On the second day of Pukkelpop my To See list was drastically changed after a bad phonecall. You know the four stages of getting a bad phonecall: you get annoyed, irritated, upset and depressed. Hence I decided to not get near the two dance stages and dedicate this second day to pitchblack music.
Luckily for me, there was plenty of that available on Friday.
Black Strobe, Badly Drawn Boy, Chris Cornell, Arcade Fire, The Smashing Pumpkins, Sophia, Dinosaur Jr, UNKLE, Canser de Sei Sexy, The Black Dahlia Murder, Juliette & The Licks, James Holden, The Noisettes, Patrick Wolf, Henry Rollins, The Besnard Lakes, Mouse on Mars, irritating manager types and girls dancing to the tones of hitch-hikers being raped by the roadside… this is the review of day two.
Three years ago I had to work all day, all night and all morning. I was up for 34 hours straight, which can only be survived by drinking coffee and listening to music. The webradio I was listening to had “Italian Fireflies” by Black Strobe (dance hall, 16.40) as song of the week and played it at the beginning of every hour. For me the sign another hour had passed and (later that night) another hour was survived.
This does not stroke with the image of Ivan Smagghe, the man behind Black Strobe. He looked odd, like a gay stereotype they’d use on Arrested Development (currently shown almost every night on BBC2 after the late-night movie). And all of a sudden it feels as if you’re not listening to Black Strobe, but have been sent by a cruel man to a ill-conceived revue in a seedy part of town.
Why is it that this genre of music has singles which sound completely different from the album tracks and live versions which sound neither like the album nor the single? This was not a bad performance, nor was it good. It was different. Next time I’ll stay home and put the record on again.
No bad word about Damon Gough here: the man is born on October 2, like me and the girl behind the snackbar counter (I only know because I know her from school). We, like Gandhi and Sting (also born on that day) will stick up for each other if necessary. I passed by Badly Drawn Boy (marquee, 18.10) a couple of times. I never regretted walking by, but I didn’t feel lured into the marquee either. A bit like his music then.
I was on my way to Cansei de Ser Sexy, who were described by some papers as “brilliant fun” and by one as a “one-hit wonder”. I wonder which of the CSS hits is that one hit, because I’ve counted four. Oh, and “Let’s Make Love And Listen To Death From Above” has been used by the BBC for one of their adverts, always a good sign (as the BBC knows they’ll play that clip at least 100 times a week they choose something which you can listen to for more than fifty times).
Yes, one could retort I hadn’t seen all the bands in the dance hall, but CSS (18.10) was the first band I saw there that gave the dance hall a dance hall vibe. The kaleidoscope of lights went well together with Lovefoxx’s outfits (she wore more than one – an outrage according to the Flemish version of The Guardian, and yes, it were they who described the band as a one-hit wonder).
Okay, this ended up several points from being a terrific concert you’ll remember for the rest of your life, but the band had fun and so had the crowd.
And now our new section: mini-reviews.
– The Black Dahlia Murder (skate, 18.55): the name is better than the band.
– Flip Kowlier (marquee, 19.40): overrated and not worthy of an evening spot on the second-biggest stage
– Skream (chateau, 18.25-20.05): nice for one set, not enough to keep me thrilled for this double-length set.
– James Holden (boiler, 19.00): my spies told me good stuff, but – as mentioned in the intro and as sung by the Scissor Scissors – “I don’t feel like dancing, no dancing today”
The Noisettes (club, 19.40) were also going to be a mini-review (“It’s not good if your headware is more impressive than your songs”), but I only heard two songs, didn’t like them that much and went onwards to UNKLE. I did hear from other people that a couple of songs weren’t good, but the rest were a lot better. Not sure whether to think I just passed them during their worst part of the concert or if I’m not a fan of The Noisettes.
Then I saw them play an acoustic set for the BBC (good old television), which was better than what I’d heard in the club. So for once: no verdict passed, next!
Had I mentioned my gloomy attitude towards the day? Quite fitting then that UNKLE was playing next. That UNKLE’s music is based on electronical music is a fact. That I would classify it as music worthy of being in the dance hall is another thing. But other than the boiler room (where the attitude is “the show must always go on”) the dance hall only has an act every other hour and, above all, it dares to experiment. The Knife‘s concert there last year was quite different from the other dance hall performances, but still quite fitting of the venue. UNKLE (19.25) has music that can be very gritty. Of all the dance hall acts I’ve seen over the three days, UNKLE was the odd one out. The one you could least dance to.
I wasn’t fully gripped by what was offered, but it was an okay performance. And kudos to Pukkelpop for showing you cannot dance to all dance music.
Other things you can’t do: get inside the Wablief tent. Was it a bad decision to put Henry Rollins (19.50) on the smallest stage? Sure, who hadn’t anticipated the Full House sign would’ve been taken out for this act? My guess is they were even especially made for this performance. The Wablief stage tried out a few things this year, like adding comedy performances to Pukkelpop. Henry Rollins was the icing on that cake and Pukkelpop released a press statement saying that comedy would return in 2008. We understand that it is the sort of performance that needs to happen in a closed tent (not very funny if you can’t understand the comedian), but a bigger one might be handier.
Chris Cornell (main stage, 20.25) was the soundtrack to my dinner. The man used to be in Soundgarden and has now become a quiz question at movie quizzes: “Who performed the soundtrack to Casino Royale?” From subtop in the grunge movement to movie quiz question: if that is an honour, it’s a questionable one. I wouldn’t classify it as awful, but I would’ve preferred an encore from Soundgarden and quickly noted “the food was spicier than the music”.
And so I went to the chateau: home of the lesser known acts and a good place to hide if you don’t want to hear what’s on at the main stage. Various (20.30) used to be called Various Production and dropped half of their name. The note I made said “Various offered a bit of variety”. We will blame the food and Chris Cornell for the bad pun.
Seriously though, variety is good but some experiments will be weaker than others. The same could be said of the Various concert: occasionally good, occasionally not.
And worse: I actually had to look up what Various sounded like again when I was writing this up. Fame, as they say, can be fleeting but remembering is essential. I’m not saying there isn’t any potential (there definitely is), I’m just saying Various isn’t in my hard drive yet.
Patrick Wolf (club, 21.30) is in my hard drive as is Robin Proper-Sheppard (classified as Sophia). I know choices have to be made as who’ll play when and where, but this was a clash Pukkelpop should’ve avoided. As they didn’t, it became a tough decision. Anyway, as we felt used by the Wolf Team a couple of years ago and as we’d seen Patrick four times and Sophia only twice, the decision was easily made in my case.
However, the marquee has an obnoxious audience: I was standing behind a couple, both looking like the sort of managers one would avoid in your professional life, let alone on a festival. Evidently, they were looking for a friend and – rather than meeting her at a point one can easily find each other – stayed put in the middle of a crowd. Of course one can do this if the entire world evolves around you. It doesn’t matter that you’re 1m95 and annoying the hell out of all the people in the next twenty rows and that you’ll never find a friend in such a mass of people: eventually the world will face that you are the most important person in the world and everyone will bow to you.
Deciding not to have my Sophia concert ruined by a bunch of assholes I decided to listen to the rest of the concert on the other side of the marquee. I took a really big detour and checked how Patrick was doing: fine, evidently. The club was completely filled and Patrick was all over the stage. Literally, I mean. I caught four songs and it looked as if Patrick was going through his entire catalogue. The first song I heard was a pumped-up version of “The Childcatcher”, with Patrick and many people in the audience dancing to the music (ever listened to the lyrics?). A bunch of teen girls were dancing as alluringly as they could to the next song, which was “Tristan”. A song that features a teenage hitch-hiking girl bound, gagged and raped on the roadside. It looks as if Patrick Wolf is performing a next stage of his own exorcism: he is now using the songs he made earlier and giving them a more glamorous look. No problem with that, but I do think it is strange to see people dancing with joy to the beat of children being abused by a childcatcher.
But – let there be no misunderstanding – Patrick Wolf deserves every inch of success he gets. And more.
Robin Proper-Sheppard can’t be accused of making dance versions of his music. But he had promised his fans he would do something special for the Pukkelpop festival. He’d brought the string quartet we’d seen last time he played at the festival. This time he had decided to leave all the rock instruments home and called in the help of some friends, like Malcolm Middleton (talented and underrated, according to Sophia). Robin told the crowd he had been nervous about this gig, sleeping only five minutes that night and rehearsing for hours with a Belgian friend. He had asked her for the background vocals, but she was also welcome to turn a couple of songs (incl. “Oh My Love”) into duets. Annoying manager types aside, Sophia succeeded in turning a large marquee into an intimate living-room. All praise to Sophia.
No praise by the way to the Flemish version of The Guardian: they’d confronted Patrick Wolf with his quote of qutting the music scene later this year. A moment of weakness early in the year is how Patrick Wolf has since described this at least a dozen of times, but apparently the journalist in question never picked up on the 50 press statements telling us not to believe the earlier one message. (Become a journalist, you’ll be paid to suck!) The rest of the interview was equally annoying (genre “So Patrick, tell us why you’re such a weird guy?”). If this sparked Patrick to go from tired before the concert to fully energetic during the concert, we really should send in more journalists to festivals. Anger is still a good motivation.
I do not trust Juliette Lewis. I’d seen her before and Pukkelpop and it was dreadful. A friend went to a later concert and hated it equally. I was not looking forward to Juliette & The Licks (skate stage, 22.25). This concert was better than what I’d seen before, but breaking your arm is also better than having your arm amputated.
So onto the main stage: The Arcade Fire (main, 22.25). I’d seen them before: it started okay, but then grew into something that was so thrilling you’d started watching it with your mouth wide open. This concert was similar, but it took me longer to become flabbergasted. It was a good concert, but not the wonderful experience I’d have hoped it to be. Can one be disappointed after a very good concert? Yes, if you’re spoilt. Or yes, if you’d just seen The Arcade Fire doing a very good but not excellent show. (A week later, at Reading and Leeds, the BBC showed some footage of their concert there and it had the magic I’d badly wanted to see at Pukkelpop.) So are we complaining about a 8.5/10 show? And where was “Guns of Brixton”? We’re spoilt, I tell you, spoilt!
And speaking of spoilt, next up was Dinosaur Jr (marquee, 23.30). Deafening and just too good for their own good. J Mascis had been spotted by the Flemish version of the Guardian as “attending the CSS concert for a short while but not liking it and leaving it”. How could they know this? Mascis was a complete blank during Dinosaur Jr’s concert, maybe he wanted to get some food. All I’m saying is: 1) some journalists suck and 2) it is not possible to tell how J Mascis is feeling just by looking at him. And ain’t it weird to see Lou Barlow stuck in the role of the talkative one?
As for the concert: after ruining two amplifiers during the early stage of the gig, Dinosaur Jr did not cave in. A few songs later the concert was briefly halted because Murph broke the snare drum. “We are cursed, Pukkelpop, we are cursed,” Barlow mumbled before starting a mantra, “we have broken the snare drum, we have but one.” Having only one snare drum may be a problem but the Pukkelpop crew managed to find one backstage and, only minutes later, Murph was okay again, Barlow started rocking again and Mascis started another song without having said a single word.
With Patrick Wolf, Sophia and Arcade Fire billed on the same day I thought Dinosaur Jr and Von Südenfed would be the subtop and one of those first three acts would be the best concert of the day but Mascis, Barlow and Murph outshone the rest.
I would’ve loved to see a bit of Groove Armada, but The Besnard Lakes (23.50, chateau) hadn’t arrived in time for their 3pm gig and the entire festival was slightly rescheduled to fit in the band later that night. As Von Südenfed had cancelled their gig, the replacing band Mouse on Mars (so really, what you’re saying is that Mark E. Smith couldn’t make it) were asked to start half an hour later (and cut the concert ten minutes shorter), so The Besnard Lakes could do their set. Mouse on Mars obliged and The Besnard Lakes hit the stage.
As is always the case, despite all the signs on the festival not everyone sees these frantic reschedulings and so the chateau was far from full during the concert. The band was pleased there were still people who had found them on this extra spot and gave it their best shot. Most of it was indeed pretty good and The Besnard Lakes occasionally sounds like Low (try listening to “And You Lie To Me”). That’s a reference and a compliment.
No compliment for Smashing Pumpkins (main, 00.30). I myself spent some time talking to the girl I knew from school (thereby upsetting some people who wanted their fried sausage a.s.a.p.) and Billy Corgan became background music. Not that the music was good enough to be anything better. Oh, it wasn’t bad, but these were Smashing Pumpkins. I’d seen them before years ago, probably on the same grounds, but with James Iha and D’arcy Wretzky. None of the songs really shone and the concert sounded as if the band had been on hold for many years. Iha and D’arcy were truly missed.
Not missed that much: Mark E. Smith. Mister Smith (whom you should know from The Fall) and Mouse on Mars are Von Südenfed. No Mark E. Smith meant Mouse on Mars (chateau, 01.00) would do it without him.
I’d assumed the two Germans would feel a bit guilty there was no promised Von Südenfed concert and would do their utmost best to entertain the audience without the missing member. I wasn’t far off.
Would you believe they managed to make “Actionist Respoke” even more fucked-up than it is on the record? Nevertheless, as freaky as it was now, it sounded good and made lots of people dance. This, probably one of their better known tracks, was played early in the set, perhaps as a sign that – while we wouldn’t get to see the highly anticipated clash between Smith and Mouse on Mars – you would not be disappointed you were spending your last hour of Friday’s line-up in the chateau. And you know what, they kept their promise.
And as Mouse on Mars left the stage and we the chateau, we heard Billy Corgan in the background and found out we’d done the right thing by going to watch Mouse on Mars. Friday night was over, two days down and one more to go. Tool, Sonic Youth and Nine Inch Nails were the headliners of the final day. Would they manage to outshine Friday’s line-up? Would there be any new artists who’d leave a lasting impression?
All we can say now is: (to be continued)
P.S. You can reread our coverage of day 1 here.