The band sound tough, quietly confident onstage and seemingly attuned to being a band in whatever circumstance. In that respect they remind me of seeing the Stone Roses back in 1988-9. And it’s not too much of a risk to say they’re the best live guitar band in Holland at the moment.
The Ekko’s filling up. Various scene heads, promising bands and journalists flit about, and De Volkskrankt’s Gijsbert Kamer plays some 80’s underground classics in the deejay booth. Rats on Rafts are becoming big news even if they’re the same knockabout bunch we’ve always known. We’d gone along to the sold out Rotown show last month, and found it weird, weird in that I still don’t think I can write about it except it was an event, not a show for me. Or maybe a dumb-show of sorts… Rotown’s atmosphere is always a little heady in my experience. Utrecht’s Ekko is a great place to see gigs so given that Ger “Sax” Van Voorden is amalgamated into Rats’ live show and that legendary loon Harry Merry is supporting we toddle on down.
First on is Harry Merry who is something of a legend but a misunderstood one in his own land. Merry likes to take a super-naïve vibe and create surreal, chirpy, cheesy synth based songs a bit like Daniel Johnson, a bit like some demented kid’s programme. It’s like some incredibly camp Casio review in a working men’s club, John Shuttleworth gone mad on acid, that kind of thing. Some songs are mad as curtains on toast; Sharki Supermachine (“in the bodybuilder’s scene”) is possibly his keynote song with its weird squawky vocal pay off and strange refrain, “I’d rather be a monk”. Merry also loves to act in a slightly camp matronly way; his dance routine consists on a set of vigorous knee jerks accompanied with a giddy winning smile and a shake of his bouffant. He’s obviously a very clever bloke who’s also off his head. The cool crowd are torn between pretending to like it, liking it like it’s the second coming or running out to the bar.
Then it’s time for Rats on Rafts. Starting with that splendid slow burning new track (the one they sound checked with in Utrecht late last year) the band hints at a considerable sonic development just around the corner, seriously if the new songs will be as good and as confident as this then we’re in for a real kick up the pants. We get some old / new ones, which are forming part of their set now, which is good; Fire (soon to be released elsewhere) is a great number full of vim and passion and Emma Sofia is finally beginning to sound tough and assured, it’s jingle jangle sounds more and more like a lost Primal Scream track – and shows Rats’ other side – the one that isn’t often quoted amongst the flurry of post punk references they attract - their instant understanding of that intelligent scally / "working lad" vibe that Lee Mavers, The Loft and Bobby G in his C86 days exploited so well. The LP tracks of course get the trendies dancing (as usual the dancing girl contingent is a large one; I have this theory that it’s all because the band are the same size, just like Franz Ferdinand…)
These gigs have seen Ger Van Voordern from Kiem join them on stage. In the hullaballoo of Rotown I found the marriage between Ger & band a bit clunky but here the collaboration is hard, steely eyed and concentrated. It works brilliantly, especially on Patience and the adrenaline charged Sailor. Moneyman is a given crowd pleaser, Van Voorden has been doing this one with Rats since at least September 2010 and it shows; the sinuous rhythm section acting as a superb makeweight between the clashing guitars and the staccato bleeps and blurts of the sax. The band’s two other big beasts from the debut LP, God Is Dead and Jazz are wig outs supreme this evening, Jazz being especially thunderous, and the encore of Plastic Plaster (which is the best rip off/update of Read it In Books going) is a great way to end the night.
It’s been a long road for Rats this last year but a good one overall. The band sound tough, quietly confident onstage and seemingly attuned to being a band in whatever circumstance. In that respect they remind me of seeing the Stone Roses back in 1988-9. And it’s not too much of a risk to say they’re the best live guitar band in Holland at the moment. New horizons should be theirs to conquer soon.