Wednesday 25 February 2015

On Stage: Together Pangea

Some bands really know how to impress once they play their music live on stage. Californian band Together Pangea is one of those bands, that once they climb the stage know how to transform their catchy garage rock songs into crowd killers. They proved that last year with their legendary performance at Vera in Groningen. Now they were playing my hometown.

Together Pangea at Melkweg Amsterdam, February 22 2015

The quartet already did an extensive club tour last year in support of their latest album Badillac, that is full of short catchy rock tunes. Right from the start half of the hall starts to jump and won't stop until the band leaves the stage about an hour later. They have developed a great sound and are much more than your average garage rock band. Although all the ingredients are there, they add more subtleties and especially melody to the mix.

This is already obvious when you listen to their records, but on stage the songs come alive even more and become more organic. The band doesn't take long breaks in between and together with the short length of the songs the performance gains a lot of momentum. This adds to the energetic atmosphere and together with the positive vibe the band sends out, it results in an exciting show.

The new album has plenty of great moments of its own and live, songs like 'Sick Shit', 'Alive' and 'River' are working very effectively as well. Throughout the show youngsters climb the stage, are crowd surfing and the pit never dies down. And when the singer loses his shoe when he jumps in the crowd, you know it was a good night.

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Friday 20 February 2015

Spinning: D'Angelo - Black Messiah

A very tough period began for Michael Archer, or D'Angelo as we know him, following his second album Voodoo in 2001. He wasn't happy with his sex symbol status and retreated from the spot lights. After that, personal drama and problems started piling up with booze and drugs, several arrests and to make matters worse he was heavily injured in a car accident. In this turbulent period he tried to work on a new record, but after many unclear and contradicting notices no one really believed in it any more. Therefore the sudden release of Black Messiah at the end of last year was a complete surprise.

D'Angelo - Black Messiah (Sony Music)

D'Angelo thought it was necessary to advance the release after the controversial verdict in the Ferguson case. This comes as no surprise when you listen to the record, where many songs are politically charged. '1000 Deaths' starts with a sound bite from the 'The Murder of Fred Hampton' documentary, about the Black Panthers member who was killed by the police in 1971. It gives the song a topical background all of a sudden, where a grim D'Angelo sings:
"Locked and loaded up, and I know the drill. They're going to send me over the hill"
But he says we shouldn't misinterpret the album's title, because he doesn't regard himself to be a black Messiah, nor does the album refer to one. No, the title is about all of us, it's about people who stand up for change.

This could lead you to think the record has become very heavy on the heart and the music is less important. It couldn't be farther from the truth, since D'Angelo mostly endorses his musical capabilities and shows he has a unique talent. The music is a of a high quality in every aspect, the compositions, instrumentation and arrangements are spot on. Where needed small accents are added or omitted. His typical, sometimes distorted Prince-like way of singing has enough credibility and emotion, giving the songs plenty of soul.

The group of musicians that are cooperating as The Vanguard have been chosen with care as well and are perfect for the job. The extremely tight grooves by drummer ?eustlove and bassist Pino Palladino give the songs the right amount of funk and swing like in 'Betray My Heart'. The skills of jazz trumpet player and composer Roy Hargrove and P-Funk member Kendra Foster are used on a large part of the LP, where Foster co wrote many of the songs.

It turns Black Messiah into a very rich album, that is much more than just a good R&B record. It transcends a single genre like soul, hiphop, funk or jazz and instead forges them together into a wonderful mix. You can hear this in the catchy 'Sugah Daddy', the grooving 'Till It's Done (Tutu)' or the relaxed and slow 'The Door'. D'Angelo recorded a timeless album, one that people will still listen to in decades to come and which will then still sound just as fresh, which is a real achievement.

This review has been published on Festivalinfo in Dutch over here.

Listen to 'Black Messiah' on Spotify.

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Wednesday 18 February 2015

New Sounds: King Khan & BBQ Show

After their breakup in 2010 it seemed unlikely King Khan and Mark "BBQ" Sultan would make new music together any time soon together. But apparently they put aside their differences and now here's Bad News Boys. Listen to it below:

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Friday 13 February 2015

On Stage: Viet Cong

After the band Women ceased to exist, half of its members, singer/bassist Matt Flegel and drummer Mike Wallace, reincarnated in the new band Viet Cong together with guitarists Scott Munro and Daniel Christiansen. They released their self titled debut album earlier this year, a great album that is hard to put a label on. You can hear post-punk, indie rock, psych rock and so much more on this diverse record. What would it sound like live?

Viet Cong at Paradiso Amsterdam, February 10 2015

And I'm not the only one who likes the record, since it's been getting raving reviews and lots of exposure. This is clear when the small hall of Paradiso has filled up for the sold out show. Needless to say expectations are high tonight and I'm looking forward to hearing those songs live. With only one full album out that has nine songs on it, you can expect most of the record to be played tonight. But the band kicks off with 'Unconscious Melody', a mellow song which is on their Cassette EP. Two more songs of that EP follow and it's clear most people are not familiar with it.

There's not a lot of response from the crowd and people are chatting away in the back. It also doesn't help the breaks in between songs are too long. The band takes a lot of time before playing the next song, which Flegel is filling up with some chitchat that is not easy to understand from my position. The gig never really takes off because of that and lacks tempo. In the end there simply is no real spark, which is a shame since the songs are definitely spot on. The psychedelic 'Oxygen Feed', the exciting 'Silhouettes' with that wonderful catchy groove, the noisy and heavy 'Continental Shelf' that reminds of Interpol as do many songs. These are all great gems and although the band plays tight, the songs somehow never really reach full potential.

Until the end that is, when they play the last song on the album, the over 11 minutes long 'Death', which is also the last song for tonight. It seems the foursome stretch it even more, keeping the middle part with the heavy accents going forever. Finally we see the band grow into its full glory and you can tell this could get really big and probably will. Hopefully next time we can see the band like playing this the entire show and prove they are one of the hottest bands on the block right now.

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01. Unconscious Melody
02. Throw It Away
03. Oxygen Feed
04. March of Progress
05. Silhouettes
06. Continental Shelf
07. Death

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Tuesday 10 February 2015

On Stage: The Mysterons

The Paradiso venue decided to set up a vinyl club where they will release 45's for promising new bands to give them a moment in the spot lights. Those bands will also get a chance to present that single with a show in the small hall of the venue. First up are The Mysterons, a young band with some familiar faces, that presented their single 'Echoes'.

The Mysterons at Paradiso Amsterdam, February 7 2015

I saw this band play at the Into The Great Wide Open Festival last summer and was quite impressed with their music and skills. Three members are also playing in the successful afrobeat collective Jungle By Night. Their music is a trip down memory lane to the psychedelic rock of the sixties and seventies. But there's more to it than just that. The very clever songs have complex structures and are full of twists and turns.

It is no surprise the band members met at the conservatory since it is obvious these musicians are well educated and talented. The way they effortlessly knock out their exciting solos or switch to half time is quite impressive. Singer Josephine van Schaik's voice is clear and her vocals fit the music quite right. She does look a bit shy on stage, especially when she's addressing the crowd in front of the stage. The band is playing more focused and self-conscious than the time I saw them last September though and the songs sound more consistent.

The music sucks you right in and it doesn't take a lot to let it take you away on an exciting trip. You'd expect joints to be lit around you any moment and some lava lights to be switched on. At the end the band quickly returns to the stage for a final encore, which is a cover. I can't hear the title of the song, but it sounds like a Turkish or Hebrew song and doesn't feel out of place at all. This is definitely a band to keep an eye on and personally I'm looking forward a lot to their EP that should come out early Spring.

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Tuesday 3 February 2015

On Stage: Ennio Morricone

Not many composers or musicians have influenced the entire music scene like Italian composer Ennio Morricone. Many musicians say they got inspired by the music of the hundreds of movie scores the 86-year old wrote in his life. The revolutionary music for the famous Sergio Leone Westerns in the sixties, where he used instruments like guitars, harmonicas and church bells which were not common in orchestras, changed the business for ever. His My Life In Music tour to celebrate his musical heritage of over 50 years got interrupted because of a hernia. It left us in doubt if he would ever be able to do the concert in Amsterdam, that got postponed three times. But fortunately tonight it will finally happen.

Ennio Morricone at Ziggo Dome Amsterdam, February 1 2015

The maestro is performing with the 86-strong Czech National Symphony Orchestra and the polyphonic Debrecen Kodaly Choir from Hungary with 76 singers. Needless to say they need a big stage and plenty of seating so the as good as sold out Ziggo Dome is a fitting place. The orchestra, choir members and Morricone himself get a big reception when they take the stage and start to play the 'The Untouchables' theme.

What follows is an overview of his most famous compositions, themes from movies like 'Once Upon A Time In America' and 'Le Clan Des Siciliens (The Sicilian Clan)'. They are grouped together in suites, where the pieces, although from different scores, are played back to back. It gives the orchestra room to stay focused, but the pieces also have something in common in terms of orchestration and feel. The ones at the start of the second set for instance are all compositions with mainly string arrangements. It gives the performance a good cohesion and balance.

The highlight of the show is when his most revolutionary compositions from the Sergio Leone movies are performed. It is wonderful to hear the orchestra and choir perform 'The Good The Bad And The Ugly', which has never sounded more alive. Morricone leads soprano Susanna Rigacci on stage and we all know what's coming next. People respond with excitement when they hear 'Once Upon A Time In The West' swell out. When Rigacci starts to sing the famous wordless vocals, it leaves everyone breathless. It is followed by 'A Fistful of Dynamite' and the set closes with 'The Ecstasy Of Gold'. It has never been so quiet in this big venue where everyone is listening in awe. A standing ovation leads us into the short break.

Big screens at the side of the stage show close up images of the musicians and singers. But the camera shots are quite messy and unstructured, which is too bad. Better camera work and directing would have made the experience better for people that are sitting farther away from the stage or without the best view. Fortunately we have seats in the first ring and can oversee all of the stage and every musician fine. Morricone looks quite fit for someone his age who had to recover from a hernia. Once and a while in between suites when he's turning around to receive applause from the audience, he's leaning on the back of his chair, but other than that he's looking in good shape fortunately.

At the end of the show the maestro and musicians are receiving one standing ovation after another. Rigacci is greeted on stage one more time as well and the show closes with a second exuberant performance of 'The Ecstasy Of Gold' where the orchestra and choir can shine one more time. It ends this wonderful evening in style, which is probably the last chance for me to see this legend on stage, truly one of the most important and influential composers of the past century.

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First Set
01. The Untouchables
02. Deborah's Theme
03. Poverty
04. Once Upon a Time in America
05. Legend of 1900
06. H2S
07. The Sicilian Clan
08. Metti una sera a cena
09. Uno che grida amore
10. Come Maddalena
11. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
12. Once Upon a Time in the West
13. A Fistful of Dynamite
14. The Ecstasy of Gold
Second Set
15. Chi mai
16. Cinema Paradiso
17. Malena
18. A Dulce luminosa
19. The Battle of Algiers
20. Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion
21. Sostiene Pereira
22. La classe operaia va in paradiso
23. Casualties of War
24. Abolisson
25. Gabriel's Oboe
26. Falls
27. On Earth as It Is in Heaven
28. Here's to You
Encore 2
29. The Ecstasy of Gold

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