Rats on Rafts and New YX Melkweg Amsterdam 3/11/2012

Maybe that’s all they needed, a chance to play a few big stages with a good, professional sound mix and some proper amplification, as the sound they made in the Melkweg’s Oude Zaal was little short of revelatory.

 

 

Tip number one for a Saturday night’s entertainment. Don’t jump from a stage in Cuban heels. Otherwise you end up painfully cycling to the emergency doctor’s surgery on a Sunday morning, being looked at with some wonder and no little scorn by the assistant carrying out the X-ray when you wincingly tell them how you came to be walking like some gout-ridden old octogenarian… There were reasons: excitement, cod- comic anger, sheer “of the moment” lunacy, but I mainly put it down to a good mix of Rats on Rafts’ head banging new set closer and a fruity concoction of unpasteurised cider and Dutch gin.

This is all to jump the gun. We don’t often get to the Melkweg these days, it has to be something good on, and sadly it was. I say sadly because this was slated as New YX’s last ever gig: a real shame as we’ve been fans of this sparky, rowdy bunch after finally falling for their charms (after the odd false start) over the course of this year. It just seemed right to go, they’ve turned into good friends and I wasn’t going to miss out. I’m sure I’d have given them a sympathetic review anyway as they have some good if at times slapdash songs; and friends or not, they don’t need me to affirm them as a talented and entertaining live act. However nothing prepared me for how good they were on their last show. To say they were tremendous is an understatement. Maybe that’s all they needed, a chance to play a few big stages with a good, professional sound mix and some proper amplification, as the sound they made in the Melkweg’s Oude Zaal was little short of revelatory.

They always had this pop edge and they always allowed the fact that they were a gang to inform their on-stage demeanour. And we always noted that these things were great and thought “well, if they can kick that up a notch…” And yet, out of nowhere it seemed; here they were -for the first 5 or so songs at least - looking and sounding like they were some ridiculously brilliant band that had just dropped into our laps waiting to lead all and sundry off to pop’s Valhalla. The rhythm section crunched, growled and visibly steamed, laying down an imperious command to dance, this was borderline disco - Kool and the Gang style. Lili’s voice was a revelation, all those subtle and languorous notes that she’d hidden away from us, long lost in the crappy two bit systems around the country. At times you could see - just by her control of a silence in a song or a phrase - what they could have been or had been, if only to themselves. The guitars as ever inspired and informed: that driving, charging and mercurial sound that was the basis of the New YX, reaching classic elements at times. It just seemed strange to think this vibrant racket was providing its most satisfying demonstration right at the end of the line. Oh, one other thing: if Líu Mottes is not going to do anything else as a guitarist in a band, then that is a fact that is downright criminal…

Things petered out by the last track a bit, the band seemed to feel that that was that, and one encore was all we got, but seriously, what a way to go out. Then it was time for Rats, fresh after their short UK tour. They are becoming tougher and tougher it seems. And visibly happier, they seem such a self-assured lot now. Starting with one of their newer tracks, their omnipotent curtain raiser, Sleep Little Child and then crashing into the Moon Is Big, you could see that near constant live work has paid off; they sound tough and hungry, all the little blips and gruffness now assimilated into a bigger and more elemental, more abstract roar of sound. More comfortable in their onstage roles as well, there’s a visible sense that what they do next could be epic: and there are signs. One of the new tracks (known as New Song for now), sounded like a slab of determined, intuitive rock that could only be summoned by a band that is grappling with the very core of their muse- it also had the feel of a tougher take on the Teardrop Explodes’ barnstormer, Reward. Even Emma Sofia sounded lean and wolf-like, the jangle subsumed by a driving beat and a rasping, tightly meshed wall of guitar textures.

You can also tell they are keen to get on with writing new material, as relentlessly playing this LP for the last year up and down Holland has left some of the old tracks in need of an MOT – God Is Dead gets a cod-reggae break down which doesn’t quite work, but I appreciate the bloody song must haunt them in their sleep. Still, Moneyman and Jazz are fabulous on the night, weaving through a whole host of sounds effects and beats, wrapping the audience up in an increasingly frenzied jig: maybe they stand up at each gig because they are perfect vehicles for experimentation, which is what the band love doing most. This looseness is something that the more poppy catchy tracks on Moon is Big can’t copy – nor should they, but if there’s a keystone to when Rats take off live, it’s when Moneyman starts up. Jazz has a coda now in the form of a long drawn out instrumental which chugs brilliantly away –a bit like a tough Feelies track – and so good is it that your correspondent decides to vault the stage after some ungainly behaviour… leading to a Sunday morning in casualty. You know they are on the verge of greatness – now it’s down to new sounds and new ears in new lands. Simply put, they need to get out of this country and conquer new places.

Afterwards, with foot visibly turning black, we party on, seeing the happy / sad faces of the New YX crowd dissolve into drink and smiles and a few tears. Sod them who didn’t care. Better to have done something in this increasingly supine world. Memories are what make us.