Art Brut, The Rakes, The Subways, The Departure
I've always considered thumbing through a copy of the Daily Mail to be the perfect foreplay to hedonism. Nothing quite fires up the rebel in me more. Maybe it is the remnants of paranoia, but I am certain that it is part of British Midland's perfectly honed marketing plan to hand out copies of the Angry Rag whilst dressed like mildly sadomasochistic Airforcewomen.
Amsterdam is a city of shortbreakers that enjoy longwreckers. If I was going to get anywhere in that town, I would have to as the locals from England's North East do and get on it. I tossed the Mail aside and headed for the pub. It was my first time to the city, if I had done it all before, a good option would have been to check out the first night of the London Calling festival featuring the likes of Bloc Party, Lincoln's 22-20's and The Dears (from erm…Montreal). However, Amsterdam was all new to me, so the pub it was. It didn't take me long before I realised that the inside of a pub was nothing I hadn't seen before. Armed only with a Jim Rhesus, I hit the town.
Jim and I often work well together as a self-policing unit. Sometimes things go wrong and we end up spending far too much money watching boobs. On this occasion, we paid our money and got to see a lot more, the discomfort was clear amongst many of us in the room. We look up from our glasses to see the Geordie locals either agog or staring back of their hands. The drinks were free, which meant that we were sure that we were going to get a beating at the door. We didn't. The only good thing about the evening and the first time I truly realised that liberal island of Amsterdam was an ocean away from London. Things happened to get worse with a mushroom trip that I don't wish to recall nor keep for posterity in print. There has to be a last time for everything, the mushroom honeymoon has finished. Someone tell the NME. You read it here first. I awoke on Saturday. At the time this felt like an achievement worthy of media coverage.
London Calling was being held at what looked like from the outside, the local church hall covered in weedy, polite graffiti. The Paradiso opens up into a large, functional main room, with a luscious, balustraded balcony. A smaller room still held what seemed like thousands. By 9pm there was nowhere to move. Previous calls to worship had been provided by quite simply everyone with a reputation that had visited the Netherlands. A current exhibition at the Poster Museum in Amsterdam celebrates its 30-odd years of rock history. My €2.50 entrance to the sex museum taught me that those that did not like to wear clothes in the 1970's overran the venue. (The same entrance fee also taught me that if you make a tourist attraction cheap enough, people that look like your mother take an interest in hardcore porn).
Ok, if I am going to provide a review of the proceedings, you would have expected me to see as many of the 8 bands that were playing as I could. If you are reading this The Go! Team, Aberfeldy, Hal or Sons and Daughters; I apologise, I should have made more effort. Luckily, I did get to see The Departure, The Subways, The Rakes and Art Brut. I usually find it easy to be critical. In this case, it seemed like all played the gigs of their lives. Probably helped by a Dutch crowd that showed passion at every stretch of a drummer's arm and twanging of a bassist's finger. These guys and gals knew their stuff and made apparent their interest in the bands' music…something we often forget to do for gazing at our shoes.
Only familiar with their new single, I found a space towards the back of the packed smaller room for The Departure and found my foot tapping turn to an arse shaking. The basslines are funking and the guitars loud. It is a marriage tried to failure in many cases, however this five-piece struck more than a few chords in the crowd. Looking forward over the heads, folk did not know whether to jump or groove. My giggles were purely a result of the chocolate muffin that I had shared earlier. The enthusiasm shown in the fantastic new single “Be My Enemy” belies the fact that it does not have a Netherlands release. The rock roots are purer than bands such as The Killers or The Faint, yet their talent in getting us moving is just as powerful. They keep things interesting with brave, crashing chord changes from both guitarists, rather than synth-pop sensibilities. The world look forward to seeing if they can keep this up as the limelight beckons.
I'd completely forgotten that The Subways were THAT band that got so much press in the summer for winning a competition and playing the Glastonbury New Bands tent. As a casual reader of the music press, I could have assumed they had had their day. I'd also forgotten that they had been compared to The Von Bondies, a band I consider to be sadly lacking in filling a big stage. If my memory had been working better, I would have had the same concerns about these guys as I saw them walk onto a platform that could have housed the cast of Les Mis. No need to worry about that. They blew me away. Billy's vocals are more Chicago Blues than Detroit Rock. OK, geographically, they are not that far apart, but it moves us away from those uncomfortable comparisons that don't quite fit. For one, Josh's mental drumming pisses all over Meg White. And they have a bassist, Mary, and she sings. Awesome.
I get to see The Rakes for the third time. If I were you, I would watch them three times. First time, I was confused. Is frontman Alan really trying to be Ian Curtis? What does he think he is doing? Second time, I noticed that they had great songs. Political without sloganeering; relevant whilst maintaining a sense of context. Third time, they had grown into one of the tightest bands that I have seen. Despite all the shaking, wild eyes and microphone stand Olympics; there is a lot of love on stage and none of us would want Alan to change his antics. “22 Grand Job” was greeted with the kind of reception I had come to expect from this audience. The Indiekids of the Netherlands have reclaimed the air punch from Cock Rock crowd. Hoorah!
I've lost count now how many times I have seen Art Brut. They are one of those bands that I wish I could see for the first time again. I look forward to new songs like someone born on 29 February looks forward to their birthday. Hoping that they may use this to gig to showcase something new, I was disappointed to catch a glimpse of the set list that had all my favourites scrawled there. The band were a little concerned. It was clear that they had considered their last half-a-dozen gigs or so had been shambolic; something that was clearly concerning them, yet does not bother the audience half as much. What we got tonight however, was the controlled shambles that they had been seeking to regain. Eddie tosses aside his shoes and blazes through a set that includes the 'half-finished' “Emily Kane” a lament about his first love and his subsequent yearning for those days. It's comically heartrending; he's definitely as astute talking to the 20-somethings as he is to the kids. “Formed a Band” has never had such a reception in London, the electricity took control of Chris and Ian's guitars.
So, as I get on my flight, I am reminded that I am about to arrive home to memories of a blurred weekend. Shit. Am I really going back to a country where the Daily Mail are blaming falling house prices on hedonistic mushroom trips?