So here I am, feeding text into the internet. At home and not at the Pukkelpop festival where day 1 is taking place right now. The result of being unable to go on day three, rabidly hating day two with Metallica as headliners and weirdness surrounding the ticket sales for day one (see also this article). Never mind, my internet provider allows me to follow some of the concerts from the three biggest stages. Well, provided the artists allow them to stream the concerts (or even, occasionally, keep them online for a couple of months). In a way, it’s a sign of who the nice people are. Some fans just can’t make it and would settle for watching a concert online, even if this doesn’t have the wonderful feeling of watching it live in the fields. So this year, instead of Pukkelpop live, it’s watching the good artists online. Let’s call it Pukkelpop Unlive and let’s start with a picture of a band I sadly couldn’t watch (as they’re the headliners in the Club, which has to do without big screens and thus no feed for the provider): The Ting Tings.
No problem waking up today: if the loudness of Triggerfinger didn’t open your eyes or Die! Die! Die! over at the marquee, there was the aggressive electronica of The Shoes (dance hall, 11.25). I didn’t know them by name, but apparently I did know their song “AMERICA”. Loud and agressive beats, this French duo managed to wake up the crowd (or the small crowd that was awake and present) from the word ‘go’. One of the duo wore a hoodie and sunglasses. Erm, I’m sorry to disturb you, but you’re inside a tent. Why the sunglasses? Anyway, nothing exceptional, but great to wake up to.
Which bring us to Die! Die! Die! (marquee, 11.20) from New Zealand. They got stuck on a ferry for “hours and hours and hours”, but finally made it to Belgium, which they thought was beautiful. The singer wore a Bob Marley T-shirt (the other two wore real shirts). It took him just one minute to dive into the front rows of the audience, then jump back on stage and roll over the stage. Within three minutes guitars were held near the amplifiers to create feedback. One member jumped on top of the amplifiers. One song was brand new and had never been played before. I missed Ikara Colt and Mclusky.
Belgian Triggerfinger (main stage, 11.55) may pass as a loud guitar band, but compared to Die! Die! Die! and The Shoes their first songs sounded quite soft. Five minutes later the band sounded more awake. Or maybe they were overwhelmed by the large crowd in front of them. Hell, it was only noon and the main stage was more than half full. Yes, the band’s greasy hair matched their dirty rock (and yes, someone felt the need to wear sunglasses – which sun did he see?). I don’t like watching this band because the image overpowers the music and standing with your back to the stage just looks odd on a festival. Good thing we also bring a book. In three words: dirty, loud, okay.
Triggerfinger were the first band to allow their concert to be shown on demand (only for the clients of the provider, but available for a couple of weeks). The first band to deny even a simple streaming: Midnight Juggernauts. Never heard of them and thanks to them we’ll keep it that way.
Because I didn’t know The Subways either (main, 13.00) but they were available on demand, so we can give you a review. He has a guitar strapped to his bare chest and a couple of tattoos on his belly. She wears a bass over her top with some glitter, tight pants and pink shoes. There’s also a drummer in the background. They jump up and down on their music as if they’re intent to destroy the stage. People have compared them to Blood Red Shoes, which is unfair given that The Subways consist of three people and have been around longer (they already played Dutch festivals in 2004 and 2005, during which they were described as “still missing their own voice”). Another things, whereas Blood Red Shoes don’t go for crowd interaction (well, not during their last Belgian gig anyway), the Subways singer managed to whip up the crowd: “This may be our last song,” he said halfway during the gig, “but we’ll play it twice as long. And this is the chance for you, my side of the audience, to show them you’re as fucking good as the other side of the audience which went crazy during that last song.” Or by having screaming contests between the left and right side of the audience. Which, sadly, lasted more than two minutes. Heck, I can fill concerts like that too. Still, they managed to thank the crowd in Dutch (“Dank u, Pukkelpop!”) and the first part of the concert was okay. I mean the first ten minutes, that wasn’t a screaming match. Odd, I didn’t have any expectations when The Subways kicked off, found myself pleasantly surprised after two songs and hideously disappointed at the end. Mood swings à gogo.
In this day and age, it looks almost retro to see a girl on stage with a guitar, a backing band and a little chat with the audience between her songs. The name is Amy MacDonald (main, 14.30) and her concert at Pukkelpop came at the right moment: MacDonald received a golden record at the festival. A lot of people who were responsible for that happened to be in the audience, it seems. And they danced and cheered throughout the concert. To be honest, I don’t understand what’s so special about MacDonald: you hear she’s successful thanks to the hype of girls with acoustic guitars. I like to disagree, mainly because it’s misogynist (you rarely hear that about male guitar bands) and because she sounds different from Adele, Duffy or Kate Nash (who played her first Belgian concert at Pukkelpop last year, in one of the smallest tents at 4pm – oh, how the times have changed). If comparisons must be made, I suggest Amy is the girl with the guitar who is for 2008 what Texas were twenty years ago. Like Texas, MacDonald can offer a welcome breeze if you’ve heard enough loudness for a while.
And yes, her concert worked itself towards a climax with a cover of “Dancing in the Dark” (okay) and her gigantic hit “This is the Life” glued together to “Let’s Start A Band”. In Amy’s words: “Give me a stage and I’ll be your rock’n’roll queen”. But also: “Give me a festival and I’ll be your Glastonbury star”. She could’ve turned that name into Pukkelpop and become the festival’s queen, but she didn’t, so she wasn’t. But hey, is there a better way to end a successful concert than by the suggestion “Let’s Start A Band”? The crowd may have loved her, I’m not sure they’ll still remember her in ten years. But for now, it’ll do and there’s no real reason to hate Amy MacDonald.
Another immensely hyped name: Santogold (dance hall, 15.15) and here’s someone who had to win me over. I’ve only been occasionally exposed to Santogold, but never got rid of my initial opinion. Which is “M.I.A. Lite”. Santagold now played the same stage on the same day M.I.A. did last year (albeit at 9pm) and you may remember we were gravely disappointed by M.I.A. So Santogold, this may be your moment to prove me wrong…
The verdict: the concert was a bit uneven. Sometimes I liked Santogold’s backing band better than the artist (when she sounded louder and/or crassier than her songs). On the other hand, “Shove it” sounded better than on the record. And truth be told, in the second half of the concert Santogold shouted a couple of times she was having a wonderful time. Which is often said by artists (even if they’re not serious), but the second half sounded tighter and better organized, so we’re willing to believe it for once. Alright, “M.I.A. lite” may not have been a good description, but I still would choose a M.I.A. record over a Santogold record, even if M.I.A.’s concert was one of the biggest disappointments last year. And if we’re comparing this year’s artists to those of twenty years ago: Santogold’s ladies who provided the backing vocals and dance steps looked as if they’d espaced from Salt’n’Pepa through a time loop.
Normally Danko Jones (main, 16.00) would’ve been when I had my lunch, so I cooked some spaghetti to get through during the concert. Make no mistake, Danko Jones are loud and will absorb energy (even if you’re just sitting at home). Danko introduced themselves as rock’n’roll for rock’n’rollers and asked the rock’n’rollers in the audience to raise their hands. Not content, he asked the people who didn’t raise their hands because they were already hungover even if this was just the first day to raise their hands too. Then he ordered the cameras to swing towards the guy in the crowd with a message. The text read: “Danko, I kiss on the first date.” (based on a Danko Jones lyric) Me too, Danko replied, but not dudes. And then it was back to the good mothership Rock’n’Roll. Danko Jones pleases the crowd and crowds please Danko Jones. No surprises, just rock. Nice. (Later in the concert Danko even ordered the cameras to two girls in the audience who, when shown next to each other, had the message “We Fuck On The First Date” on their chests. Danko applauded, but booed another girl, with the message “I Fart on the First Date” on her shirt.)
Sadly, Danko’s annual question whether the crowd like “this” (plays some rock) or “this” (plays some lo-fi, hippie style) annoys me terribly. Mainly for reasons mentioned in the previous article (some fan of loud music once disturbed a lo-fi concert by shouting “Bo-ring!” and then walking out). Sure, Danko Jones wasn’t playing that year, so they have nothing to do with it, but it’s that attitude I hate. Even from good rockers like Danko Jones. Which I why I left the main stage after that message. Looking for some hippie music.
The next act on the main stage didn’t allow their concert to be shown over the internet. The name is Serj Tankian and if that rings a bell, you know more than me. (But don’t get excited, I can name twenty acts that should’ve been on Pukkelpop but you may never have heard of.) I did see interviews with Serj and Infadels, another hyped band that didn’t allow streaming. Everyone tried to look cool. Noone had anything to say. Or show, apparently. Both of them could learn a lesson from someone who had no problem catering to fans who couldn’t make it to the festival: Tricky (dance, 18.30). Just when articles were mentioning how none of the nineties bands Tricky was often compared to (to his extreme annoyance) seemed to be around any longer, we were treated to new albums by Portishead and Underworld. And yes, Tricky released another album too. The man is still troubled by his soul and the happiness he found in real life and on his previous album seemed to have vanished. The new Tricky is so dark putting him in the dance hall didn’t seem the best decision. Those who came to dance may have been disappointed, but as a concert Tricky and his female vocals gave a good concert. Dark, brooding, mesmerizing, haunting. Who’s happy now?
Over on the main stage: Dropkick Murphys (19.00). Again. Good, more artists sound the same every time they’re playing, but there’s really no point spending some words on this band. Let me just refer to their previous passages. And if i didn’t mention them that year either, my thoughts haven’t been altered.
Which brings us to Ian Brown (marquee, 19.50). Do you know how it feels to go to a party and be the only one who isn’t drunk or on drugs? That’s what it was like to watch this Ian Brown concert. That, plus my occasional desire to poke him with a stick to see if he was still awake.
My site sucks, said someone to me a couple of months ago. The reason? I’d been negative about Editors. So here we go again: the Editors are back and managed to go from the late afternoon to 20.45 on the main stage. Did I like them better? Yes. Here’s my problem with the band: during their softer songs the band tends to get too mellow. Editors are at their best when louder and/or angrier (i.e. the singer banging on the piano). I wonder if my site has now become mediocre.
Mercury Rev managed to win me over before the concert started. How? The band had brought some wonderful visuals with them, complete with videoclips (Opus 40’s video played during Opus 40) and slogans (“Are you a hologram?”). But before the show the band showed part of a movie, the cult classic Daisies. The ballroom scene of Daisies finished, the band let us know via text “The show is about to begin” and yes, it did. Now Mercury Rev is one of those bands I can’t decide how much I like them. They’ve made classic tracks like “Goddess on a hiway”, tracks that are both hauntingly beautiful and incredibly annoying like “Opus 40” and some songs I dislike so much I willingly fail to remember their titles, mostly songs where Jonathan seems mostly keen to show how high he can sing (is the track called “Dreams”?).
Now was it Daisies giving me a good mood or were Mercury Rev just brilliant? We’ll settle for the latter, mainly because at one point we saw band members laughing to each other. The smile you have when you know it’s good. “Opus 40” started as “Opus 40” (with the video on the background) but mesmerized itself into a cover of the Talking Heads classic “Once in a Lifetime”, complete with adapted lyrics (“And you might say to yourself, this is not my beautiful Belgian wife”) and turned into a rock song (odd to hear, but good). Speaking of good, this was not my first Rev concert, but this was the first time there wasn’t a single track I disliked. Not even the songs I generally hate.
And then a match lit up on screen, a quote told us to “Follow our bliss” and the Rev burst loose with a song from their forthcoming album, Snowflake Midnight. Odd to close a concert with a song that’s not even out yet, but it rocked like not many Mercury Rev songs manage to do. Incredibly pleased the band left the stage, having raised the bar so much higher for all the upcoming bands.
No feed from Roisin Murphy (main, 22.45) or The Flaming Lips, the latter being the band that were headlining in the Marquee (23.45). This was one of the problems of this line-up: none of the headliners were worthy of being called that. If you’d give a music lover the line-up, you might expect the response: “Great, but who are the headliners?” Erm, them. Them? Really? Yep, them. The biggest name on the festival today was – allegedly – The Killers (main, 00.50), makers of that one song I like, but can’t remember the title and many others I find less good. On top of that, the band were amongst the first to forbid the streaming of their concert. Here’s a little anecdote: the weekend before Pukkelpop the same crew organize a festival for music lovers over 50. The headliner was one Paul Anka, who had no problem with his concert being shown to those who couldn’t make it. As a bonus gesture, the concert was also broadcast in 12 resthomes. Many of whom could remember Paul Anka from long long ago. There was only one person who didn’t allow the transmission of his concert and that was some upcoming Dutch twat, who claims being socially aware. (Apart from old people then, they can sod off.) The no-go of The Killers is similar: they should be happy to be scheduled so late, they don’t deserve that bright spot. But that’s how it goes with pompous gits who are overhyped.
Headlining in the dance hall (00.35): them again. The main reason I know the Stereo MCs is because they were at a festival and so was I. They’ve aged, but the concert still sounded and looked like it did before. I don’t know if it is because I’m not a big fan of their music, but I’ve always found them sound formulaic. Anyway, their official site (read: a direct link to their MySpace) informed us of how much they remembered their previous visits. Apparently they were performing at the Pukklepop Festvial. Anyway, it looked as if a lot of people at the vial had made the effort to come and watch them, even if their audience looked a bit older than the audience we’d seen at the other concerts today. Let’s assume the young kids were watching The Killers. Silly people. (Speaking of which, had I obtained a ticket, you wouldn’t have heard me talking about the Stereo MCs either: I’d have gone to the Chateau for Holy Fuck. Are they good? Don’t know, but the couple of songs I’d heard made me crave for more.)
“Are you gonna bring the noise?” the singer of Stereo MCs whipped up the crowd. Several times. Here’s my thing: if a concert is good, the audience will automatically bring some noise. I’m not a big fan of bands who feel the need to whip out crowds just because they’re on a stage. No, give a good performance and the rest will follow. For some proof: after another intervention about how they’d like the people to respond to their music, they played the song “Get On It” with lots of energy. Result: good vibes from the crowd. After a while the formula was back and the singer felt the need again to ask for some noise. Technically, a yawn is a noise too.
And so the first day of Pukkelpop Unlive. No real discoveries (I guess Die! Die! Die! was the okayest of the bands I didn’t know), one great concert (Mercury Rev) and a couple of nice concerts. Here’s my top three:
1. MERCURY REV
3. AMY MACDONALD
5. THE SHOES (or Editors)
(to be continued – the next review will go online in a couple of days.)