Amsterdam is a bit of a mixed bag tonight with a reasonably mixed line up ranging from teenage spunk to old school screaming punk. As I rock up I’m relieved to see the building still standing after the apocalyptic events that went down last night, according to Sindrí Eldon anyways.
Now, being the cynical, old bastard that I am when it come to teenage emo, I should blow Reason to Believe and their soda pop, generic, My Chemical Romance-ridden brand right out of the water. But I can’t, though I almost feel dirty and ashamed to admit it. To my great surprise, these four kids delivered a pretty authentic and viable performance. They play well, and they’re a lot more focused on what they want to sound like than a good deal of other bands I’ve seen this festival.
Though long past my emo-angst, I have to say, if I was sixteen and having to deal with the impossible stress of trying to get my schoolwork finished, get to team practice AND break up with my boyfriend via Twitter all before dinnertime; then this is probably what I’d be listening to while doing it. And I’d most likely have a crush on the bassist too. He played the love song with his eyes closed. Cue dramatic teenage ‘swoon’.
Icelandic punk veterans Fræbblarnir were next to take up the rock mantel. In a 360° mental flip, these guys were the caustic shot of gin to Reason’s soda fizz. They’ve been pushing their classic Ramones/Clash/Stones punk rock sound since 1978. And the gig felt like it could have gone on, on a continuous repeat loop, for another thirty-two years.
I get that Fræbblarnir have been around a long time and do what they do, and don’t get me wrong, this is one ridiculously and meticulously tight outfit, instrumentally. But as a first time experience for this reviewer, the jarring of their stiff, controlled, delivery with music that wanted to run off down the street to Alþingi and throw a few chairs though the window, ended up frustrating more than liberating. It was like listening to The Clash in a strait jacket.
And then there were three. Three unassuming dudes in T-shirts who rocked the shit out of Amsterdam, and 99% of Reykjavík weren’t there to witness it. Morðingjarnir were simply class.
I don’t even know what genre their music fits into. It flirts a little with metal, punk, ska and reggae. There’s something so satisfying about well timed, tightly delivered riffs at a time when so many musical scenes are dominated by programmed beats and manipulated electronics. The drummer was particularly awesome and played with such intensity that its hard to imagine he does little else but eat, drink and sleep while playing his kit. Actually now that’s something I’d pay to see. But I digress.
Whereas Fræbblarnir’s static control over their music held their energy within the space of the bar, Morðingjarnir’s soared. And it wasn’t that they reinvented the wheel or anything with their sound, it was their own energy and lack of ego that created the magic. I want to see these guys set the crowd on fire next year at NASA.
I cannot say the same for Nögl and the angle-grinding brand of noise that had my table of punters reaching for their earplugs and me scarping to the refuge of the toilet. It was virtually impossible to pick out any nuances or rhythm such was the abrasive clash of high tops and over-amped guitars. Have these guys become so deafened by their own creations that they’ve super evolved to actually be able to distinguish their vocals from the bass, their lead from their rhythm guitars? The frontman’s cocky swagger despite clearing the bar bothered me as much as their music. If they would actually like to have more fans than the handful of friends that stuck it out, they might do well to manipulate their sound in a way that actually invites people in, rather than sending them rushing for the nearest exit.
On this note, Amsterdam as a venue really does need to work on its sound to bar size ratio. They also should know that its not cool to cut Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA in favour of some affected blues nothingness in between gigs. And lastly not to let filthy snaky wallet thieves into their venue. Rant over.
Vicky, a four piece girl band followed, all trussed up in a visual paint bomb of bleached out mohawks, tattered looking grunge and dramatic eye-liner. As they started into their vocalized post punk set, my hopes of hearing something that rivalled musically what they promoted visually began to fade.
Though many people would just accept four girls in a punk band as a given crowd pleaser, there were reasons to question this performance. In many ways it was a lacklustre, two-dimensional affair. The girls’ often expressionless faces and limp limbed delivery made their super hyped punk chick personas, look and sound more staged than natural expression. The vocals weren’t as strong as expected, and the guitars and drums, while aggressive and punchy, didn’t scream out thoughtful composition.
The sexiness and the attitude was all there on the surface, the press loved the colour and egged the girls on to grind and pomp it up, which the crowd in turn lapped up. But one was left with the feeling that if you plugged out the amp you be left with a bit of an empty shell.
Hoffman offered another slice of American rock pie, fronted by what seemed like Brian Molko from Placebo’s biggest fan. With full on body caresses and pained mock-emo expression, the singer slithered and posed his way through a garden of white noised guitars and crashing drums. The affected, disingenuous performance by the front man diverted attention from the music and attendance was slim.
Unfortunately I only heard a little of Cliff Clavin as there was a personal problem to deal with [Eimear’s wallet got stolen, and she had to run and cancel all of her cards], but what I did hear seemed a well delivered mash up of post grunge from this four piece which people seemed to be giving socks to on the dancefloor, especially a dinky little Asian man in red braces.
Cue 200 from the Faroe Islands, who stepped up to punch out some genuinely kickass and 100% credible, old school rock. From AC/DC to Led Zeppelin to ZZ Top, it was classic rock influences a go-go from this very charming bunch of seemingly all round nice guys. They were here to help us have an awesome night, a fact evident in their happy go lucky manner and their broad engagement with the whole bar. Looking for three volunteers to play tambourine they got two hot girls and a dude with a moustache, who joined in on vocals…although I think they were singing in Faroese? Anyways. There were a couple of face melting guitar solos Jack Black himself would have been proud of. My companions came back in when they heard these guys from the street, which seems plausible enough as they totally fucking rocked. Full on air guitar was the only possible way to shake this dance wise, with which we duly complied. F U N times.
[Eimear had to go about her business at this point, so the lovely Aðalsteinn Jörundsson assumed the reviewer duties for the last band on the bill] I gave We Made God a pretty favourable review last year. And I guess I could copy and paste the whole thing with some minor changes since their set felt very similar. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing though. It’s just… that kind of music can be just as fantastic as it can be customary. Bass + guitar + lots of reverb, sound gets bigger, peaks, emotional screams, quiet down. Repeat. But one shouldn’t knock the band for liking a certain kind of music style and wanting to sound like that. We Made God have a clear vision of how they want to sound, they’ve tirelessly worked at it and they have succeeded. And if the song structure wouldn’t have been so predictable I would have possibly gone home afterward to listen to their MySpace, or whatever.
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Posted October 17, 2010