Friday 30 November 2012

Michael Kiwanuka Is Showing Lots Of Soul

With his début album Home Again British soul singer Michael Kiwanuka made one of the best records in 2012 I think. It is filled with beautiful soul songs, inspired by classic soul musicians like Otis Redding. Kiwanuka's great voice is perfect for the warm songs as he proved already to me on the Rock Werchter festival this summer. I was really eager to see him perform in a club show as well.

Michael Kiwanuka at Tivoli Oudegracht Utrecht, November 24 2012

The venue sold out weeks ago and so it's a full house this Saturday night. The friendly singer and his band kick off slowly and need a few songs to warm up. The sound has a bit too much reverb to my taste and seems to keep floating in the middle of the hall. Maybe this is because of the shape of this venue. On the other hand the percussion is clearly audible in the mix, which is hardly ever the case.

Kiwanuka has gathered a great band around him who are willing to wander off on an adventure. Some songs get a different version than the one on the album. The great 'Tell Me A Tale' sounds even more thrilling and sultry than the album version. It slowly slips into a great jam. The band knows exactly when to emphasize their singer or give his voice the space it needs. That voice sounds great tonight. It's guaranteed to give you goose bumps.

Especially in the slow songs, Kiwanuka will definitely get to you. He has to be one of the most talented soul singers at this moment. Unfortunately it's the weekend and apparently for many people this show is just an excuse to catch up with their friends. The noise of people chatting is sometimes almost deafening. I actually see some people standing with their back to the stage as if they're in their favourite pub. Finally the venue becomes more quiet when he's playing 'Home Again', apparently the only song some people know. It doesn't seem to bother Kiwanuka who kindly thanks everyone several times.

Of course with only one album out there's not a lot of songs thet can play. Like more often they play the Jimi Hendrix song 'Waterfall', who would have turned 70 a few days later, and turn it into something of their own. A nice tribute for the guitar legend. So after two encores the show is really over. I'm really looking forward to new music from this great musician and hope to see him again in a sold out club that truly can appreciate his talent.

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Tuesday 27 November 2012

Bigger Is Better For City Reign

About a year ago I watched Manchester band City Reign perform for the first time. The four lads were playing a tiny venue somewhere in Amsterdam while a few people and their family were watching. Everyone was so nice there and although I was already following the band a bit longer, these friendly musicians deserved more of my attention. So it was very good news when they announced to visit us again.

City Reign at Winston Amsterdam, November 22 2012

Dutch music blog Apply Some Pressure, who are excited about the band as well and have been following them very closely, helped them pick two Dutch bands as support act so they were able play the Winston. Unfortunately can't to get to the venue in time and therefore have to miss Sur Nilsson and Dakota. I get in just in time, to see City Reign take the stage for only a handful of people including of course their great supportive family. But I guess a full house was not to be expected.

As I walk in I bump into one of the guys' parents, who tells me the band had a bit of trouble reaching the venue and therefore missed the sound check. The beginning of the set is therefore a bit messy sound wise. But slowly this is taken care of and after a while the balance is a lot better. Finally we're able to hear how much progress the band made over the past year. I'm glad to hear they have kept on growing. Although for this gig drummer Duncan Bolton's brother is filling in on bass, the band sounds pretty tight. The pleasant songs have more depth and the new ones sound very promising. The songs are continuing in the "Madchester" tradition, inspired by bands like The Smiths, along with Britpop giants Oasis and Blur. Also echoes from The Cure and R.E.M. sound through.

In general their sound got bigger, which gives the songs more body and variation. The nice guitar parts of Micheal Grice and singer Chris Bull, are sometimes gently and playfully ringing. At other times they turn into solid and heavy rock riffs. But combined with Bull's pleasant voice and nice harmonies it never gets too rough. Built upon a solid foundation the songs are firmly standing upright. The band are definitely finding their own sound and are growing comfortable with it. This is also obvious from the song 'Ahead Of Ideas' that they released recently, ahead of the release of their first full length record in February.

It's obvious City Reign worked very hard in the past year. You notice that this band is very serious about their music. Their effort and dedication is praiseworthy. When they continue growing like this and with some luck, 2013 could be a turnaround year. If their album can get enough attention and the songs some airplay, they may be looking at bigger venues to play. I sincerely hope so since these guys deserve it. The band and their sound are definitely ready for that.

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Wednesday 21 November 2012

Mixed Feelings With Green Lizard And Face Tomorrow

One of our country's best rock bands, Face Tomorrow, announced a while ago they are gonna call it quits. It was hard to believe after they released their self titled last album one and a half year ago and seemed more alive then ever. Around the same time one of the best live bands of some ten years ago, Green Lizard, announced their comeback. Needless to say I had to go see them both for their 'Hello, Goodbye Tour'.

Hello, Goodbye Tour: Face Tomorrow + Green Lizard at Melkweg Amsterdam, November 15 2012

Green Lizard
When I was introduced to this band early 2000's I was sold right away. Their grunge and heavy rock music combined with energetic live shows were great to watch. They disappeared off my radar some years after, only to find out that the group had disbanded in 2007. But this year there suddenly was some Green Lizard activity around singer Remi Tjon Ajong and the band rose from its ashes. It's great to see him back on stage with his brother Brian again and their new band members Axel van Oort on bass and Jochem van Rooijen on drums. But it's clear they have not changed their music. That's because mostly they are playing their old songs of course, but the band seems to want to stick to their roots. I will be interesting to hear what a new album will sound like.

They sure have not lost their skills despite being a few years older. It still rocks hard like in the good ol' days. Remi's voice sounds strong and the band is playing with a lot of heart, energy and enthusiasm. When Remi's kids join him on stage for 'Junior on their little toy drums and guitar there's no doubt the fans have embraced them again.

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Face Tomorrow
When Face Tomorrow take the stageit's clear right from the start why we're going to miss this band. The band fly into it one hundred percent and are working up a sweat the entire show like they always do. The set is one hell of a ride. For fifteen years they have always played every show like it could have been their last. This time however it's actually true. Although a couple of shows will follow, this is my last Face Tomorrow show. And that makes me feel sad. How come this band never grew bigger? Why did the media give hardly any attention to such a great band? Why didn't they get more air play? Not main stream enough? Too heavy?

These things make me angry. I see it happen to more great bands. Some X-Factor or Pop Idol nitwit is playing for 15,000 people and bands like this are playing to only a handful of people. Singer Jelle Schrooten, with his impressive voice, would blow away every contestant of these shitty shows that only deliver mediocre artists and lower the music standard of the average person watching that rubbish. Even when Schrooten's voice isn't completely alright according to himself. These guys give it all they have got. Besides Schrooten, the rest of the band too are playing full of fire. And then the songs: 'Worth The Wait', 'Move On', 'My World Within', what a great songs!

Schrooten asks the crowd what they want to hear. Someone answers 'Overpowered', their biggest hit, a rock ballad. Schrooten asks "really?" and then continues with 'Delirium' instead. Maybe because his voice is not up for it today or that ballad, although a good song, just doesn't say what they are about. The band ends the night in great style with 'Sign Up'. What a power! A passionate mosh pit forms spontaneously, giving the band the worthy farewell they deserve. In the end this night doesn't end in sorrow, but in excitement because of a great show by two great rock bands. "sign up cause we are here to stay". Where can I sign up for a Face Tomorrow come back in five years like Green Lizard did?

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1. Back to the Starting Line
2. All The Way
3. Enlighten Me
4. Burning Bridges
5. My World Within
6. Puppet on Strings
7. Paralusion
8. For Me
9. The Maze
10. Move On
11. On My Own
12. Delirium
13. Worth the Wait
14. Sign Up
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Friday 16 November 2012

Tony Allen, King Of The Groove

Together with Fela Kuti, drummer Tony Allen invented the afrobeat several decades ago. Now in his seventies he's still one of the biggest performers in that genre. The master made a guest appearance at this year's Amsterdam edition of Felabration last month. But whenever you are able to see a legend like Allen perform an entire show, you have to grab that opportunity.

Tony Allen's Black Series at Bimhuis Amsterdam, November 9 2012

For the Black Series tour, the drummer from Nigeria is visiting the jazz club Bimhuis in Amsterdam which filled up nicely. He's accompanied by a young band where especially trumpet player Nicolas Giraud is getting plenty of freedom to play his sparkling solos. Allen is seated behind a golden drum kit overlooking the young band. But he's not pleased with everyone sitting down in this jazz club. Naturally this is quite normal in this kind of venue but Allen wants people to dance! Many people are quietly moving their body in their seat to the irresistible grooves. "Allen doesn't hold the sticks: they float between his fingers as if by magic" according to British news paper The Guardian. This is absolutely true. His relaxed and loose style is a delight to watch. The groove never ceases, which he keeps on going at all time. Even when playing fills or grabbing a few more drum sticks, the groove is always there.

That's what makes him such a great drum player. His timing is phenomenal, always laid back, playing his grooves behind the beat. Bass player César Anot is the perfect match here. Anot seems to be smiling the whole evening and is enjoying the rythms the master drummer is laying down. After the break, people are still in their seats and Allen can't take it any more. He and his band urge people to stand up and start shaking their booty. Fortunately no one can ignore this request any more and within no time we are all dancing. Now the show is really taking off. Allen is smiling and the band is looking content. The band's efforts are paying off now and the room is boiling with energy. This causes the music to swing and groove even more. It shows how important energy between a band and an audience is.

Every member of the band is allowed to show their skills. Francois Xavier Bossard on keys is playing some hot solos, Claude Dibongué is playing laid back guitar solos and singer Audrey Gbaduidi is getting her time in the spot light as well. Of course they have to come back for encores since the crowd is hungry for so much more now. It's good to see how a band can turn around a performance and end up winning big time. Allen is all smiles and for a good reason. What a legend!

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Tuesday 13 November 2012

Bombay Show Pig Impress With Convincing Penguin-Friendly Rock Show

After the Alabama Shakes show we're lucky to to catch almost most of Bombay Show Pig's show upstairs in the small hall. When we get there they have only just started. Earlier this year the duo released one of the most surprising records in our country this year, Vulture/Provider. This night just keeps getting better.

Bombay Show Pig at Paradiso Amsterdam, November 8 2012

When you listen to their music it's hard to believe it's only two people creating this much noise. Samples, loops and other effects are used in a smart way. Drum player Linda van Leeuwen is occasionally throwing in some keyboards to spice up the music. This way the firm rock songs are built up from layers and sound full. It enable Mathias Janmaat to play his creative riffs and on top of van Leeuwen´s heavy grooves. Somehow he also manages to play bass lines with pedals and loops at the same time.

With a tight setlist that keeps the tempo high, the crowd stays focused. The small hall has filled up nicely, maybe also with a few people who, like us, came here after the show downstairs. Unfortunately I missed the song 'Fingerprint', where Joppe Molenaar is playing the drums, dressed in a penguin suite like he does in the 'Sancho Panza' video. But Molenaar, who's the respected drummer for Dutch alternative bands Voicst and Bettie Serveert when not dressed up as a penguin, is more than willing to get his picture taken with me afterwards.

It's clear the duo has played a lot this year. The songs are tight and both are well attuned to each other. Strong songs like 'Stuck In My State Of Mind', 'Shackles And Chains' and 'Sancho Panza' prove that they are able to come up with catchy crowd pleasers. When the show is over there's even another surprise. Van Leeuwen and Janmaat play two more acoustic songs at the merchandise table in the back. Accompanying images of the album's artwork artist are shown on an overhead projector (old school!). I'm pretty sure they have won over many people tonight, maybe even some of the Alabama Shakes fans.

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Paradiso And Alabama Shakes Fall For Each Other

About a year ago not many people heard of the band Alabama Shakes. And now they're already selling out Paradiso. Their combination of blues and soul caught on with many people. For a large part thanks to singer Brittany Howard with her impressive voice and appearance, who was still a postal worker only some one and a half year ago. Their show a few months back didn't disappoint for a bit, so we're ready for some more.

Alabama Shakes at Paradiso Amsterdam, November 8 2012

It's clear they have grown as a band in the past months. The band is playing even more tight. Performing so many live shows sure has paid off. Howard is a delight to watch. Her passionate way of singing is a show by itself. She's really feeling the lyrics, enforcing the songs by pointing a finger or opening her eyes wide, her glasses on the tip of her nose. She looks like a teacher or mother teaching us a lesson. At other times her eyes are closed, head bent backwards and mouth wide open when she's unleashing one of her mighty roars. The rest of the band are more static and to the back, although you can see they're totally into it as well. If any of the other musicians would have been more active and more to the front, it would probably have been too much anyway. Now it's all nicely balanced with Howard's appearance.

She mentions that they heard many things about this venue and that it's living up to it. That seems an honest comment, since she's smiling from time to time, contentedly looking around the hall, when the crowd cheers at the end of a song. With only one album out, there's not much material for a long set list. They do show case a few new songs that sound more rock 'n' roll. But again it's the soul songs that are the most convincing. A laid back groove in hit song 'Hold On', together with that impressive voice reaches to great heights. They must have played it hundreds of times by now, but nevertheless it doesn't sound obligatory at all. The songs where Howard is unstrapping her guitar and is crooning around the stage, 'Be Mine' and 'I Still Ain't Got What I Want' are of rare beauty. The combination with that little bit of Paradiso magic make it by far the best of three performances I have seen them play this year.

It is going to be interesting to see how this band will develop. What will future songs and records sound like? As long as they can keep the passion, honesty and this much soul, I don't see people getting tired of them fast. One thing's for certain: Howard's US Post days are definitely over. After the show we get another treat: we're still on time to catch most of Bombay Show Pig's performance upstairs.

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Friday 9 November 2012

London Calling Throws Great 20th Birthday Party

After skipping a few editions of the London Calling festival we decided it was time to pay it a visit again. This year they are celebrating their 20th anniversary and for this edition came up with a great line-up. Both days have some great and interesting bands lined up. Like always we only visit the second day. And because the small hall upstairs can get pretty crowded we decide to stay downstairs for the whole night and watch the bands playing the small stage on the big screen. Also traditionally we miss out on the first bands. So hopefully we can catch Peace and Oppossom some other time.

London Calling 2012 #2 at Paradiso Amsterdam, November 3 2012

This all-female band fronted by high heeled Jehnny Beth, who some may know as Camille Berthomier from John & Jehn, still have to come up with their first album, but already are the talk of the town. And so the main hall is buzzing with anticipation when the dark and punky songs pound away. It's a thrilling show, where especially bass player Ayse Hassan is impressing with great pumping grooves. They could use more variation and dynamics though, but it's obvious why this band is drawing all this attention. The combination of Beth's twitching moves and her dark, almost aggressive stage act, is intriguing to watch.

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On the big screen we watch Exitmusic play their show in the upper small hall. Their shoegaze inspired music sounds interesting but also quite messy. The band members look static and show no interest in the crowd. Somehow it doesn't want to stick to me and just kind of passes by.

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Jessie Ware
Probably because of her little hit song 'Wildest Moments', Jessie Ware is programmed to play the main stage. Her experience as backing vocalist is paying off and her voice is golden. But it never exceeds the performance of any Idols or X-Factor contestant. Music and performing is more than just being able to sing. Her songs are mediocre and boring. Her band are anonymously playing their parts and are probably session musicians just doing their job. She really needs to spice up her act and music or just stick to backing vocals.

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Micachu & The Shapes
Without a doubt one of the weirdest bands music wise on this edition. Micachu & The Shapes, fronted by Mica Levi, are making complex music full of twists and turns. It may not be the right time and place for this band tonight. The music fails to grasp me for a bit. I'm pretty sure it's all thought-through and pretty skilled, but it sounds to me they are just making it complex to sound interesting and are really over complicating their music.

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Wild Nothing
Over complicating is one thing Wild Nothing cannot be accused of. Their music sounds catchy and they have many nice songs. It's still a bit rough around the edges and not everything works equally well. If singer Jack Tatum could improve on his singing and use more dynamics in his vocals it would already help. Now his voice sounds a bit thin most of the time. But this band is definitely showing potential.

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Theme Park
Another band with potential are Theme Park. They are one of those band where this festival once started for in the first place. The songs are good, well-written and very pleasant to listen to. When they play their cards right they should have no trouble finding plenty of festival slots next summer.

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The Walkmen
It was quite a surprise when The Walkmen were announced to play London Calling. Among the bands that still have to release a first album they are the biggest and most professional of all with over ten years of experience and seven studio albums. And that is showing tonight. It's the absolute highlight of the night. Hamilton Leithauser is looking confident and has a good voice. It is one of those voices though, that some people may dislike, but he's a strong singer. The set list has a lot of variation with catchy up-tempo songs, and intimate acoustic ballads. Especially Leithauser and Paul Maroon, on guitar and piano, are excelling tonight. I'm sure they have won over many fans and should be able to come back to this stage on their own next time.

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Melody's Echo Chamber
We catch a bit of Melody's Echo Chamber and although Tame Impala's Kevin Parker, who I saw here less than a week ago, helped her out, it fails to impress me. Of course she's lovely to look at and sometimes the music is spacing out Parker-style. But it's not enough to keep us in. Maybe it's because we're watching it on the big screen, combined with several beers, but we decide to call it a day.

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And what a night it was! Afterwards I hear we missed a great show by Chromatics later that night, not in the least because of Ruth Radelet's appearance. But today was already chuck full of good performances and promising bands, something that we missed the last couple of times we attended. It will be hard to top this in a next edition I guess.

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Friday 2 November 2012

Tame Impala Space Out In Amsterdam

After the release of the brilliant second album Lonerism things are going fast now for Australian bandTame Impala. The band is selling out club shows all over the place and this may even be the last time you'll be able to see them at the smaller venues. I wasn't in time to get my ticket for Paradiso but fortunately a friend had one left. Will mastermind Kevin Parker be able to stun us on stage the same way he did with his album?

Tame Impala at Paradiso Amsterdam, October 29 2012

We get a great spot at the right side of the venue close to the stage when the band begin their show. They head off with 'Be Above It', one of the great psych rock songs on the new album. The bass and drums start pounding our ears and only a few songs later we cannot take it any more. We have to move to the back of the venue where the sound is more in balance. Even with ear plugs in, it was more than I could take. I'm not too pleased with the sound in general. Of course this music has lots of effects and reverb, but tonight the music kind of drowns in it. The subtleties and layers in the music get a bit lost that way, which is a shame since that's what's making this music so good.

Former drum player Jay Watson has shifted to keyboards and they enlisted a new one. It's obvious why: Frenchman Julien Barbagallo is playing solid grooves and fills with great timing. Together with singer Kevin Parker he's also adding some life to the mostly static rest of the band. This is too bad, since a bit more action on stage could drag you even more into the spacey songs. Now I'm having trouble to completely get sucked into the music. Parker himself sometimes is trying to direct a few words to the crowd but they are mostly smothered in reverb and occasionally interrupted by guitar effects. For the rest he has completely submerged into his spaced out musical world.

But the music itself is what is lifting this performance to a higher level. The great songs sometimes get a surprising twist like 'Elephant'. Just before the end it takes a sudden turn into a drum solo and completely spaces out. Then it returns to the original song and ends in the last few chords. The set is a nice mix of the two albums, where the songs of Innerspeaker sound more confident. I guess over time the other songs will sound just as convincing. The band do find their balance in the last song of the night, a brilliant version of 'Half Glass Full Of Wine'. Here they are showing why their music is so extraordinary. Too bad their whole set wasn't of the same level or this could have turned legendary. Not that it was disappointing, not at at all. Maybe I was expecting too much of it, but now it was "just" a good show in the end.

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1. Be Above It
2. Solitude Is Bliss
3. Endors Toi
4. It Is Not Meant To Be
5. Music to Walk Home By
6. Elephant
7. Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
8. Lucidity
9. Alter Ego
10. Mind Mischief
11. Why Won't You Make Up Your Mind?
12. Desire Be Desire Go
13. Apocalypse Dreams
14. Half Glass Full of Wine

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