De Staat at Hedon Zwolle, Thursday 24 November 2022

Torre Florim whipping the audience into a frenzy

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 int he last five years I would have heard De Staat and known that they’re huge here.

Torre Florim dancing across the stage

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!

Ticket for De Staat in Zwolle

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.

Set list:

  1. Look At Me
  2. Danger
  3. Blues Is Dead
  4. Input Source Select
  5. Numbers Up
  6. Old Macdonald Don’t Have No Farm No More
  7. Peace, Love & Profit
  8. One Day
  9. Refugee
  10. Who’s Gonna Be The GOAT?
  11. Make Way For The Passenger
  12. Pikachu
  13. Mona Lisa
  14. Head On The Block
  15. Witch Doctor

Encore:

  1. Phoenix
  2. Paying Attention
  3. Kitty Kitty

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.

Rocco Hueting and Torre Florim doing their Pikachu dance

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.

They closed the night with Kitty Kitty, using the same red and blue colour scheme as in the music video

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.

Kimbra at Paradiso Noord, Thursday 21 March 2019

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.

Set list:

  1. The Magic Hour
  2. Plain Gold Ring
  3. The Good War
  4. Everybody Knows
  5. Withdraw
  6. Waltz Me To The Grave
  7. Old Flame
  8. Rescue Hum
  9. Black Sky
  10. Hi Def Distance Romance
  11. Lightyears
  12. Past Love
  13. Version of Me

Encore:

  1. My Way
  2. Cameo Lover

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

Encore:

  1. Where We’re Going
  2. Going Missing

Malcolm Middleton at Paradiso, Amsterdam, 14 Sep 2009

Growing up Limburg in the 1980s, Paradiso in Amsterdam held a special musical mystique: it’s where all the cool bands played when they came to the Netherlands. Whenever pop radio or TV shows rattled off gig listings, Paradiso was top of the list. But Amsterdam was the big city, two and a half hours away by train, and I was such a nerdy teenager that making a pilgrimage northwards to see my favourite artists was practically unimaginable. So I’m glad that my first visit — at age 37, and now living within cycling distance of Amsterdam — was suitably awesome.

Malcolm Middleton, with his introspective and self-pitying lyrics, was an appropriate choice given how I was feeling that day. I had had a traumatic operation to extract a wisdom tooth the week before, and I had been back to see my dentist that afternoon to find out how the gaping wound was healing:

Me: Is it normal for it still to hurt this much after a week?

Dentist: Dude! I can see your jawbone right through the hole! No wonder you’re in pain. Here, let me squirt some ice cold saline solution on it.

Me: Aaaaauuuugh!

I had taken a healthy dose of ibuprofen before I left the house, but by the time I got to Paradiso my jaw was still throbbing painfully. Still, the buzz of excitement in line for the doors lifted my spirits. Most people seemed to be there to see The Jesus Lizard, who were playing the main stage later that evening, but all the 30-something Scottish ex-pats were clearly there to see Malcolm upstairs in the “kleine zaal”.

Because I had got lost a couple of times on my cycle ride into town, Johnny Lynch (The Pictish Trail) was about half-way through his warm-up set already. Malcolm himself was selling CDs and merch at the back of the room, and I got myself a “Happy Medium” T-shirt and a copy of Secret Soundz, vol. 1 before slinking off to the bar for a beer to help numb the pain.

I don’t know what the last song was in Lynch’s set, but it was a belter — it started off quiet, and built up an insistent electronic beat to a thrashing crescendo with synthesized bagpipes skirling away in the background. The sound system is enormous for such a small space, and my ears were ringing when he finished.

I love loud music — like, really loud. There’s something about having my eardrums assaulted by the supercharged amps of a live band that fills me with euphoria. (I get the same feeling from extraordinarily hot food.) For some reason I had got it into my head that this gig was going to be a quiet affair — Malcolm alone with an acoustic guitar plucking away at acoustic versions of his quieter songs — but this opening act (as well as the drums, keyboards, and electric guitars sitting around on the stage) made it clear that we were in for a full-on experience.

And sure enough, when Malcolm took to the stage with Johnny Lynch back on guitar next to him, he opened with two songs that positively bathed the audience in sound. It was as if all the oxygen had been sucked out of the room and replaced with pure music. “Crappo The Clown” started slowly, its slow beat plodding on inexorably, rising in power with every verse, eventually crashing down in a tidal wave of wailing guitars. “Choir”, a song I had never thought of as particularly loud before, took on a pulsing new intensity played live.

By this point, I didn’t care about my toothache any more. The painkillers, the beer, and the CPR-strength bass frequencies had blasted me into a state of bliss where all I could do was sway to the beat and let the guitars flush out my head.

“Subset of The World” was the first of four songs they played from the new album Waxing Gibbous. Malcolm’s performance was controlled rather then energetic, his face intense and concentrated even on the frenzied “A Brighter Beat” when the drummer got his chance to go wild. Johnny Lynch’s light vocals, also present on the new album, are a good fit live, never more so than on “Don’t Want To Sleep Tonight” which they played as a very brief encore. I hadn’t made an emotional connection with that song before the gig; now it is one of my favourites (even if they did fluff the ending).

It was all over too fast. There was another act on later that evening, so they were under a tight curfew, and were only on stage for an hour and a bit. (Also, I think they wanted to catch The Jesus Lizard next door.) I drifted out of Paradiso on a cloud of contentment, my face plastered with a silly grin. As cycled home through the centre of Amsterdam, bustling with nightlife even on a Monday evening in mid-September, I was struck by how beautiful the city is…

…and I didn’t think about my toothache until I got back home an hour later.

Set list:

  1. Crappo the Clown (514)
  2. Choir (ITW)
  3. Love Comes In Waves (SOH)
  4. Subset of the World (WG)
  5. New song? “Sitting on my fat arse on a Tuesday”? (See also Manic Pop Thrills)
  6. Zero (WG)
  7. Stay Close Sit Tight (ABB)
  8. **? Another one I didn’t recognize, but really liked.
  9. Box & Knife (WG)
  10. Blue Plastic Bags (SOH)
  11. A Brighter Beat (ABB)

Very brief encore:

  1. Don’t Want To Sleep Tonight (WG)

WG = Waxing Gibbous, SOH = Sleight of Heart, ABB = A Brighter Beat, ITW = Into The Woods, 514 = 5:14 Fluoxytine Seagull Alcohol John Nicotine

Gigs on a stick

USB stick (image by Fons Reijsbergen: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/468405)For some time now, it has been technically possible to offer concert-goers the option to buy a CD of a gig almost immediately after it has ended. I wrote about this back in 2003. The technology isn’t particularly widespread, at least partly due to patents and licensing issues surrounding it, but services like Instant Live (part of Live Nation, a spin-off of Clear Channel, who pioneered the technology) and DiscLive show that it’s definitely happening.

It looks like the next leap step for the technology is to sell the concert recording not on CDs, but on a USB stick. From the Barenaked Ladies blog:

These days people need their music fast. Rather than waiting a whole day to download the show from our website, you can now take part in our latest high-tech experiment (no, this doesn’t include lysergic acid or agent orange), by purchasing that evening’s show AT THE SHOW. Just go to the merch booth and ask to buy the USB version of tonight’s show, they’ll sell you a wristband, and at the end of the evening, you can come back to the table and pick up a fresh baked USB stick with that evening’s performance magically embedded in it. And we have t-shirts, too.

Very cool. It’s not quite a download straight onto your iPod, but it’s certainly moving in that direction.