Singasong - Lantaren Venster, Rotterdam - March 22, 2008

"my girlfriend did buy a crepe from the man in the lobby and she assures me that the Swiss chocolate and banana crepe she had was delicious"

The Lantaren Venster is a canny wee place. A small theatre/cinema complex, hidden in a Rotterdam back street, it feels more like a youth club or, worse still, an amateur dramatic society hang out upon arrival, but once you’re through its doors and into its inner sanctums you realise very quickly that first impressions aren’t always to be relied upon. Yes, it does feel like the inside of sixth form college’s drama department – film posters on the wall and the central café/bar area branching off into square, empty box like rooms, but it’s lack of architectural beauty helps to focus your attention on what’s most important, the talent on stage, and only once the proceedings are underway do you realise that the place is absolutely perfect for these kind of events. Main bonus? You have to pass the bar on every occasion when moving from one room to another. Good for the venue. Good for the punters. Great for Incendiary.


First up were the imaginatively titled Marvin & The Sinking Ship, who hail from Germany I think, and they weren’t that bad at all for the first ten minutes, but then the adrenalin obviously wore off and the nerves kicked in, at least for Marvin -- if indeed that is the name the front lad’s parents gave him. The bass player and drummer looked bored, quite frankly, but played admirably and if you were to see these three guys in the street you’d think Marvin had hired the other two simply to ‘look after him’ in case any big noisy Dutch men shouted nasty insults. Well, we weren’t going to heckle any insults here, for the songs themselves were half decent and vocally, despite the nerves giving him a bad case of dry mouth, Marvin was on great form. Unfortunately, he kept slipping up with his guitar playing and eventually the mistakes kind of took over and things started to unravel somewhat. Still, the crowd were very polite and made the lads feel welcome.


It’s never easy to be first on at a festival, particularly if the gig starts mid way through a Sunday afternoon, as Marvin found out, but over in the other room, Ezio were suffering a similar ordeal. The other room may have been only slightly larger, but the crowd was still thin on the ground throughout the building and most of those who were there had acquired tables in the café area, so as Incendiary entered the room, it looked like Ezio were playing to an empty barn. Still, if you’ve played as many gigs as these guys have (the title of their latest album is Ten Thousand Bars, which says it all really) you’ve probably played to emptier rooms so Ezio and his friend Booga put in a solid performance.


In fact, having read about how long these guys have been going now, I’m amazed at how I’d never heard of them before, if only because I thought they were bloody marvellous. Why didn’t any of you tell me about them? Sure, I could tell there was something missing from their sound, the songs were too well constructed to feel like two guitars alone could do them full justice but even still, they were mightily impressive. Ezio is the band but it’s also the main man himself, Ezio Lunedi, a short English man who looks like a cross between Dudley Moore, Al Pacino and Johnny Marr. His sidekick is Booga, a Kenyan born giant of a man, the kind of man normally found wearing a Samoan rugby top, made all the more huge by his hair, which seemed to float upwards and outwards from his head like he’d just been plugged into to 40,000 volts.


Ezio is the work horse of the duo, playing the meat of every tune and handling vocal duties whilst Booga just adds flavour. But what flavour! Some of his guitar fills were absolutely stunning, beautiful and delicate of touch and just added to the whole gentle giant persona that surrounds him. This was a treat from start to finish and I’d absolutely love to hear these guys with a full band as I reckon it would be easy to become quite fanatical about them very quickly. Hey, you’ve got to love them, if only for the fact that, despite playing to a half empty room of what looked like Holland’s entire selection of Geography teachers, they got everyone to sing along in Scooby Doo voices, well before anybody was drunk, and if that wasn’t enough, they treated me to two of the best asides I’ve heard come from a stage in years. Number one, “This is a new song, but seems as most of you don’t know who we are that’s a fucking ridiculous statement,” and my personal favourite, “I’d like to thank you all for being, well, you’ve been a room full of people.”


Check them out, I urge you and you’ll uncover a real gem.


Next up was the very pregnant Kris Delmhorst, who played some very nice stuff. Nothing too extraordinary, I must say, but she came across well and I warmed to her more as her set developed. She did have a good story to tell though. Apparently she’d played somewhere in the arse end of Holland a few nights earlier and after a couple of songs the house PA exploded, so she ended up gathering the crowd up close to the stage and playing acoustically, without a mic, which sounded cool. Then, half way through the set the roof collapsed because of all the rain over the past week or so and water flooded in and to top it all off, she got locked into the toilet after the gig for forty five minutes and they had to unscrew the hinges off to get her out. Sadly there was nothing as exciting to report from this show. She came, she saw, she played some nice, gentle songs and then she left. Job done.


After another stop at the bar we decided to check out Marisa Nadler, who probably deserves all the good press she’s been getting and who won the smartest dresser award of the evening thanks to a beautiful red dress, but sadly she’s got one of those voices that professional singers love and that drives me up the wall. I call it the Kate Bush effect. I did speak to a few other concert goers that evening and each and every one of them told me she was one of the real highlights for them, but to be honest, you’ll have to take their word for it as all I did was runaway and go back to the bar.


Dawn Landes, however, was right up my alley. Her songs were quirky and uplifting and watching her prance about I got the impression that she really, really got a kick out of what she was doing and it wouldn’t matter a bit if we had been there or not. Her being as cute as a button didn’t hurt at all either, but I began to fall in love with her instantly because her songs are so infectious. She gave off this impression of a girl who just likes to dance around all day and enjoy life. I thought she was fantastic and I urge you to give her a chance. She’ll bring some light into your life.


As we’d stayed to watch all of Dawn’s set I missed the beginning of Foy Vance’s set and this is the one part of the night I wish could have been scheduled differently, because what I saw of him was astonishing. Using some digital trickery to loop his voice over and over, the Irishman put on a virtuoso solo performance that completely blew me away. Exceptionally strong songs dynamically and passionately performed, I only wish I could have heard more of him. Definitely one to keep your eyes and ears open for though. He had some good stories too. When he found out his missus was pregnant, “a good friend of mine told me - Just wish for a boy. With a boy you’ve got only one willy to worry about. With a girl, you’ve got everybody else’s – and I’ve been thinking about that ever since she was born.” Genius.


The main reason that we’d decided to go to this event in the first place was to see Josh Ritter, so I’m sorry to say I missed Lolly Jane Blue and Eileen Jewel, who were playing in the other room. I also didn’t bother to check out the new Todd Hayne’s film about Bob Dylan, which was playing on a loop upstairs. But my girlfriend did buy a crepe from the man in the lobby and she assures me that the Swiss chocolate and banana crepe she had was delicious so at least that’s something.


As for Josh Ritter? Well he was simply amazing. I’ve been ranting on about this giuy for the past couple of years now but this was an exceptional show. The band he’s playing with at the moment, the band that he recorded The Historical Conquests Of… with are really exceptional and at the moment, this band are on fire. I’ve heard Harrisburg (a live favourite) played a number of times, but I’d give top dollar to own the version that they played here. Strong, fierce, stretched further than you’d think the recorded version would allow, the song simply exploded with life here. I still don’t know how he can sing To The Dogs Or Whoever without passing out on stage, but damn does it make you feel good when you hear it live. I think that’s what I love Historical Conquests for, because it just sounds like the band are having a blast and, now that they’ve been playing these songs together for about a year, they’re really pushing themselves. The songs have developed from something rough and ready into something polished and absolutely intense. Take Next To The Last True Romantic for example, a song I don’t really have much time for on record, but it had me grinning from ear to ear here because it just sounded so much more alive. It may have something to do with the how-down type tempo, which suits itself to a live environment much more, but I’d like to think it’s just because this band are really on top of their game at the moment. If ever a band should record a live album, it’s this one.


Highlights? Well, the slow dance moment has to take top prize, where Josh managed to get a room full of Dutch people slow dancing like it was the last number at a high school dance was ridiculously enjoyable – especially for the lucky girl he asked to join him on stage – but to be honest, just watching the band having the time of their lives and feeling like I was having the time of mine was what was most memorable. I tell you now, this guy is the real deal. You can throw all the Dylan and Springsteen comparisons at him all you like, but I think its time we realised that we have a true world class performer emerging here. This guy ís Neil Young good, I mean it. Lowlights? He didn’t play Monster Ballads. The bastard.


Words: Damian Leslie