Marble Sounds, Alter Schlachthof, Eupen/B, November 1st 2018

It is that time of the year again and we are being tortured by the holiday tunes on radio. Well many of them are pretty atrocious. Those songs that are actually quite touching and warming your soul, are sometimes not even intended as Christmas songs. Among them you’ll find “Leave A Light On” by Marble Sounds from Brussels, Belgium – written originally as a lullaby. “Leave A Light On” was the very song that introduced me to Marble Sounds and I have not looked back since. A while back, I had the opportunity to interview Pieter Van Dessel, Marble Sounds songwriter and frontman. Yes, I have always planned to put the text of that interview up on this blog (which came into being later) but never got round to it but there is the audio of it. Much of what Pieter had to say, probably is true for Marble Sounds now. So, one day in the not so faraway future:-)

Including that time, I happened to see Marble Sounds play live four times. Last night, Marble Sounds performed at Alter Schlachthof, Eupen, Belgium, touring their latest, fourth album: “The Advice To Travel Light”. For those of you who are not familiar with Marble Sounds, see an earlier review here and know this:

Marble Sounds hail from Brussels and consist of Pieter Van Dessel on vocals, guitar and keyboards, Gianni Marzo on guitar and pedal steel guitar, Brecht Plasschaert on keyboards,  Frederik Bastiaensen on bass and
Mattijs Vanderleen  on drums, percussion, glockenspiel and marimba.

Their songs would be ranging from the very quiet, contemplative to the layered, louder and big finale songs, always perfectly composed and performed – not surprising that since many members would be in the music production business / radio / TV business in their day jobs. After their third album “Tatou” which was a foray into orchestral music with strings, flutes etc. and Pieter van Dessel mostly at the piano, “The Advice To Travel Light” on the one hand follows that advice and is stripped down again, on the other hand, in particular live, I saw a band rocking and whooping and lashing it out and enjoying it.

Marble Sounds, Alter Schlachthof, Eupen/B, November 1st 2018

So there we are at the Alter Schlachthof, Eupen, Belgium, enjoying Thijs Kuijken aka I Am Oak from Utrecht in the Netherlands first who performs solo and acoustically a fine set of tender, fragile songs, using his guitar to replace a whole band and singing in a tenor voice. Thijs seems a bit unsure in which language to address people in the Germany speaking community in Belgium especially since many in the audience had travelled from French and Flemish speaking areas. His thing was not the banter on stage anyway but to play his songs that paint whole landscapes in your mind despite being minimal. I am Oaks demand attention and to go with the flow which is why listening to an I Am Oak album is never like listening to individual songs but a connected experience and intended to be that way. The latest work (the song “Golden Pavillion” after I Am Oak’s fifth album “Our Blood” (Snowstar Records/2016) of Thijs was written in Japan and this brings us to Marble Sounds who walk on stage about twenty minutes after I Am Oak’s dreamy set. Marble Sounds are indeed big in Japan and it is only there, unfortunately, where you can obtain a very special edition of Marble Sounds works.

Marble Sounds, Alter Schlachthof, Eupen/B, November 1st 2018

We are in for a treat: For about ninety minutes Marble Sounds present their melancholic and yet not depressing songs, nicely alternating between the sweetest, quiet tunes past the sing-along numbers to the ones that I possibly like best: The tracks that start out harmlessly and spiral into a frenzy, a hypnotic wall-of-sound. There is no doubt that Marble Sounds are perfectionists plus the big show on stage is not their thing but not for a second the connection to the audience is broken and the atmosphere is one of warmth and cordiality. Marble Sounds seem to enjoy the show themselves and I find it lovely how the band members are smiling at each other when some part of a song is turning out particularly well.

Marble Sounds, Alter Schlachthof, Eupen/B, November 1st 2018

It helps that Pieter van Dessel is not stuck behind the piano but is at the front playing guitar (as one encore we have Pieter doing a solo piece on the acoustic guitar) and that Gianno Marzo is an ace guitarist, Brecht and Frederik know their jobs perfectly well and Mattijs is one heck of a drummer who knows a thing or two melting rhythm with melody. A wonderful addition to the live performance is Renée Sys who also lends her amazing voice and well-timed harmonies to the latest two albums. And of course Gianni’s newish toy, the pedal steel. That touch of wistful Americana sound goes very well with Marble Sounds songs.

Marble Sounds, Alter Schlachthof, Eupen/B, November 1st 2018

After ninety minutes choc-a-bloc -and every note perfect (well, I think, what would I know) – with songs from the latest album plus all the well-known songs of the its three predecessors and two encores, Marble Sounds thank kindly and literally dash to the merch stand to speak to the fans.

A Marble Sounds concert is always a cherished occasion in its warmth and perfection to make you forget past and looming troubles, but this one stood out. For those who thought likewise there was an extra treat: The organisers at the venue and most like the band themselves as well had made it possible that all ticket holders can enjoy Marble Sounds once more at Muziekgieterij in Maastricht / Netherlands two days later.

Little Waves @ C-Mine, Genk, 2018 – a feast of a festival

Much looked forward to, our annual family outing to one of the finest festivals I know is already over and done with again. Last Saturday saw us driving excitedly to the C-Mine in Genk, Belgium, a former mine building, now converted to part museum, part art exhibition centre and part very fine venues to enjoy this year’s Little Waves @ C-Mine, Genk, 2018 – a feast of a festival.

The fun starts when you arrive: Plenty of free parking, a short stroll to the building that houses the venues, a friendly and easy entry procedure. This year there was an additional venue upstairs, the Compressorenhal, the newcomers were moved from the foyer to a separate room and then there were of course the standing only venue with gallery and the big theatre with seating. Everything as expected: Fine food and drinks at reasonable prices, super friendly staff and a line-up to die for.

Sadly the problem with overlaps of the performances that will make you miss quite a few acts you would like to see or has you rushing in and out of performances, still remains. I would say, it probably has become worse. It so happens that we never made it up into the Compressorenhal to see Wartaal, Bonfire Lakes and Holly Miranda. Especially the latter I would have loved to see but Holly’s set was at the very same time as Mercury Rev’s. Pity for the very talented musician to have everyone flocking off to see Mercury Rev.

It also means that you have way too little time to fully enjoy the bustle and the fine catering…well, a couple of Krieks and original Belgian chips had to do the trick.

On arrival we had a short gander at Bed Rugs from Antwerpen who delivered an engaged set of songs to unfortunately not yet many in the audience. I thought their music, though well-crafted and with heart in it, was a bit all over the place but was very happy with the last song we heard, a guitar-laden psychy tune.

Little Waves @ C-Mine, Genk, 2018 - a feast of a festival
BlitzenTrapper

But then it had to be off for us, Blitzen Trapper from Portland, US, were starting their set. Americana in the purest sense garnished with typical country lyrics, in some songs not unlike The War On Drugs oeuvre, there was a very professional band who also seemed very down-to-earth and likeable. The audience was still not quite awake yet, sadly, but I think, Blitzen Trapper did not take it to heart and were enjoying their set and were way too polite to comment. I am only guessing here but given the day that was in it (warning strikes of the US, UK and France in Syria), people were probably expecting a bit of a political comment from this so very American band but Blitzen Trapper remained on neutral ground.

A short peek into Catbug‘s set on the newcomer’s stage…she was playing to a full room and entertaining with singer-songwriter compositions. Quick bite to eat and we were ready for Mick Flannery from Ireland.

Little Waves @ C-Mine, Genk, 2018 - a feast of a festival
Mick Flannery

Even though – can you ever be ready for Mick Flannery‘s bitter, bitter songs about heartbreak and hopelessness? Yes you can if they are delivered with such wit and warmth and amazing guitar and piano playing plus the stories in-between. Mick Flannery probably would not think of himself as a stage person but his performance is very compelling. Could have heard a needle drop if the girls behind would have stopped chattering (in the best possible way, about the music, but nonetheless). Mick Flannery was attending his merch stand, selling, signing and talking afterwards and came across as not only a very gifted songwriter and musician but just a normal guy which we all were very impressed with. If you can catch him on his continuing tour through Europe and the US, do!

Little Waves @ C-Mine, Genk, 2018 - a feast of a festival
This Is The Kit

I would have loved to see more of Douglas Firs from Gent in Belgium because I really like some of their more sombre songs but alas, we had to be in time for This Is The Kit who I had already missed once last year at another festival. I expected good songs, performed to a high standard but This Is The Kit’s gig left me gobsmacked, utterly gobsmacked. Those beautiful songs reach another dimension live due to the immense craftsmanship of each one in the band: Kate, Rozi, Matt and Neil. (We have Rozi Plain – please pay attention also to her fantastic solo releases on Lost Map – not in the picture, that stage is just too wide and we were too close).  Added to that their playing together in such a tight way was absolutely amazing. You could ask Kate for a song, she’d wangle it in and the band played it perfectly.

Kate’s and Rozi’s duo singing was bliss. Kate’s absolutely masterful on fingerpicking guitar, banjo and of course singing and even whistling a tune. The diverse and on the point drumming of Matt, the melodious bass of Rozi and to top it all off the guitar mavericks of Neil who was allowed to show off during the last two songs – I know….I am ranting but I am not exaggerating. The set even contained my favourites “Misunderstanding” and “Bullet Proof” and both had me in tears. The audience was oh so quiet (in a good way), so my whooping was of course making me stand out like an eejit, but hey. Kate later was at the merch stand with Ben and both were again so kind and friendly and witty. Ah, true musicians do not need to be divas, I know, but it is still very refreshing to see.

Little Waves @ C-Mine, Genk, 2018 - a feast of a festival
Mercury Rev

The Academic had started a fresh set in the standing only venue which seemed to be going down well but there we had to rush again: Mercury Rev were beckoning with a very different set. Celebrating the 20th birthday of the album Deserter’s Songs, the songs were played by Jonathan Donahue, Grasshopper and Jesse Chandler in an acoustic and intimate way with many a story told around the making of the album and the situation Mercury Rev were in at the time. Apart from this being very interesting, touching and funny at the same time – Jonathan is a great storyteller, the actual songs went straight to your heart. I barely moved through the whole set. The audience did get a good dose of electric guitar though from Grasshopper during the songs, fresh from his new Sterling Stingray!

It was amazing to see Mercury Rev live. Some might have missed the typical Mercury Rev big, embellished, dramatic performance but boy, this toned down performance certainly had me by the guts.

We finished off the evening by saying hello to the very courteous Jonathan, Grasshopper and Jesse at the merch stand (their wares were selling like hot cakes) and a short look-in to Slumberland who were entrancing with two drum kits and synthesisers.

We had a very special evening thanks to the artists we saw and heard.

Certainly want to see all of these acts again and thank you Little Waves, see you next year!

 

 

Album review: First Tiger – Dedicated

Happy New Year to you all! I know – what is it but a fracture of time that divides the new from the old in some parts of the world only. And yet, the greeting is expected and willingly given by me to all those who are more than deserving of a happy new year and who will contribute to make it one for those surrounding them – which is a great start. As always, music will play a big part in the life of those who read this. So here it comes: The first album review: First Tiger – Dedicated.

Album review: First Tiger - Dedicated

“Dedicated” was already released last year but first of all, I am nowhere finished with the First Tiger’s album – so much to discover yet and secondly, so many of you have not heard of it so far.

So, First Tiger which are Shorts (vocals, guitar), Stevie (guitar, vocals), Paddy (drums) and Iain (bass) hail from Glasgow, Scotland, and the wit, the playfulness as well as the grittiness of the city all simultaneously are contained in their debut offering. 

The ten songs featured on “Dedicated” are musically so packed with surprising hooks and turns that it will take you a while to discover it all without being pretentious. We have here, I dare say, pop songs as they should be if the grown-up customer of the record industry was ever asked for his/her opinion. Likewise the lyrics: Stories from inevitable everyday life, bitter sweet love stories, self-deprecating opinions on relationships, presented with immense humour and an unerring eye for detail.

Tracks include the quirky, rocking, slow and saddish, but behind every note and every letter, the individuality of First Tiger jumps at you.

Tracklisting:

Falling Elevator, Dedicated, Walking On Air, Smiley’s Funeral, Take Care, For Pete’s Sake, Crappy Hopes And Beat Up Cars, Not Worth The Rent, The Party’s Over, Other People’s Taste.

The debut album was mixed by Stuart McCredie (Belle & Sebastian, The Fratellis, Blue Nile) and mastered by Calum Malcolm of Linn Records.

To quote First Tiger themselves (and they are almost there):

“If there’s a missing link between Fats Waller, Jacques Brel, Radiohead, Anthony Bourdain, Prince, the Strokes and the feeling you get from Raymond Chandler novels, by god, we’re determined to find it.

There’s a lot about musicians like Duke Ellington and Fats Waller and Jacques Brel that we dig. Something about the awareness that you’re playing music to entertain. And that if you’re going to put yourself in front of folk, you should make it worth their while, not just yours.”

Now, refreshedly starting into the New Year, you just have to do three things:

Read up  a little on First Tiger in their own inimitable words here.

Listen to some of the soundbites below.

Go and see First Tiger live, that’s well worth it.

And get the album “Dedicated”, you can find it in all the usual places: Itunes, Spotify, etc.

Great Lake Swimmers @Muziekgieterij & interview

In one of the past blog posts I had posted an interview that Great Lake Swimmers‘ Tony Dekker kindly gave me and also highly recommended you to go see them on tour. And here comes more: Great Lake Swimmers gig review and interview

The three-week tour through Europe with Mary Lattimore has now come to an end and I had the opportunity (thank you Phil Klygo from weewerk!) to see them play and have another short conversation.

So, it was Friday, May 6th, one of the first warm days after a very cold spring so far and the lovely people of Maastricht do what they love best: Sitting outside, having fun and watch the world go by in their beautiful old city. Yet, quite a few people made it into the outstanding venue “Muziekgieterij” (thank you, the great people at Muziekgieterij, too) and were well rewarded:

Great Lake Swimmers had invited their friends The Fire Harvest from Utrecht who came despite it being their CD release day and treated us to a great set of slow and dark and introspective songs. Check them out!

Next up was master harp player Mary Lattimore but she will of course get her own space on this blog 🙂

Great Lake Swimmers - audience perspective
Maastricht concert May 2016

Great Lake Swimmers then entered the stage and by looking at people, I’d dare say, they entered their minds and hearts. You could hear a needle drop when the band delivered their acoustic set.  Yes, we all were still in the dark venue but somehow GLS conveyed The Great Wide Open that is so important to them, their inspiration, their essential elixir.

Tony Dekker, Bret Higgins and Erik Arnesen are accomplished multi-nstrumentalists, so if you are thinking – phew, a long acoustic set, that is going to be a tad dull, no it was by no means. At the same time the acoustic nature of the show made for a very personal atmosphere. Lovely to see and hear older songs again like old acquaintances, changed but inside the same.

The quiet sound also made it possible to really pay attention to the lyrics.

Great Lake Swimmers played a very long set and encores as well during one of which they were joined by Mary Lattimore on harp. I think most people would have had the same long-lasting effect of contemplative, calming and introspective mood after the concert as me. It was beautiful, thank you.

Before I forget, Tony Dekker kindly answered a couple more questions as well, so here goes:

Offbeat: Some people were a little worried since you only perform with part of the band on this tour.

Tony Dekker: Well, we are doing acoustic shows.

Offbeat: People seem to be very impressed that the music came across really well. Are you happy enough with how the tour is going?

Tony Dekker: Yeah, it’s great. We’ve been touring for three weeks and we have one more show and it’s been going really good. We were able to bring things back and revisit some of the back catalogue, playing songs in a little bit more quiet way and present them in a more intimate show with a three-piece band.

Offbeat: Do you find that the songs have changed over time or taken on a life of their own?

Tony Dekker: I guess so. I mean when you release a song you never know where it’s going to go, who is going to listen to it, what it is going to do. The songs always have a life of their own.

Offbeat: Do you have a musical background in your family?

Tony Dekker: No, no music in the family at all. I am the black sheep. I started out in my teens. I learned to play guitar and I was in scrappy art rock bands when I was younger. Then I started taking songwriting a little more seriously. After school I studied literature. Some of that affected my writing. It got me deeper into the writing process. I have more of a background in literature and writing than in music.

Offbeat: Are you one of the few artists who would think about the lyrics first?

Tony Dekker: Yeah, absolutely. 100 per cent.

Offbeat: That is very rare.

Tony Dekker: For a lot of the music out there at the moment the lyrics seems to be kind of an afterthought. It is more about the flavour of the week. Hopefully we are making music that will last a little longer. It is not really meant to be disposable music. A lot of the music at the moment lasts maybe a month and then it’s the next thing. Ours is not music that is meant to be like that.

Offbeat: Leonard Cohen it was, I think, who said, that his poetry does not sell or is read and that through music it becomes more approachable.

Tony Dekker: Yeah, I don’t know. It is a more direct channel. I know the quote.

Offbeat: Or maybe adding an extra layer for the atmosphere of the music?

Tony Dekker: I think songwriting is very different to poetry for sure. It is a different discipline. Some poems don’t really work as songs. And some songs don’t really read well as poems. So I think it is a different thing. But on that topic, I think, music is a more direct channel as you are really communicating with someone, you are really expressing something. There is a more direct connection when you are in room with a person sharing the same space and singing and making music in the air.

Offbeat: If you take us through your albums, how do you see your own development?

Tony Dekker: I don’t know, I think, maybe the songwriting has got a little more concise. We have gotten to be better musicians. We have evolved over the years. At the same time you could play some songs and do them with voice and guitar like on the first album and do them in the same setting and the songs still hold up. We still play songs from across our catalogue. We haven’t made the same album twice. There has been a progression with each album and I think you can hear that. It brought us to a place.
This tour is kind of a special tour where it is like reviewing our older songs. A lot of people who have been fans over the years want to hear those songs. So it’s more a tour for them.

Offbeat: Thanks very much!