"Sea Power were first up, shambling on stage bedecked in duffel coats, looking for all the world like a load of 1980s council house kids going on a bus trip to Bury. "
Motel Mozaique, TENT, Nighttown & Schowburg Rotterdam – Saturday 16/04/05.
Right, just one word before I start. Next year, can Nighttown's doormen please ensure that we don't die of suffocation or boredom whilst moving between halls. I know it is a difficult task to look after a huge crowd of sweating and drunk gig-goers, but, when there is an opportunity for staff to open a door to let people in and out, could it be taken? Or even better, could we move to a bigger venue (what was wrong with hosting the entire thing at the Rotterdamse Schouwberg where the open foyer meant that people could groove away in a nice atmosphere and feel that they were participating in something special?) Nope, Nighttown events usually make you feel that you're just groovy cattle being herded around. Still, it was full because the line up was so good so I can't complain really.
Earlier in the day, we sauntered down to TENT to see acoustic sessions by Gruff Rhys and British Sea Power. Sea Power were first up, shambling on stage bedecked in duffel coats, looking for all the world like a load of 1980s council house kids going on a bus trip to Bury. Things went wrong soon after It Ended on an Oily Stage when there were 'technical difficulties' that were not helped by Hamilton breaking a string. A jam of sorts started that developed into Julian Cope's epic Out of my Mind on Dope and Speed, a song choice that bemused the audience somewhat. More apologies followed (which could be coded as death threats to the sound guy). Hamilton tried manfully to do How Will I Find My Way Home? but gave up the ghost and decided that he wasn't doing any more. So he sat by the side of the stage, soon to be followed by the rest of the band. End of session, then.
Next was Gruff Rhys, who had earlier been wandering round in a very colourful bobble hat looking amiably at the celebrity photos in the gallery. Gruff made us all fell at home by recreating the sound of a forest using some strange contraptions that made bird noises and a delay pedal. A Determined version of E-Pint followed, capped by a brilliant version of Mwyng. A song who's name escapes me followed (shit, someone help me out here, the one he played at the Paradiso, and it's a new song, oh never mind) which, despite my amnesia, registers itself as brilliant. Great gig and what a taster for later.
We had time for drinks before the evening's mosh. Drinks were liberally taken and food was disposed of in the proper manner. Right, off to Nighttown and the media glamour puss brigade...
Yep, it's crowded, as one would expect. Get to the bar pronto....
First up was Jackman who played very, ahem, angular, jerky, riff-strewn pop. (And he had '60s hipsters on, so he was very serious in his vocation). Actually, I'm being kind. For the first five songs this trio of drums, acoustic guitar and double bass played music that was either the most tuneless I have ever heard, or the connection between my ears and my brain had been taken over by a tribe of music hating ants, determined to wreak havoc and turn me off reviewing for ever. We decided to leave, just as he got good, knocking out two classic '60s style RnB tracks which had real verve and flavour. Tip, don't let them ants infiltrate yer ears....
The melancholy organ chords can mean only one thing, its British Sea Power time. No adornments, just sparse blue lighting and blam, straight into It Ended on an Oily Stage. You are suddenly struck that there's an assurance about the band nowadays that doesn't really need the plastic birds. Nope, this lot are on their way to being epic. Mark my words, they are on the verge of legendary, no longer to be smugly talked about by the quickly bored meeja cognoscenti and rabid fan base.
A great opening quartet by the way, Oily Stage was usurped by a fucking vicious version of Remember Me, which was blown away by a righteous Larson B (a cheeky contender for the national anthem, this song) only for that to be put in its place by Please Stand Up/North Hanging Rock, their best song(s) to date. As guitar bands go I don't think I've witnessed such an opening since the Bunnymen smashed out four tracks off Heaven Up Here at Manchester Free Trade Hall in January 1988 (sorry, no more old git reminiscences). Other highlights were How Will I Ever Find my Way Home?, Hamilton's bonkers paean to... (rambling? commuting?) and Apologies to Insect Life which was just mental and showed that the band have a dark and deranged counterbalance to the elegaic new material.
My Sweet Carrion was also displayed in all its glory and of course, the set ended on Lately.. that was utterly off its head and in true Sea Power tradition (climbing, strange jumping, wrestling actions and a psychotic manner of scarf tying not seen since the Funny Wonder went out of print [which, incidentally, for the benefit of younger readers, was about 1925]). Marvellous.
Due to crowds, we couldn't even get close to Gruff Rhys's second set, contenting ourselves with listening to one song whilst being irrevocably propelled towards the door. Sorry Gruff, I've heard that your set, as usual, was fucking ace. We decided it would be better to miss Doves (sorry, crowds again) and get to Nancy Sinatra quickly or we would be crushed underfoot.
Ah the Schouwburg... 'twas a veritable oasis, beautifully lit, groovy, pleasant. All that and easy bar access meant things took a turn for the better. This was no longer a media circus, this was an event. Expectations were high for Nancy Sinatra was in town.
Richard Hawley was finishing his set on the other stage. Yet again due to overlapping times and crowds, we missed a gig, sorry Richard...
The one minor bummer was that drinks were not allowed in the auditorium, so we found ourselves necking our booze in a somewhat hasty manner in order to get to the front. Nancy is a petite lady and I've got poor eyesight, so you can forgive me, I feel. After what seemed an eternity the lights went down and the band appeared, (replete with brass and strings), busying themselves with setting the stage for Ms S. On she glided, leaving stardust in her wake, surrounded by a peculiar light blue aura only really famous people, (or really notorious people) seem to possess. And no, I wasn't that pissed.
The set, starting quietly with Bang Bang included all yer fave Nancy toons, old and new, which the audience either sang or nodded along to. A note about the audience wouldn't go amiss here; it was surprisingly suburban, with a generous smattering of what seemed to be tennis instructors in their early fifties. Well preserved men, with a hint of the Cliff Richards about them. I was expecting a few more transvestites to be present, after all, Nancy Sinatra is the Queen of Camp. Only one was spotted the whole night, and that one was dragged on stage by Nancy who, murmuring in her most regal voice, "c'mon, honey, lets sing this one together", led the wannabe Nancy round the front of the stage in a version of Sugar Time.
A note is also needed about the band, Nancy's Boys, who would obviously peel grapes for their headmistress given half the chance. Big show bands (or bands who are assembled to work with a major star) seem to automatically possess characters who take delight in playing up to a stereotyped image. Thus this evening we had a bad-boy guitarist, who was dressed up like Billy Fury, (but melted when Ms S asked him to do a solo) a sensitive, a besuited, bald headed guitarist (the bear like, reformed rocker figure, who has a heart of soul) the professorial keyboardist and the crazy drummer, (who turned out to be Clem Burke from Blondie). The brass section were a Dutch group hired out for the evening, whose names Nancy forgot - normally a cardinal sin you would think, but not, it seemed, for Ms S, who redeemed herself with a most endearing on-stage question - "Guys, you've got to help me here, what are you called again?" To which question most of these stately, professional men gushingly and schoolboyishly provided an answer.
Although Nancy Sinatra was geniality itself, there were moments during the gig when you were reminded just who she is. A selection of clips from her old films were played behind the band on the big screen, concentrating mainly of scenes where she played alongside her dad, and one especialy memorable one when she was involved in a fleeting on screen amour with Elvis Presley. Yep, Nancy snogging Elvis, who, (she confided to the audience), was "real nice".
There was also a weird moment when Frank's voice appeared in a beyond the grave duet of Somethin' Stupid. An odd moment, the essential strangeness of which wasn't wholly dissolved by Nancy's touching lament about missing her dad. Still, apart from that, we had everything, including an appearance from Richard Hawley, who came on to support Nancy in some of the tunes from the splendid new album, most notably the Morrissey-penned Let Me Kiss You, which is her most memorable song for years. Oh, and yes, we got Boots which went on for ever,and about nine encores. Fabulous entertainment in the old style.
After that it was back to Nighttown, where we made the classic mistake of not being patient enough to cue for an hour go downstairs to watch Nid and Sancy, (crowds and doormen thwarted us again), 'ontenting'ourselves with cueing for twenty minutes in order to witness Millionaire who were very loud. In fact deafening. And Gothic in a way that Belgians can be. Luckily we spotted our chums Noble and Hamilton from British Sea Power, whom we squeezed towards, deciding that there was safety in numbers when confronted by the sound of a Gothic Gotterdamerung. "They are quite hard to categorize, really", whispered Noble, who seemed confused and slightly deaf. "They don't seem to be quite the sum of their parts" (which, incidentally is possibly the most gentlemanly way you could think of of saying that you don't like something.) Hamilton contented himself in staring balefully at the band, shifting uneasily in his duffel coat as wave after wave of shattering noise broke on the audience. After the Sea Power had said goodnight (doubtless hiding in their bus from the predicted encore), I encountered a girl fan of Millionaire, who seemed utterly off her head, but claimed, on the contrary, that no she wasn't, this is how she always was and weren't they brilliant live? And other streams of meaningless patter, all accompanied by a hare brained stare replete with eyes that rolled round and round, like marbles in a saucer. Is that your reward if you are a fan of Millionaire?
We made our escape through the fire exit and luckily bumped into Gruff Rhys and Guto Pryce. Gruff, as genial as ever, was chatting to all and sundry about Nancy Sinatra. "Great gig wasn't it? I was, erm, a bit freaked by the duet with Frank on Something Stupid" So were we mate. Talk then went on to other stuff, such as football, books and a recommendation of an album that Gruff reckons is his favourite of all time, which I have forgotten the name of, despite his repeatedly telling me. All I know is that it was recorded in 1994. Gruff and Guto were shepherded out by their manager and we decided it had been a long enough day.
To sum up? Well, a great night definately, a great line up too, but just that one quibble about the crowded nature of the event. Still, if you didn't go, more fools you.
Words: Richard Foster