Les Nuits Botanique

Les Nuits Botanique offers a unique concept in Belgium: it’s a festival (in Brussels) that lasts a fortnight and allows lots of bands to appear in one of the venue’s rooms. There’s the Orangerie (the regular room), the Rotonde (a smaller and round room) and the Chapiteau, a big tent outside of the premises, just next to the majestical gardens. Tickets are valid for one room, which keeps the festival quite cheap: on average you’ll get to see three bands for 10 to 20 euro. And occasionally, Les Nuits Botanique raises the ticket price and opens all the rooms. In 2008 they did this for the line-up of May 9. For just under 25 euros you could watch I’m From Barcelona, Chrome Hoof, Minus, Get Well Soon, We Are Scientists, Two Gallants, V.O., Of Montreal, Blood Red Shoes, Timesbold, Nestor, The Germans and Forward Russia. We didn’t need that much incentive to get our asses to Belgium’s capital. Here’s an impression.

Two years ago ¡Forward, Russia! blew me away on Pukkelpop. Their concert may have been uneven, but the only way to describe the song Thirteen was “sheer brilliance”. Thirteen was the opening track of the album Give Me A Wall, which also contained the tracks Twelve, Fifteen (part 1), Nine, Nineteen… yes, the band didn’t bother to give their songs a name, they were named chronologically. So “Thirteen”, despite being the first track of the album, was the 13th song the band ever wrote. A gimmick for sure, but not as annoying as most of them.
Two years later the band has a new album, Life Processes, and decided there’s nothing wrong with giving a name to a song. (Suppose the band wouldn’t give up that trick and would even go as far as to name their children One, Two etc.) Last.fm allowed you to listen to the album before it arrived in the stores and my first conclusion was that the album had to do without mind-blowing tracks like Thirteen. Life Processes also contains a couple of songs that didn’t need to be on the album, but the hit and miss style of Give Me A Wall at least enabled the band to come up with excellent hits.
Add to this Tom Headwood’s peculiar vocals and you can understand why ¡Forward, Russia! annoys a lot of people. For my money, as long as they can come up with the occasional brilliant track I’ll love them. Hey, despite the uneven concert I even bought a T-shirt, mainly because it’s a beautiful shirt, but also because I want to believe there’s a future for a band like this. Even if a band’s member is called Whiskas (no really). Let’s hope there will be more tracks like Thirteen that are still on your MP3-player two years after the release (don’t worry band, I legally purchase my MP3s on eMusic and 7Digital). Let’s hope they don’t always feel the need to show off (occasionally that got in the way of the concert and the quality of the vocals). But let us believe for now…

Up next: the toughest choice. Of Montreal, Blood Red Shoes or Timesbold. Since Timesbold took longer to get started, my maths told me that if I went to Blood Red Shoes first, I could still get a large slice of Timesbold afterwards (well, if Blood Red Shoes were on time). They were. On stage just two people, Laura-Mary Carter and Steven Ansell. Steven’s conversations with the public were often kept at “Merci!” and the occasional word in French even some of the francophones near me couldn’t understand. Laura-Mary had apparently made a promise to herself not to look at the audience too much. Still, they promised themselves to rock’n’roll and that’s what they did. The concert was poignant even though it never became excellent and half of the songs sounded exactly like they did on the record. So at times you could’ve just stayed at home and played the album in random order, but you wouldn’t get to see these two young people who made an album on their own terms after touring the country from tiny venue to tinier venue and who were suddenly catapulted into stardom. Well, stardom… a lot of people were still unaware of the duo’s existence. Here’s to hoping their concert at Pukkelpop later this year will change them. For now, the record convinced me more than their live performance, but what a wonderful record Box of Secrets is.

Over to Timesbold. Definitely not the best concert of this band I’d seen, but then again, their concert at the AB a couple of years ago was extraordinarily good. I’m not sure whether the band had an off-day or if it was the room that bothered them. Timesbold admit they’re not the most professional band in the world and it’s always nice to see them have another technical problem (during which Jason Merritt will tell another story, funny and/or cringe-worthy). The Rotonde is, as mentioned before, a smaller room and very much round. This makes a lot of the concerts quite intimate. I’m not sure Timesbold like being so naked, surrounded by audience. A dark room with the audience in front of them becomes them better. Nevertheless, people who didn’t know the band might have picked up on the band’s greatness even if Timesbold had to do without it. Said someone in the audience: I can believe they’re very good, just not today.

Is it a concert? Is it a talkshow? It’s We Are Scientists. Whereas Blood Red Shoes managed to utter only twelve words during the entire concert, We Are Scientists said enough between two songs to fill a complete novel. I had no idea how popular this band was until I went inside the tent. Are they good? Well, they’re certainly not bad, but I tend to prefer bands that let the music speak (rather than egos).

Which is why I let myself glide off to Two Gallants, appearing at the same time in the Orangerie. That room is a lot bigger than the Rotonde and it seemed as if Adam Stephens and Tyson Vogel felt a bit intimidated. Their Wikipedia entry labels them an indie rock band, but don’t be fooled by that: much of this concert proved the band also liked their concerts lo-fi and intimate. Add to this large technical issues on which plug needs to go where or tracks that may be classified as background music and you may understand why I felt a bit disappointed.

I confess I didn’t know Chrome Hoof, but I’ve never understood why I’m From Barcelona is so popular (especially not after last year’s concert at Pukkelpop, which a lot of people seemed to like but I hated). And some genius had decided to cancel the last train to Antwerp, so it was either hoping Chrome Hoof would be excellent enough to spend the entire night in Brussels waiting for the morning train home or going home earlier and enjoy cocktails with a couple of friends. I don’t think I need to tell you what my decision was, let’s hope the clue my review ends here is sufficient enough.

TOP 3 CONCERTS:
1. Blood Red Shoes
2. Timesbold
3. ¡Forward, Russia!

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