Just like every year, I forgot to buy tickets for the multi-day, city-wide festival Eurosonic or its sister festival Noorderslag. This year, however, I did find the time to pick up some of these twin festivals' table scraps by going to the instore performances at the record store Plato, featuring many of the same artists. I like instores. The sound may not be ideal, the stages may be cramped and the auditorium too small to fit the crowds easily, but you get to sample artists' live abilities for free in short, focused performances. Also, you get to see them browse the CD racks. Not to mention that the audiences are relatively sober and almost clean.
On Thursday I saw Cuban-born pop singer Liset Alea, whose song "Dame la Cuenta" was a surprise favorite of mine on Plato's autumn sampler disk, and local freak-rockers Planet Orange. Unfortunately, she was a bit ill so she started late and cut her acoustic set down to three songs. I'm not sure if her music works that well in an acoustic setting. On the record, I liked the electronic beats in combination with her writing. The set was pleasant enough though. Planet Orange's Beefheartesque rock with Fender organ, trumpets and noisemakers was a lot more exciting. I'd seen them before, 5 years ago, and until recently I was under the impression that they'd split up. Not so, fortunately. It was strange to see how keyboardist Harm Wierd had changed; the first time I saw him, with Friction (Freakrock Foundation) in the mid-1990s, he had long hair, a beard and a very authentic hippie dress style. By the time Planet Orange became a going concern, the long hair had already gone, but now he looks like a professor in some obscure subject that doesn't require its practitioners to ever leave the library, like pre-Columbian Finno-Ugric philology or something like that. It's not just the tie, the dusty brown jacket or the mushroom haircut, but the combination of the tie, the jacket and the haircut that creates the impression. Still plays the organ like a madman though. Singer Dickie Visser still looks like a giant ape, even though I could tell as he walked past me in the store that he isn't all that tall. It's his burly build, wild hair and lumbering movements that make him look that way. He's quite a wonderful performer, with his gruff voice and rudimentary trombone skills. I bought their new record, Drip Drop Dripping, on the strength of the band's show.
On Saturday, I wanted to see Audiotransparent, a local band whose music I'd heard on Plato's PA system before. They've been getting some good reviews and I've seen references to them pop up on the livejournals of people outside the Netherlands, so I was really curious about them. But when I walked into Plato at the scheduled time of 2 o'clock, it was immediately clear that the band getting ready to perform weren't them. Audiotransparent are a self-identified shoegazer group, and I don't associate that style of music with lumberjack shirts, five-o-clock shadow, traditional instruments and beer bottles on stage. It turned out that Audiotransparent had also caught a bug and had to bow out of the instore performance; I don't know if they did any of their other scheduled gigs this weekend. What I got to see instead of them was very good though. El Pino and the Volunteers played raw alt.country/Americana and did a bang-up job at it. I prefered their faster, upbeat pieces to their slower singer-songwritery stuff. Fun to see that style of music tackled by such young guys too. I bought their mini-CD as well.
I decided not to wait for the next band, GEM, but pay for the CDs I'd been piling up in my hands and visit some other stores for some regular shopping. More on the CDs I've bought later. I returned to Plato after 4, in time for a band called T99 to start their show. I wasn't too taken with this trio, for some reason; their music didn't connect to me much until their final number, which was an energetic surf instrumental. If they'd done their whole set with that kind of material, I'd have loved them.
Next on the setlist were LPG, a local band who have got quite a lot of media attention because a recording by them is to be used worldwide in a Nokia commercial, even though they didn't have a record contract when they made that deal. I've got mixed feelings about them and think the media buzz happened too early for them. They've got some exciting musical ideas but at this mini-gig, they performed them rather hesitantly. A couple of dozen more gigs would have put them in a better position to present themselves to the world.
The first song of their set was fronted by a guest, home-recording songwriter Spinvis singing the title song of his new album Dagen van Gras, Dagen van Stro. He was easily the most charismatic person on stage at that moment, but his own performance half an hour later, an "outstore" mini-gig on the street in front of the store, with video projection, didn't work that well for me. I'm not going to stand out in the cold while some guy on a stepladder reads lyrics from paper to a taped backing track, and so I was on my way back home 5 minutes in.
A mixed bag it was then. I'll certainly be keeping an eye on El Pino's fresh-faced if rather unkempt young lads, will be enjoying Spinvis' music on the radio and on record, and hope to catch Audiotransparent some other time.