I only discovered De Staat in September this year. My excuse is that I don’t listen to the radio much, and my music discovery experience has been fairly narrow in the last several years. When I was younger I was afraid that my musical taste would get stuck in the 1980s or 1990s, and I’d end up listening to golden oldies for the rest of my days. That’s not happening, but I do need the occasional prod out of my comfort zone to go and find new things.
Seeing live music is a good opportunity to see new bands in support of acts I already know and like. For example, Bleu supporting Toad The Wet Sprocket; Thumpers supporting Chvrches.) I follow some shared playlists on Spotify, and get recommendations from music channels at work. I occasionally dip into the Stereogum blog, which is where I found MUNA this year (just too late to catch their European tour). I find that podcasts have taken the place of music radio when I’m driving these days. Although I enjoy the podcasts, I do think I’m missing out a bit there. If I’d been tuning in to Dutch radio (e.g. Kink.fm) at all in the last five years I would have heard De Staat and known that they’re huge here.
They’ve been touring Europe this year, and have just kicked off a string of completely sold-out gigs here in the Netherlands. The secondary market for tickets seemed to run through TicketSwap. I signed up for alerts to a handful of dates relatively nearby. TicketSwap send out push notifications through their app whenever a ticket for a gig you’re interested in comes up for sale. From my experience at work, I know that push notifications don’t reach every target at exactly the same time. Depending on how big the batch is, it can take seconds or minutes for all the notifications to be delivered. In the case of these gigs, the TicketSwap app showed that there were hundreds of other people also wanting to buy tickets for them.
But I got lucky, and a few weeks ago I happened to respond quickly enough to bag a ticket for their concert in Zwolle on 24 November: the opening night of their Dutch tour, even!
After last week’s experience with resale tickets, I was feeling somewhat apprehensive about using this ticket for De Staat. However, it looks like TicketSwap have actual integrations with ticketing platforms, and when someone wants to sell their (digital) ticket, they have the ability to invalidate the original ticket and issue a brand new one for the buyer. Inside the TicketSwap app, the ticket had had my name on it. The app also seemed to make it a very easy operation if I wanted to sell the ticket on again. TicketSwap have a policy of not allowing more than a 20% markup over the original price when reselling tickets, which is impressive and admirable.
Zwolle is about an hour and a half away by car. Late Thursday afternoon I got caught up in a production incident at work, and left later than I’d intended, but I made it there shortly before 20:00. I parked nearby, walked to the venue, and got in without a problem. I think I’d been holding my breath a bit when my ticket was scanned, but it was all OK first time round. YAY.
My first thought on entering the foyer was: wow, this is a very different crowd than last Sunday. Let’s say that if I could be uniquely identified as “the old guy with the blue hair” at the Set It Off gig; here I was just “the guy with the blue hair”. I’d say the audience was mostly in their 30s and 40s. At Set It Off I’d heard lots of English voices; here it was all Dutch. Relaxed vibe. My hair got a few looks, but I didn’t feel out of place.
I’d arrived just a little late to see the whole opening act, but I caught the last twenty minutes of Personal Trainer, and enjoyed them. De Staat came on at 21:05.
They played all the tracks from their latest releases RED and YELLOW, but only “One Day” from BLUE. That makes sense, because it’s a live event, and they wanted to keep the energy going, and the BLUE songs are the more down-tempo ones. Overall, they chose a ton of crowd-pleasers (“Input Source Select”, “Make Way For The Passenger”) from their back catalogue, although they did include a couple of moodier tracks as well.
I’ve got to say: wow. This was an astonishingly good gig. The band were tight, and the songs were made to get the audience jumping. Singer Torre Florim is visually striking, and he’s a gripping showman on stage. His physical performance reminded me a bit of Duncan Wallis of Dutch Uncles. He has completely different moves, but he’s similarly mesmerising. For the song “Pikachu” keyboardist Rocco Hueting joined him on centre stage for their ridiculously simple but brilliantly staged dance-off. That alone was worth the price of entry.
The audience knew what they were doing. In their best-known music video (although the band have got an amazing overall track record) for the song “Witch Doctor”, a giant crowd of computer-animated figures jump and dance in a whirling circle around Torre as he performs the song. At their gigs, where they build up to this as the last song in the main set, this translates into a moshing maelstrom in front of the stage, as the audience turns into a human gyre in front of the stage. (I was just outside it. If you attend one of their shows, it’s worth knowing about!)
They closed out the show with a 3-track encore, ending on the hefty dramatic beats of “Kitty Kitty”, which made full use of their colourful lighting rigs. Aside from being a stormingly good performance by the band, the light show was clever and complemented the songs brilliantly.
Definitely one of the best shows I’ve seen in recent years. I’ll be keeping an eye out for future tours, because I’d love to see them again.
Fiona got into Set It Off back in the 2018-2019 era. (Quick count…3-4 years ago.) The band released their album Midnight in early 2019, and they toured the US and Europe in March and April (including Melkweg in Amsterdam on 23 April, in the Upstairs space, which has a capacity of about 250). After the sold-out April gigs, they announced more European dates in the autumn, and would be at De Helling in Utrecht on 17 October 2019. I think it was shortly after this that Fiona spotted the event, and by that point it was sold out. Luckily I managed to get two tickets on the resale market Viagogo.
At this point Fiona had played the band’s music for me on our drives to and from school and various appointments, but I hadn’t paid it much attention. Fiona was into them, and it would be fun to go to a gig together. Little did we know how this would play out.
Hmm, April 2020. Yeah, that didn’t happen. The band announced in March that the April dates would be moved. In early April they rescheduled the dates, and the Utrecht one was moved to 8th September 2020. How hopeful we were back then!
How charming that we all though 2021 would happen. In April 2021 the European dates were rescheduled again (again), this time for March 2022 (Utrecht on 6th March). Surely by 2022 everything nothing else would kick it off schedule. Right?
Okay, here’s the problem: by the summer of 2022 Fiona had turned 18 and had moved to Scotland, so she wasn’t going to be around in the Netherlands for a November gig.
But wait! The band was playing the Garage in Glasgow on 6 November! That would be much easier for Fiona to reach. Except…that gig was sold out as well.
Nevertheless, she persisted. When Fiona came back to Oostzaan for her mid-term break in October, we made plans. I still had a KLM flight voucher from a cancelled trip back in the early days of the pandemic. We used this to book flights for Fiona to fly back for the weekend of 19 & 20 November, so we could finally get to see the band together. But also, Fiona kept checking TicketMaster to see if any resale tickets came up for the Glasgow gig. Belt-and-braces approach. We’d been waiting so long that we weren’t going to miss it.
And fortune smiled! The week before the Glasgow gig, Fiona was able to score a single ticket. By coincidence, I was in Scotland the weekend of 6th November as well, and I took the train over to Glasgow to meet up for a bite to eat before the gig. Fiona had bought a VIP upgrade, and I dropped her off at the doors just before she and a couple of dozen others got invited in for a meet-and-greet and photo session before the show.
Mission accomplished! After a three year wait Fiona finally got to see one of her favourite bands, and she had a great time. The critical dependency on everything going right for the flights later in the month was gone.
Which was just as well, because the week after the Glasgow gig and just days before she was due to fly back to the Netherlands Fiona tested positive for Covid, and she couldn’t come over after all. But at least she had got to see them once.
All’s well that ends well, right? Well…the story doesn’t end here.
By this time, I had also got really into the band, and I was super excited about seeing them live. Their latest album Welcome To Elsewhere is a slight departure from Midnight: a little less emo and a little more power-pop-punk; a little less Panic! At The Disco and a little more Marianas Trench. The music videos and promotional material for the tour feature the band with vibrant backdrops and multi-coloured hair. I found myself with the desire to do something a bit off-the-wall for myself…
Long time ago, I used to dye my hair spiky blonde. Fiona and I had hatched a plan to dye my hair a bold colour for the gig. Before she got sick we thought we’d do it in secret just the two of us, so it would be a surprise for Abi. But when Fiona couldn’t make it over after all, I brought Abi in on the plan. Abi helped me select the necessary hair products, and we bleached and then coloured my locks a bright indigo blue last Saturday.
Fiona joined us on a video call while it was all in progress. It was great fun, and I look fabulous.
It’s still not over.
Inspired by Fiona’s VIP experience, I bought a VIP upgrade package for myself. The top tier package was sold out for Utrecht, but the “ordinary” upgrade, with a signed poster, a souvenir flag, and a photo op with the band was still available. (If Fiona had been able to come across, I would have got this for both of us, but that didn’t work out.) On Sunday evening I set out for Utrecht just after 16:00. Doors were at 19:00, but the advance email said to be there an hour and a half before. It was raining heavily and the drive was slower than expected, but I still got parked near the venue at about 17:15, and then had a short walk over to Tivoli Vredenburg.
Inside, there was a group of about 20-30 people waiting in a marked-off area. Judging by their appearance (Set It Off shirts and hoodies, coloured hair) I figured this was the queue for the gig and VIP entry. I checked with a staffer, and they said, “Oh the VIP experience? That started half an hour ago.” They pointed me over to the ticket check by the escalator, and I rushed over, hoping I wasn’t too late.
When they scanned my printed ticket (from back in 2019, remember – and still marked as for “De Helling”) the scanner beeped and flashed red. Barcode not recognized. Sorry. The other ticket (I’d brought both) was the same.
I’ve bought concert resale concert tickets before, and this was the first time I’ve had a problem. The tickets weren’t old-fashioned physical pre-printed tickets, but rather PDFs downloaded from TicketMaster, uploaded to Viagogo by the buyer, and re-sold to me. (Like NFTs, only without the cryptographic guarantee of a blockchain. Don’t worry, I’m not going there.) They still had the original buyer’s name on them, but that has never been a problem for me before. Maybe it was because the gig had gone through a venue change and so many reschedulings? I walked over to the ticket counter and queued up there to ask for help.
The ticket counter was not terribly helpful. They checked the barcode, and found it wasn’t in their system. They don’t have access to the back-end ticketing system for TicketMaster or De Helling. Sorry. Nothing they could do.
I think I’d been mentally preparing myself for things to go wrong on the way to this concert, so although I was disappointed, I wasn’t feeling angry or tearful. At least Fiona had got to see them two weeks ago! And if she had not caught Covid, and had in fact flown over for the weekend only to be stopped at this hurdle – I think I would have been more upset because I would have felt responsible for it.
But I didn’t give up yet. There were more avenues to explore. I retreated to a quiet corner of the foyer and looked up the customer support number for Viagogo. To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised when I found that they had a live customer support number, and that it was staffed late on a Sunday afternoon. The person I spoke to was clearly reading from a script. They asked me if I had any evidence that I’d failed to get in with the ticket they’d sold me. At the time I thought this was weird — they want me to take a selfie with the guy scanning the tickets? — but on reflection makes sense. But I’d left the queue already, and it would have been hard to do while I was talking on the phone.
Their first approach was to see if I wanted a refund. No. I’d paid for the tickets (including their 30% “processing fee”) three years ago, and the money was (fortunately) no longer relevant. I wanted to see if they could do something about the tickets, but I didn’t see what they could do. They said they’d escalate my call, and promised to call me back in 10 minutes.
After getting off the phone I spent a good fifteen minutes resetting my password and trying to log in to my Viagogo account on both their website and their app. Eventually I got in and tried to re-download my tickets, in case the versions I’d printed off previously (at least a year ago) had been updated. The site and the app showed me a link to the tickets, but clicking on it only gave me an error.
It was about 18:30 by this point. I wasn’t giving up yet. While waiting for a callback from Viagogo, I called De Helling to see if there was anything they could do. A very helpful staffer took my details, and said he’d call the ticket desk at Tivoli and see what was up. A few minutes later he called back and said that he couldn’t get through, and asked if I could give my phone to someone at the ticket desk. Fortunately the queue was relatively short, and I handed him over to the staffer I’d spoken to earlier.
After they conferred for a while, the outcome was this: it’s possible that the person who originally sold their ticket (issued by TicketMaster) to me (through Viagogo) had requested a refund from TicketMaster at some point during the postponement and rescheduling. Viagogo isn’t integrated with TicketMaster, so when TicketMaster sent out email updates about the gig, they would have been sending them to the original buyer, who may have seen a “click here to get a refund” link and taken advantage of it, even though he’d already sold the ticket. If so, [REDACTED], you’re a dick. What the hell, dude. Not cool.
However, another possibility was that the ticket reseller (Viagogo) still had to send through last-minute adjustments. Apparently Tivoli were expecting a “new batch of barcodes” at 19:00, so as a last resort I could try scanning my tickets again after that time.
I sat down for a while and watched the queue stream through past when they opened up admission at about 18:50. When the initial rush had passed twenty minutes later, I went up to try my tickets again, but still no joy. The staffer with the scanner was totally cool about me taking a busted-ass ticket selfie. This wasn’t the first time he’d seen this.
Viagogo still hadn’t called back. I retreated to a quiet corner of the foyer and was tucking everything back in my bag when a Tivoli staffer came up to me and said that they liked my hair colour. Aww. I must have been looking sad, and that was a really nice thing to do. (In general, Tivoli is a fantastic venue.)
I left the building and started walking back to the car. I’d parked in one of the multi-storeys of the Hoog Catherijne complex, and had to pass through the shopping centre to get back. Given some of the negative reviews I’d read while I was waiting, I didn’t have much hope of Viagogo calling me back after an hour and a half of nothing. But I had come this far, and I would regret getting home without having given it one more try. So I found a quiet spot and called Viagogo again.
And this time, after about ten minutes on the line to a different person, they somehow found a pair of replacement tickets (even though I only needed one). I was flabbergasted and delighted, and not just a little apprehensive. These tickets were, again, PDFs that had made their way through the Viagogo system, but they were issued by Tivoli, for the 6 March 2022 version of the gig.
It was about 19:35. I hurried back to Tivoli and made my way to the foot of the escalator where the tickets were being scanned. While I was waiting in a short queue, another Tivoli staffer came over and asked if I was okay, because she’d seen me rushing back and forth, looking frantic. (And I guess with bright blue hair at my age I may have been somewhat memorable?) I gave her a super brief recap of what had just happened, and she walked with me while I held up my phone to the staffer with the scanner. And after turning up the brightness on my screen to get a good reading…I got in! I turned and beamed at the staffer who’d stood with me, and she gave me a big smile back. Lovely people.
(Kudos to Viagogo: they came through in the end…after repeated calls. That said, this experience has dampened my enthusiasm for resale tickets that are just second-hand PDFs.)
I’d blown past the time slot for the VIP experience, but I didn’t care any more. I took the escalator upstairs to the 6th floor. There was a long queue for the merch stand in the foyer there, probably about 60-80 people long. The Pandora room was up one more flight of stairs. Trembling ever so slightly with relief, I waited in the merch line while the sound of the opening act, Weathers, drifted down.
It was about 20:25 by the time I got to the stand. I picked out a T-shirt, and asked the merch guy if there were any posters. “Nah,” he said.
“They were just for the VIP experience?” I asked. “I was on the list, but I had a problem with my ticket and didn’t get in on time.”
“Oh okay,” he said. “Let me check for you.” He rummaged around behind the screen behind the stand, and came back with a banner and a signed poster.
“Oh wow,” I said. “Do you need to see my ticket to prove I was on the list?”
“Nah, mate, you’re good.”
Flabbergasted and delighted again, I paid for the goods, then grabbed a locker and stashed my bag and jacket and merch haul. I went up the stairs to the 7th floor, and I opened the doors to my first concert since February 2020.
9-song medley: Dream Catcher, No Disrespect, Upside Down, Uncontainable, Third Wheel, Different Songs, Bleak December, Admit It, Partners In Crime
Bad Guy (with drummer Maxx taking a turn on vocals and ukulele, while Cody took over on drums)
Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing
(I was happy to find that my memory palace technique for remembering set lists still worked. I was a bit shaky on the songs in the medley, though, because some of them were from their older albums, and I’ve spent most of my time listening to Elsewhere, Midnight, and Duality.)
The show was wonderul, and not just because it was my first live music in two and a half years. The band looked like they were having a ton of fun on stage. Singer Cody Carson has and infectious smile and terrific charisma, and he easily got the adoring crowd chanting and jumping and waving in unison. It was a well-rehearsed set, full of energy, swelling chords, and heavy guitar riffs. I was glad I’d brought hearing protection.
Was I the oldest person there at the gig? Yeah, maybe. Do I care? No. Was I glad I’d dyed my hair for the event? Damn right.
This was part of Kimbra’s “Reimagined” tour, where she is performing a bunch of her songs in a smoky jazz bar style, backed by just a piano and a double bass. This is a great combination. Some of her recorded songs have this kind of feel to them already (“Hi Def Distance Romance”, “Waltz Me To The Grave”), and some absolutely shine with the new treatment (“The Magic Hour”, “Old Flame”). Others were less successful. “Lightyears” from her album Primal Heart is a beat-heavy club song, and its lyrics don’t have the gravitas to stand up to being slowed down. “Version Of Me” is slow, quiet and haunting already, and I’m not sure if it benefits from the vocal welly she puts into it in this arrangement. The overall atmosphere in the small Paradiso Noord venue was magical, though, with a warm crowd that rewarded Kimbra with tons of applause whenever she would end a song with a “dankjewel” and a smile.
Alex, Fiona, and I saw Area 11 in Edinburgh a few years ago. Alex travelled to see them on his own last summer. And last weekend the four of us all took a trip to Glasgow to see them at the G2 on their “Everybody Gets A Piece” tour. It was fun!
We flew from Amsterdam to Edinburgh on the Saturday morning, and picked up a rental car. It was too early to check in to our hotel, so we drove in to Glasgow and did some lunching (fish and chips for Alex, haggis for Fiona) and shopping. By mid-afternoon we were all tired, so we headed for the hotel, had a bit of a rest, and then came back in to town for the gig. Fiona decided she was too tired, though, and stayed in her room.
The concert was good, varied, and incredibly loud. No, seriously. I like loud concerts, but I’m not sure I would have survived that one if I hadn’t had earplugs with me. The first opening act was local band Dancing With Dakota, who were metal AF. They were also bathed entirely in a blue light so far into the violet my eyes couldn’t focus on them, and I didn’t even notice they had a drummer until I saw the photos afterwards. I thought they’d been playing with a backing track.
By comparison, Misery Kids sounded like a boy band. I absolutely don’t mean that in a bad way! Just that their uptempo melodic sound and catchy choruses were so stunningly different from Dancing With Dakota that you could be forgiven for thinking you’d been teleported to a different venue.
October Drift were yet another change of pace, their style dark and grungy, with a front man unafraid to traverse the side wall of the venue all the way to the merch table. No crowdsurfing, but I’m sure he was tempted.
Now I love discovering new music, but to be honest, by the time Area 11 came on I was feeling a bit tired. It was an early gig – the venue’s doors had opened at 18:00, and there was a 22:00 curfew – but I’m an auld mannie and I need my rest. I thought they were good, and I loved hearing their new songs, but they also seemed like they were holding back and not rocking out quite as much as when we saw them a few years ago. Maybe they were tired and tense, too – it was the first night of the tour.
Cassandra part 1
Cassandra part 2
In The Blind
Everybody Gets A Piece
All Your Friends
Panacea and the Prelogue
Heaven Piercing Giga Drill
(No encore – they felt they were cutting it close to the curfew already.)
The merch guy recognized me by the end of the evening. Between Dancing With Dakota and Misery Kids, Alex and I had gone to load him up with a tour T-shirt, a Cassandra Rising longsleeve, a beanie hat (+1 for Fiona), and a nifty zip-up hoodie. Between Misery Kids and October Drift Abi got herself a shirt as well, and I decided to give in to temptation and get myself one of the zip-ups too. And then immediately after the gig I had to get Fiona one of the Cassandra Rising shirts as well, because on reflection I realized that it was the one she would have wanted if she’d been there. So: “You again!” Yes. It me.
Alex had another portion of fish and chips on the walk back from the G2 to the Buchanan Galleries car park, and Abi and I shared some falafel from the excellent Falafel To Go hole-in-the-wall (literally) on Hope St.
On Sunday we went in to Edinburgh for a bit of lunching (more fish and chips for Alex, more haggis for Fiona – they have to get their Scottish deep fry when they have the chance) and hanging out. I dropped Abi and Alex at the airport in the later afternoon, before driving up to Mum & Dad and stopping off at the chip shop in Stanley for, yes, some more haggis for Fiona.
On Monday I took Fiona to Fife to stay with her boy C. Seeing as it was close by, I went in to St. Andrews for a bit of a wander. The last time I was in St. Andrews was a few years ago, and it had felt incredibly upscale and upmarket – the lingering royal afterglow of William and Kate. Perhaps it was the cold and grey weather, but this time it felt a bit more casual and studenty. I mean, it’s still St. Andrews, so let’s not get carried away. The bones of the place were showing through more clearly.
On Tuesday, Mum and Dad and I went in to Perth for some lunch and shopping. (I got myself a pair of slippers I intend to leave at the office, because why not be comfortable?) We also paid a visit to the Fergusson Gallery, which was a rare treat. I couldn’t have told you who Fergusson was before I went in, but I certainly recognized a few of his works. It’s a small but lovely gallery. In the evening I picked up Fiona from her overnight stay.
Wednesday we headed back to Edinburgh. Fiona spent the day with C, while I zoomed back up the M9 to return Dad’s reading glasses that he’d left in the car the day before. We flew back home in the evening, exhausted.
Alex found Lindsey Stirling on YouTube back in 2012, and got the whole family listening to her infectious pop violin. She was touring in support of her first album, and for Christmas that year I got us tickets for her gig at 013 in Tilburg on 16th January 2013.
I don’t remember if it had been snowing that day itself, but the country was white and cold. Alex, Fiona, and I bundled into Turty late in the afternoon and drove around the Amsterdam ring to Breukelen, where we picked up Abi from the station. We stopped off for some food at a McDonalds on the way, and got to Tilburg in time for the concert, but not in time to catch the support act. The place was packed — unpleasantly so, I thought. We struggled to find a spot at the back of the hall with a moderately unobscured view.
The gig itself was great. Lindsey played all of the key songs from her album. She had a keyboard player and a drummer on stage with her, and the act was full of energy. Fiona had been to see the Barenaked Ladies at the Mountain Winery with us in 2010, but it was Alex’s first pop concert. We loved it and resolved to catch her whenever she played near us again.
That day was last Tuesday! The concert at 013 in Tilburg again (after originally having been scheduled for the Klokgebouw in Eindhoven). Not wanting to run the risk of Turty’s exhaust dropping off (again) on a long trip with a time-critical component, I hired us a bigger car for the drive this time. I picked it up at lunchtime, and we set off on the journey at about 17:30. Just as before, we circled Amsterdam and picked Abi up at Breukelen. No snow this time, just lots of traffic jams.
We got to the centre of Tilburg just before 20:00, parked, and queued to get in. The place was packed again. We tried to get in to the downstairs area, but couldn’t even squeeze through the doors. A friendly usher told us that there was still space up on the balcony. It was better up there, but the sight lines weren’t great. We bought merch, lots of merch. We caught the second half of Mike Tompkins’s opening set, which was energetic and nicely produced, but not quite my thing.
Lindsey Stirling came on at 21:00, and the difference from last year was clear straight away. She still had the same keyboard player and drummer, but she was joined on stage by two dancers for many of the songs. The set was more elaborate, the lighting better, and the choreography was more elaborate. In the pauses between songs, she seemed more self-assured. Her second album, Shatter Me, came out earlier this year, and so she had more material to choose from. Everything was bigger, brighter, and more polished. Fiona was utterly entranced. Alex was somewhat pained by the sheer volume of the music, but enjoyed it too.
(I confirmed my suspicions that the iPhone 4’s low-light performance isn’t as good as the Nexus 4. And the Nexus 4 is not that great.) Long drive back afterwards, and we didn’t get home until after midnight. Alex and Fiona had brought neck pillows and duvets with them, so they curled up in their seats and slept some. I was up early the next day to get the car back before 08:00. Very worthwhile trip.
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:
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.