Kelley Stoltz, William Tyler and Beginners, Tivioli Spiegel Bar, Utrecht, 23/02/14

I will really miss the Spiegel bar. It’s a place that is chockfull of atmosphere and I will bet you all a euro now that the new venue in Utrecht won’t have anything as nice or as welcoming as this space.

Utrecht is a nice town, all things considered. OK, there’s a lot of evidence of that “artisan/playing at shoppes” frippery that does get my goat, and I think people in Utrecht wash, groom and cream themselves more than any other people in Holland; (meaning about once every ten seconds) BUT it’s a nice town to saunter through. I suppose it’s better than having your streets full of loads of chicken nuggets emporia. In any case a Sunday evening spent in Utrecht is grand and grander if, like us, you were in town to see Kelley Stoltz play his brilliant new LP Double Exposure in the lovely old Tivoli’s Spiegel bar.

I will really miss the Spiegel bar. It’s a place that is chockfull of atmosphere and I will bet you all a euro now that the new venue in Utrecht won’t have anything as nice or as welcoming as this space. For sure; the new place will be and expensive and have state of the art taps in the bogs that you don’t know how to turn on, and a dance floor made of handcrafted Moraceae Tree wood, lovingly recycled from the floors of a village elder somewhere east of Sarawak (something that adds infinitesimal properties in the reverb; the sort of thing only a boring sound bloke knows about and the sort of thing that adds 5 euros to the door) AND for sure; it’ll be shite.

So yeah ....we were there in the Spiegel bar soaking up the atmosphere and looking forward to a cracking bill; not only Stoltzy but the brilliant William Tyler and Beginners! Beat that for a Sunday night out. Now, you may or may not know that Susanne Linssen of Hospital Bomber’s fame has a new band; they’re called Beginners. What you should know is that – on the evidence of this gig and the Subroutine showcase gig in Groningen recently - they are really, really fucking good. Ok, they won’t be to everyone’s taste; it’s very feminine pop music in places. But regardless, Beginners make light, fresh pop songs that possess a fair bit of steel; mainly through a solid appreciation of dynamics and rhythm. There’s a buzziness about the sound, a really pleasing raspiness about the guitars, and the two fiddles work really well together, adroitly stitching up any loose ends and also looking to turn the music on its head.  They are used like a conductor’s bow, they add tone and direction. The fiddles also stop things from getting to maudlin or droney; and I’m pleased ‘adroit’ popped up in my mind because adroit is a good – the best - word to use to describe Beginners. Even their song about Ringo Starr (i.e. being about “who’s your favourite Beatle; and no it wasn’t as bad as it sounds, and yes I know, you’d think ‘oh fucking hell not a sentimental dreamy song about the bloody fabs’...) attempted to scale the perimeter fence of Camp Twee before falling back on the charming, not bollocks side. I mean it’s damned difficult to write breezy, uplifting pop songs with a sentimental side without sounding like a right nobber, but Susanne Linssen does, because there’s a peppiness and a determination with her that stops things sounding lame. Linssen is sharp and aware and professional enough to play a show and engage her audience; many don’t. Top marks.

After the freshness of Beginners things got more reflective with William Tyler; which in retrospect was a brilliant piece of programming. It shouldn’t have been too much of a surprise as basically his last LP Impossible Truth is a masterpiece and even if he looks the most unassuming bloke on the planet (the sort of chap who’d get overlooked by staff in the cue for a burger) he sure can play guitar. Tyler took the happy, accepting mood Beginners had built up and opened the room up for another sort of psychic exploration; courtesy of some long explanations of his tracks (which turned out to be pretty melancholy reflections on the state of the world) and a patient display of guitar pyrotechnics that zapped and skittled round the walls.  There were a couple of tracks where Tyler really upped the ante adding a huge top layer of looped arpeggios that crashed and swirled over the top of the basic track  - Geography of Nowhere was one, a shimmering dry display that radiated some kind of psychic heat. Oddly enough some of the high register stuff Tyler indulged on Cadillac Desert in wasn’t that far away from the suggestive lines Charlie Burchill used to add to Simple Minds’ early works (Seeing Out the Angel for instance), especially when he started adding loop after loop to the sound. And tracks like We Can’t Go Home Again had the free, untamable feel of a John Martyn track. It was utterly brilliant.

Then a short break before Kelley Stoltz. What an evening’s entertainment; as if things couldn’t get more epic... Stoltzy started off quietly with a thoughtful if slightly subdued version of Pinecone (we later found out the gentle nature of the first few numbers were down to the band having difficulty with their monitors) and gently eased us into a the gig with I Remember You Were Wild. Easygoing it may have been but it was perfect for a Sunday evening really. In any case; Stoltz is always fun to watch, his avuncular nature and skill means that he can box himself out of any tight corners. Oh and another thing; with a Kelley Stoltz gig you’re always going to get some crazy cover versions. Roxy Music, (what did we get? I really can’t remember, was it Just Another High? I think so) and Cheap Trick (a rabble rousing version of Surrender, the only track of the ‘Trick’s I actually like) plus a snippet of the Bunnmen’s Show of Strength... something for all the family. Currently Kelley Stoltz has an ace up his sleeve his ridiculously catchy single, Kim Chee Taco Man, a track that manages to sound like a brand new track and the greatest, most ever giving Nuggets/Sergeant pastiche ever written. Apart from Keeping The Flame that is. On the night both tracks were subject to groovier, looser interpretations going over than their sparkling studio cousins. See, Stoltz can do grooves really well; he somehow manages to tack the most whimsical stuff onto a chugging, Jalopy beat and get away with it, adding a sort of brooding melancholy to the underbelly.  Are You My Love and Storms were cracking examples of this approach; thoughtful, and melancholic, for sure, but full of punch and honesty, and something the crowd picked up on and happily cut some rug to. A few encores (one of which gave us that Cheap Trick cover) and it was over; all too soon.

What a night; easy going, gentle, funny and reflective stuff for sure, but a perfect gig really. Memories are made of these nights.