Maxïmo Park at Melkweg, Amsterdam, 11 February 2014

Maxïmo Park at Melkweg, Amsterdam, 11 February 2014

I’ve loved Maxïmo Park since their stunning debut album A Certain Trigger in 2005. I had heard thay are great live, and I was sorely disappointed to have missed them when they played Utrecht on their National Health tour in 2012. (I had actually–giddy with excitement–bought a ticket before I realized that I was going to be in Scotland with the kids for their autumn break that week.) But yesterday evening I finally caught them at Melkweg in Amsterdam. For the second time today, I’ll note:

Holy. Shit.

As usual, I got to the Melkweg way early. (Since missing the first ten minutes of The Tragically Hip in Glasgow a few years ago because I’d foolishly thought that 20:00 on the ticket meant I still had plenty of time, I don’t trust venue schedules any more.) At 19:50 the place was practically deserted. The balconies were blocked off, too, which probably meant there was going to be a relatively low turnout. (Melkweg has a capacity of about 1500.) On the plus side, this meant I was easily able to bag myself a great spot close to the stage and up one step, to help me see over the heads of the inevitably tall Dutchies. Also, right in front of one of the massive speaker stacks. Yuss.

His Clancyness came on at 20:00 and played a nice set. More people arrived, and at 21:00 the lights went down and the sound came up. A haunting electronic drone, throbbing with promise, building and breaking in complexity, played over a blue-lit stage for about five minutes while the sound guys stage left made final adjustments, and finally covered up the glowing apple logos on their MacBook Pros.

The the band came on and launched into Give, Get, Take, the opening song from the new album Too Much Information. Paul Smith was dressed in a natty checked suit, white shirt, Doc Martens, and his trademark hat. Right from the start he was electric, dancing around the stage, posing, jumping, and shaking his hips. His voice was so pure and clear, and so like the recordings that I wondered if he was miming, but no: his live delivery is just extraordinary. The first four tracks they played were all loud and hard and fast to get the audience moving.

Sometimes hearing a favourite song live for the first time can be a disappointment. But when they played The National Health, it was just as powerful as I’d hoped. Locking eyes with the audience, shaking his finger for sharp emphasis, Paul Smith put so much power and emotion behind the words that it made me shiver.

Unfortunately the middle part of the set was plagued by technical issues. Lukas Wooller’s keyboard died during A Fortnight’s Time, and even the replacement keyboard didn’t work straight away. It took him and the techs a good twenty minutes to get sound out of it again. In the meantime, Smith was very apologetic, asking the audience for suggestions of songs they could play that didn’t involve a keyboard. Graffiti was a popular shouted choice, and they shuffled the set list around to accomodate the disruption. I’m sure it would have been even better with keyboards, but Graffiti was never going to be anything but a huge crowd-pleaser.

It was interesting to see a very different Paul Smith during those unrehearsed, slightly panicked moments after each song ended, wondering if the keyboard was ready yet. When he’s singing, he’s mesmerizing; when he’s thanking the audience between songs, he’s charming. But in the face of equipment malfunction he seemed shy and vulnerable. He’s a brilliant performer, but not a natural raconteur. (Puns about “sourcy” behaviour backstage notwithstanding.)

Her Name Was Audre was a great little guitar-and-drums punk tune to end the interruption, and things were properly back on track for I Recognise The Light, a funny track from the new album that I hadn’t properly appreciated until then. The sound quality at Melkweg was fantastic yesterday evening, with the vocals definitely leading the mix. As well as bopping up and down, I spent a lot of time listening to the lyrics, and hearing and interpreting them in a different context. I usually listen to music as a background to other activities, but at a concert I’m right there, doing only that: listening. I didn’t used to like Write This Down much, but the live performance completely changed my perception of it. Likewise, I hadn’t found anything special in Drinking Martinis from Too Much Information until the live experience transformed it for me.

Smith introduced By The Monument by saying that they were playing it at the request of Emma who had contacted them, at which point the woman standing next to me went into a squealing fit of utter delight. I can only assume she was Emma. The Undercurrents, another of my favourites from The National Health was glorious. Girls Who Play Guitars had the crowd in a frenzy. And finally, Midnight On The Hill, one of the most emotional tracks on the new album, gave them a truly shining exit.

The encore was playful. The last track on Too Much Information is Where We’re Going, and it starts with a simple strummed guitar and the line: “I don’t know where we’re going.” Someone in the crowd shouted, “Going Missing!”, which was the obvious response. Paul Smith interrupted the song with a laugh and told us that we’d get there soon enough. Big roar of approciation. So they finished Where We’re Going, a delightful, simple song about uncertainty and anticipation, and then segued straight into their big finale, the much-loved Going Missing.

To everyone who told me that Maxïmo Park are a must-see live band: you were right. So awesomely right.

Set list:

  1. Give, Get, Take
  2. Our Velocity
  3. Signal and Sign
  4. The National Health
  5. Brain Cells
  6. Hips and Lips
  7. A Fortnight’s Time
  8. The Kids Are Sick Again
  9. Graffiti
  10. Lydia, The Ink Will Never Dry
  11. Leave This Island
  12. Books From Boxes
  13. Her Name Was Audre
  14. I Recognise the Light
  15. My Bloody Mind
  16. Write This Down
  17. Drinking Martinis
  18. By The Monument
  19. The Undercurrents
  20. Girls Who Play Guitars
  21. Apply Some Pressure
  22. Midnight on the Hill


  1. Where We’re Going
  2. Going Missing

Coronel adventure centre

A few weeks ago Abi played laser tag after work on a night out with some colleagues. Fiona latched onto the concept, and decided that she wanted her birthday party to be a laser tag party. I snuffled around the internet a bit, and found the Coronel activity centre in Huizen, about 40 minutes drive away. I recognized the name “Coronel” because Tom Coronel also runs (and a set of other web shops), which is where we bought our TV five years ago. What I didn’t know is that he and his twin brother Tim are also champion racing drivers, and big supporters of junior racing.

The Coronel activity centre’s headline activity is indoor karting. The web site shows that there is also a laser tag arena, and an indoor climbing and adventure area. They cater for kids parties, with a variety of packages. It looked worth a visit, so the kids and I decided to go and check it out on Saturday, and, you know, maybe avail ourselves of the facilities while we were there.

Holy. Shit.

I’ve never seen an activity centre like it. It’s enormous. The web site gives you no idea what it’s like when you step inside. The front entrance leads to a reception and café area inside the first zone, which houses the full-size indoor karting track. We didn’t try it out, but it looks great, with a tunnel and an overpass.

There’s a spectators bridge over the race track from the karting café to the second zone. The climbing and adventure area is inside warehouse the same size as the one housing the race track. It’s decorated like some kind of pirate island training camp. Climbable tree trunks, punctuated by platforms and crows nests, and connected by wire bridges and cargo nets, stretch up to the ceiling. The floor is sandy like a beach, with picnic tables for thirsty adventurers to enjoy a drink from the tiki bar. There’s an archery range.

Dazzled by this, we carried on along the bridge to the third zone. This one seems a bit smaller, but I’m not sure if it really is. It houses another bar (of course), but also a full-size bake-your-own pizza restaurant, and a beauty salon where you can host a make-over party. Oh, and a 1000 square meter, two-storey laser tag arena. That too. But because it’s behind closed doors and doesn’t have a viewing gallery, it’s not quite so obvious.

We had a chat with the woman running the bar, and talked about party options. Luckily for us, we’d got there not too long after the 13:00 opening time, and the first party of the afternoon wasn’t due until 15:00, so we were able to get slot of laser tag game time just for ourselves to try it out. It was great. The arena was really too big for just the three of us playing a free-for-all deathmatch. There were long stretches where I was just wandering around trying to find someone to shoot. I imagine that with a bundle of 10 year-olds running around, it’ll be just fine. (Alex won.)

After the game, we enthusiatically agreed to the party booking, and then walked back to the karting café for a drink. Fiona and Alex were both sweating from the excitement, their hair plastered to their foreheads. Alex was a bit sad that we didn’t have time for another game, but we’re going to try to head back next weekend to grab a session for Abi’s birthday.

Unusual timing

Alex woke up at 04:30 this morning with a migraine. Normally they hit him in the late afternoon or early evening; I can think of only a couple of occasions when they’ve happened in the middle of the night. After an hour or so of misery, he got back to sleep, but he wasn’t able to go to school this morning.

Fiona was the one who sounded the alarm. She heard him first, and came through to wake Abi and me. “Mom, dad, Alex has got a really bad headache.” Good kitty.


Why I’m off Twitter right now:

In strict terms of self-motivation, posting something and getting a good reception feels good. But most of Facebook use is watching other people post about their own accomplishments and good times. For a social network of 300 friends with an even distribution of auspicious life events, you are seeing 300 times as many good things happen to others as happen to you (of course, everyone has the same amount of good luck, but in bulk for the consumer, it doesn’t feel that way). If you were happy before looking at Facebook, or even after posting your own good news, you’re not now.

How we ruin social networks, Facebook specifically, by Casey Johnston on Ars Technica

Why I’m blogging more right now:

The antidote I’ve found for this is to write for only two people. First, write for yourself, both your present self whose thinking will be clarified by distilling an idea through writing and editing, and your future self who will be able to look back on these words and be reminded of the context in which they were written.

The Intrinsic Value of Blogging, by Matt Mullenweg

New laptop

I’m writing this from my shiny new laptop, which is remarkably like the last one. My old machine (“Shovel”, as in, “greased shit off a shiny”) was an early 2011 15″ MacBook Pro (8,2) with a quad-core Sandy Bridge i7, dedicated Radeon 6750M card, and 8GB of memory. I had also shuffled around the internals a bit, replacing the main hard disk with a 300GB SSD, and moving the old drive into the optical drive bay. I reckon it was the best and most reliable workhorse computer I’ve owned to date. It was also still a perfectly good machine with loads of useful life left in it — which is one of the reasons I decided to trade it in right now, rather than wait another year when the lack of a retina screen might drag its value down more.

The new machine is a late 2013 15″ MacBook Pro, quad-core 2.3GHz Haswell i7, dedicated GeForce GT 750M graphics, 16GB of memory, and 1TB of PCIe flash disk. It’s not actually significantly more powerful than the old machine. The major benefits for me are that it’s thinner, 20% lighter, and gets twice the battery life because of the power-efficient Haswell CPU. I spent a lot of time travelling last year, and that’s not going to change any time soon. The retina display will be nice when I’m using the machine as an actual laptop and sitting close to the screen. I spend a lot of time working with virtual machines, so having an extra 8GB of RAM and all the on-board storage as flash will be useful, too. I’m strongly considering getting a CalDigit ThunderboltStation for when it’s plugged in on my desk.

It was the sheer weight of improvements across the board that swung me into upgrading right now instead of holding off. It’s an awesome machine, and I expect to be running it for the next 3-4 years.

Now: what to name it? (Also: stickers?)

Family weekend

Mum & Dad were over for a lovely visit this weekend. They arrived on Friday afternoon, so of course we had frites for dinner. (Friday is frites day.)

On Saturday five of us (no Alex) went in to Zaandam to do some shopping. We snacked on kibbeling (which, I just learned, used to be made from cod cheekskabeljauw wang — not just generic cod fillet) and deep-fried mussels from the market while wandering around. Abi and Fiona hit the crafts shop to get materials for crochet projects. Our other goal was for Mum & Dad to get Fiona a birthday present, and we quickly located a prized pink space scooter, although we did some price checking and stopped off for coffee (and hot chocolate) and cakes before actually buying it. Steak and salad for dinner.

In the evening we watched Robot and Frank, which is a sweet and funny film, lined with sadness. I’d seen the trailer, and I’d been too fascinated by the robot-human interaction story; I hadn’t realized that Frank’s dementia is the twin theme. It’s a sweet story, but it was a bit of an emotional trip for us.

Sunday, five of us (no Alex) had a walk around Oostzaan, ending up in at Eetcafé Oostzaan for coffee (and hot chocolate) and warm apple pie.

Mum, Dad, Abi, and Fiona

Our plan for the evening had been to order in Chinese-Indonesian from our wonderful local Het Oosten, but I’d forgotten that it was Chinese New Year. Fortunately our fallback take-way in Zaandam was open, so I drove out there to pick us up a minor feast. We played Kill Doctor Lucky after dinner for the first time, and it was a hoot. We’d been burned by the phenomenal complexity of Arkham Horror last year, but Kill Doctor Lucky is much easier, and plays moves nice and fast once you get going. We didn’t have time to finish a whole game before the kids had to go to bed, so we just called “sunrise” at 21:30. True to his name, Doctor Lucky lived to see another day.

Then we watched Drive, which was a trip of a whole different kind than Robot and Frank. The sound design of the film has incredible dynamic range, from ear-splitting car chases to long scenes of almost total silence. This matches the plot and emotional content of the story, which goes from calm and passive to brutal, gory violence in jumps you know are coming, but which nevertheless arrive as gut-wrenching shocks. The way the film builds tension is incredible. I loved it.

Monday was back to work and school. Mum and Dad went to Amsterdam for the day. We had burritos in the evening, and played De Mol (The Resistance) after dinner. Tuesday was a beautiful sunny day, and Mum and Dad went to Volendam and Edam, and we all went back out to Eetcafé Oostzaan for dinner in the evening. Alex ran into a classmate, and Fiona experimented with vanilla ice cream (turned out it was too delicious for her).

Departures this morning. But the kids and I will be over in Scotland in a few weeks to see them again soon.