's obvious how great he is. Especially the way he's creating a big range of different sounds with his guitar is just great. And he's an artist who will always try to experiment with sounds and song structures.

Tonight is turning into a British show. There are many fans from the UK and Coxon's stage appearance is typically Britpop nonchalance. He and the band are having a good time. There are many smiles on the stage. They are smirking from time to time when something doesn't seem to go according to plan, like starting or finishing a song all at the same time. Except his drummer, who is mostly looking clueless. Coxon is chatting with the crowd now and then, making funny remarks, although not all of it is loud enough to hear it properly. It doesn't matter, the music is spot on.

Many songs of his latest album come by tonight. Combined with older songs it's a strong and varied set list. It is showing what a great composer he is as well. Just listen to a song like 'What'll It Take', not for the lyrics, since that's only a few lines, but for the great groove. Or the beautiful Beatles-like 'All Over Me'. Of course 'Freaking Out' isn't missing tonight. It's fair to say that Coxon is simply a way too underrated artist and deserves a lot more credit. Listen to his records and watch him play when you get the chance.

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Monday, 17 September 2012

Into The Great Wide Open 2012 Day 3: Lazy Sunday

After watching another great sunrise while walking to the toilet, it promises to be another sunny day. We're completely in the lowest gear now and feel like we're on a totally relaxed holiday. This is probably going to turn into a very lazy day.

And so we wander around a bit, have a few beers and enjoy some of the great food on this festival. Did I mention they have great food? We're having some great sausage, turkey, pasta and fish, while in the background Dio is building a party. I'm not really into hiphop so I don't feel an urge to get up. But it sounds like he's doing a good job. I'm also not into Warpaint's dreampop and they prove that today. We can hear their slow tunes, but even those girls can't seduce me to get up. A few beers later I discover I totally missed Mozes and the Firstborn. That's really too bad, since this young band proved to have potential a few months ago. I'm sure I will be able to catch them again soon enough.

Willis Earl Beal
We end up at the forest stage one last time where Willis Earl Beal is giving an impressive show. It's a combination of soul and spoken word. An old tape recorder is the only backing track Beal is using. Sometimes the man is dressed in a cape and now and then he is taking a seat to pluck on a guitar. He's making it look like it's a real struggle for him. Of course this is an act, but it's working. Sometimes whispering, then screaming like a tormented soul. It's crowded in the woods and for a good reason. Beal is totally worth it.

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Django Django
This British quartet made a fun record this year and got great reviews. Today they are the perfect closing act. We suck in the last sun rays of the weekend, while Django Django are sending the good vibes. Their catchy songs make it impossible to stand still. The harmonies sound good today and their set is more tight and smooth than the one we saw on Lowlands. And so while we're dancing, our last tokens are exchanged for a few more beers and some paella. Did I mention the food is great over here?

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A bit sad we board the ferry to take us back to the main land. Another very successful edition of this unique festival has ended. Time to wake up from this fairytale dream and go back to reality. It will be even harder to get tickets for next year I'm sure. Anyone who can get their hands on them, will feel like being among one of the chosen ones. Hopefully we will be among them as well. Fingers crossed!

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Into The Great Wide Open 2012 Day 1
Into The Great Wide Open 2012 Day 2

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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Into The Great Wide Open 2012 Day 2: In Island Mode

After a short but good night of sleep I wake up early to a beautiful sunrise. This promises to be a gorgeous day. A bit more sleep until the sun is too hot to stay in the tent. Time to get up and get some coffee to start the day. Let's find some music as well.

Janne Schra
Some years ago she impressed with Room Eleven. A few years later she decided to go solo. Her voice is great and clear. It is combining beautifully with the light pop/jazz songs and the string arrangements. Ben Caplan joins in to sing a song with her and it turns into an entertaining morning for the crowd, who are mostly sitting down and are enjoying the sun.

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Adrian Younge Presents Venice Dawn
On our bike we swiftly ride to the lighthouse stage where Adrian Younge is playing his dark soul. The composer producer has a great band behind him. Cool looking musicians who are totally into it. Traces of Ennio Morricone combine with honest 70s soul. Especially when Loren Oden is singing with his impressive voice, you can hear echoes of Marvin Gaye. It's clear why they call it "dark soul" themselves, since it's more heavy and sounds really deep. Young himself is playing keyboards and saxophone and is hardly in the spotlights. This band is taking the crowd by storm and is reaching great heights today on this stage that is competing with the forest stage for most beautiful festival stage. If Tarantino is looking for music for his next movie score, he doesn't have to look any further.

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Howlin Rain
Back on the main field we find this band and their 70s style rock sweating themselves through their set. It's a mix of Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Black Crowes. This may not be really original but they sound good. Of course this means lengthy guitar and organ solos. Singer Ethan Miller is crying out from time to time, but it doesn't seem enough to get the crowd fired up. To me the band sounds good and it's nice to hear some roaring guitars and solid drums rock. But it's obvious that this crowd is more into the more mellow bands that play here. And they get one, since Alt-J are up next. But this is not my cup of tea and we decide to discover some of the festival's delicacies.

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To me this Belgian band is one of the most interesting ones on the bill. Their first album Applause was a nice surprise a few years ago. On stage this young band also showed their big potential. Now they are releasing their follow up album Rats next month. It is clear the band is making progress. They are playing tight and everything is running smooth. Their hooky songs are enchanting the crowd. They play a few songs that sound promising for the new album. And of course they end their set with the great 'Blood Like Wine'. Together we all sing "raise your glass to the nighttime and the ways". Ans so we do. This band is going to be one of Belgium's big front runners in a few years.

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French composer Yoann Lemoine combines dark electronic music with visuals. His theatrical show has two percussionists at either side of the stage playing synchronous. An annoying bright light is shining into the crowd. The heavy bombastic music combines nicely with the spacy visuals. At this time of the night it works quite well. Due to the repetitive and staccato elements in the music, the songs do sound a bit alike though. It's music that I wouldn't play at home and sounds more like a soundtrack to a scifi movie.

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Today we went completely into the relaxed island mode that makes this festival so special. Smiling faces everywhere, cold beers and did I mention they have great food here? It's a few days in paradise on this great island. Time to celebrate!

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Into The Great Wide Open 2012 Day 1
Into The Great Wide Open 2012 Day 3

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Friday, 14 September 2012

Into The Great Wide Open 2012 Day 1: Happy To Be Back

We were so lucky to get tickets to this little festival on the Vlieland island off the north coast of the Netherlands. After our first time last year, we couldn't wait to get back to this special place. It sold out in not time and we were really happy to be one of the lucky 5000 able to buy a ticket. And even the weather gods were on our side once again.

Into The Great Wide Open 2012 Day 0, September 6 2012

It was a good choice to book our boat ticket for the day before the official start of the festival, since the organization already booked a few acts to warm us up.

Rats On Rafts
And even this great band was included that I was dying to see. And they don't disappoint for a bit. The band is playing the stage in the forest while it's already dark, which only adds to their 80s new wave punk sound. Vocals and guitars full of reverb break the silence that normally can be heard in these small woods. The foursome are looking determined and confident. The repetitive elements in their songs, suck you into the music, like you're in a trance. A great way to warm up for the festival.

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Into The Great Wide Open 2012 Day 1, September 6 2012

The first full day of the festival always starts a bit late. So we have plenty of time to try out our bikes and have a nice lunch at the beach. The sun is out and is covering us with a feeling of an endless summer. Time to soak ourselves into the festival vibe.

Anne Soldaat
Many years ago this Dutch musician was part of the highly acclaimed alternative band Daryll-Ann. Now he's on his own and releasing his second album as a solo artist. That self-titled album is full of beautiful songs that are a mix of The Beatles, Bob Dylan and Neil Young. On stage he's bringing an all-star band with keyboard player Matthijs van Duijvenbode (Tim Knol, ex-Johan), guitarist and singer Maurits Westerik (GEM), drummer Bram Hakkens (Kyteman, Dazzled Kid) and bass player Jeroen Overman (Tim Knol). This is a good choice. These confident musicians are looking comfortable and are playing very tight. And their faces are showing they are enjoying it a lot too. Soldaat meanwhile is concentrating on his music that goes down very well on this warm and sunny afternoon.

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Case Mayfield
It's time again for one of my favourite musicians. He released his début album just over half a year ago but is already planning a new release next month when his second album 10 will come out. Today he's playing the full album on the new stage at the lighthouse stage. This stage is set in a beautiful environment in the dunes down from the lighthouse and with a sea view. A perfect setting for Mayfield's impressive and intimate songs.

It's obvious he's making the transition from solo artist to band leader. The new songs are more of a band effort and sound a bit lighter. Although I like his darker songs best, the new material sounds promising and I'll be eagerly awaiting this release. Mayfield is turning the afternoon into a cheerful one with small chats and his unique combination of a shy appearance with a great sense of humor. Every time I see him play he has grown more confident and it looks like he's enjoying the combination with a band. Mayfield doesn't give his best show ever, but doesn't disappoint at all and I gladly buy the limited 10" after the show. Thanks for the small calculation "10 + 1 - 1 = 10" you wrote on it Case! Time for some amazing grilled mackerel. Did I mention the food is great here?

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Ben Caplan
The heavy bearded Ben Caplan from Canada wasn't on my list to see, but we happen to end up seeing him anyway in the forest. His raspy voice and outgoing stage appearance make him an immediate hit. He knows how to play a crowd and has every one eating from his hand within no time. He's enjoying every minute of it. It's easy to compare him to Tom Waits, because of his folkrock songs and sandpaper voice. But that wouldn't be fair to the master himself. Caplan, who's only 25 which isn't obvious from his appearance, can't come near Waits yet. His songs are too light for that and miss depth. But today, on this amazing forest stage, the balance couldn't be more right. Backed up by his band The Casual Smokers, his roar can be heard far beyond the forest. I bet he will be howling to the moon later tonight.

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Kampvuur (eng: Campfire)
On that same stage in the woods, writers and musicians are proving that literature and poetry match really well with music. The idea is to combine a writer, who's reciting some stories and poems, with a musician who is supporting it with music. First up are writer Maartje Wortel and Anne Soldaat. Soldaat is combining the absurd story about a couple and their dead dog, with tasteful and subtle guitar playing. Only Wortel's story telling is pretty monotonous and she could make it more exciting.

The second writer is doing it a lot better. Dirk van Weelden is a charismatic writer who confidently puts himself behind the mic. His stories and poems are well written and especially the obituary for Dutch writer Martin Bril is giving many goosebumps. The music by Awkward I, or Djurre de Haan, is well chosen and totally fits. When the electricity goes out, the duo continues unstirred with flash lights. The crowd goes dead quiet so every one can hear them, turning it into an more than impressive moment.

Franz Ferdinand
We leave before the last writer and musician to see the return of britpop band Franz Ferdinand. It's a big name for such a small festival, but I believe they wanted to play on this island so badly, that they worked it out with the organization. It turns into a greatest hits show with a few new songs. If these songs are going to be representative for the next album, we can expect a lot of disco. They even manage to slip in a bit of Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love'. Singer Alex Kapranos is singing quite a bit off-key tonight, but it isn't really disturbing. The band is looking a lot more relaxed than the last time I saw them. Their time away must have paid off. They are enjoying themselves today, where Kapranos even joined Rats On Rafts on the small stage opposite the one they're playing now. Of course hits like 'Take Me Out' and 'Burn This City' go down well tonight. They look like a garage band again, ready for the world and great music ahead of them. Hopefully this will turn out to be true.

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Time to head for the camping site's bar to do a little more dancing. And drinking.

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Into The Great Wide Open 2012 Day 2
Into The Great Wide Open 2012 Day 3

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Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Joe Jackson Pays Tribute To The Duke

Joe Jackson is one of those artists who don't have to prove themselves any more. During his long career he has shown to be a versatile artist. The many albums he released emphasize this. He wasn't afraid to experiment either and showed to feel comfortable in jazz too. A fine example for this is Jumpin' Jive. Now he's trying a jazz record once more and not an easy one. Jackson is honouring jazz legend Duke Ellington this time.

Joe Jackson - The Duke (Ronald Says 8 out of 10)

Versatility definitely is true for Ellington too. The great master was a gifted piano player, brilliant composer and successful band leader of his own big-band. He worked together with all the stars of his generation. This is where Jackson is making a good choice. On his arrangements he's also working together with famous and diverse artists like Steve Vai, Sharon Jones and Iggy Pop. Putting big names together isn't always a guarantee for success, but in this case it's working very well.

Jackson himself mostly remains on the background. Only once and a while he's playing the piano or you can hear his vocals. It's clear that he wants Ellington and his compositions to be the center of attention. No one but the jazz genius himself is allowed to steal the show. And that's giving the album that extra sparkle. Jackson did give many songs a different twist. 'Perdido/Satin Doll' turns into a swinging Latin party and 'Caravan' into a solid pop song. Other songs, like the famous 'Mood Indigo' are diverging less and are breathing the atmosphere of smoky dark jazz clubs from the time "The Duke" himself was active. This beautiful song is also showing how much work went into the arrangements.

But especially the fun in playing the sparkling songs is obvious. All guest artists, like Jackson, made themselves subordinate to the song. The compositions only got stronger because of this and are revealing the unique talent and incredible quality of Ellington. 'It Don't Mean A Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing' is the striking closer of the record. And Joe Jackson's swing is more than fine.

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

Listen to 'The Duke' on Spotify.

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