Pukkelpop Unlive (day 3)

Day three and the uncontrolable urge to look across the border and see how the Dutch festival Lowlands is coping. We noticed bad reviews for Santogold’s concert and found Amy McDonald’s line-up eerily similar to what we’d seen at Pukkelpop the day before (now that’s disappointing). Never mind, it’s Pukkelpop we should review, so here we go for the third and final day of the festival.

Samim & Miguel Toro (Percussions) was what it said on the tin: those two guys on percussions. Ideal for those who wanted to dance but not too much early in the morning (dance hall, 11.20), ideal for intermission music, but how the hell do you review half an hour of percussions? So early in the morning the audience decided to soak it up rather than dance it off. Not much movement in the front rows. And no, we didn’t dance either: we hurried off to the Marquee…

But first an important question: can we ceremonially sacrifice the person responsible for scheduling Lykke Li at 11.20am? Lykke Li sounded and looked even more asleep than the audience and “Dance Dance Dance” sounded nowhere near the record version we so love. Nevertheless, the crowd applauded, a sound that seemed to awake Lykke Li and her band. Vocally she wasn’t in optima forma, but she was clever enough not to demand too much of her voice. As this was one of my most anticipated concerts I did feel a bit disappointed afterwards, but to be honest, so early on a festival morning I wasn’t even awake myself. The jury gave 5.5/10 as a verdict (though the execution could’ve been a lot better, we still like the songs) and commented: “Lykke Li’s next concert in Belgium will be at 9pm. We’ll be more awake. We expect the same of her.”

Lykke Li – Dance Dance Dance
Lykke Li – I’m Good I’m Gone (special version)

The Black Box Revelation followed in Lykke Li’s footsteps and awoke everyone present with a noon portion of rock. If sports and music are indications, the brand new Belgian generation is doing more than okay. The BBR recently played a couple of concerts in America and mentioned to get noticed there. Home again, the duo were keen to show this had nothing to do with promo talk and all with talent. A tight set and if you closed your eyes, you could’ve been fooled into thinking there were more than two people on stage. Yeah, they’re young and they still need to mature, but the room for improvement we’d like to see is potentially there. Best of luck and do us proud!

The Black Box Revelation – Set Your Head on Fire

The cancellation of the 5pm act was the reason all the artists could stay in bed another extra 80 minutes. Lucky bastards. Anyway, it was half past one when the main stage finally awoke. The bad on stage were Senor Eht, which is The Rones written backwards in an attempt to be funny. Sorry, ynnuf. The Belgian boys came to the festival to promote their new album, Sinner Songs. Listening to their album preview (which you can do here), I had to think of QotSA a bit too much and the same could be said about the concert (notice a vague similarity between Josh Homme and Rones frontman Lenn Van Meeuwen). Standing in the shadows of QotSA and Nine Inch Nails (“The Bitter Taste”), The Rones are good as a pleasant ersatz for when QotSA or NIN can’t make it to the Lowlands or if you want to listen to – as Last.fm would put it – “similar artists”. Not bad, not bad.

THE RONES – Nonsense & Crackwhores

Over to the Marquee… where Black Kids (13.40) were announced as “funny fun from America”. The first song sounded like they’d forgotten the soundcheck and wanted to test their equipment live on stage. Some of their songs may have brilliant names (e.g. I’m not gonna teach your boyfriend how to dance with you), but what I saw on stage wasn’t that brilliant. It’s rock with dance, but not enough dance. Or rock. It’s pop with experiment, but nearly not enough experiment. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to listen to a Fiery Furnaces album.

The Wombats (main, 14.50) asked if the audience was ready for some serious music. Yes, and we also want to know where you hid it? The first fifteen minutes are best described as “an abomination”, later came a few improvements (i.e. “Christmas comes early”), but the concert hobbled up and down. Right now, The Wombats sound like the flavour of the month and an expiry date nearing them at a fast pace. 4/10

Five o’clock and a raised middlefinger to yesterday’s line-up as all three stages allowed the cameras to have a look at their set: the hippies went to Plain White T’s at the main stage (16.30-17.15), the rockers and punks went to see Anti-Flag at the Marquee (16.25-17.15) while Girl Talk (17.00-17.50) in the Dance Hall catered to the beautiful people. Apologies to the insulted, beginning with the hippies. As you know sound is quicker than image and so I heard of Plain White T’s before I saw them. My initial thought: oh, have the children of Creedence Clearwater Revival formed a band of their own? A thought that never went away…
Before we head over to the Marquee, let’s open a brand new can of expletives. Yes, Anti-Flag is to punk what Plain White T’s is to the flower power: a cloned band that comes at least a generation later than planned. The tattoos, hair standing up with gel, a drummer with earrings rolling with his tongue and, above all, expletives. I counted five fucks and three motherfuckers in five minutes. Hey, at least they’re still relatively young and their anger sounds a lot more sincere than The Sex Pistols (currently playing at Lowlands). No complaints here, except I’m someone who is exposed to archive footage and has seen a lot of similar acts. But for now, it’ll do.

THE PLAIN WHITE T’S – Hey There Delilah
ANTI-FLAG – Turncoat

Also on stage: the “Anti-Flag Army”. Read: five girls with black dresses who looked freshly plucked from the audience. So not unlike Girl Talk then, where Gregg Gillis had himself backed up by a dozen people he’d picked from the crowd, dancing to the beats. Girl Talk wasn’t scheduled for this stage: he should’ve appeared at the Chateau (my beloved stage) a couple of hours earlier, but since he couldn’t make his 2pm appointment he found himself rescheduled to this bigger stage. Well, it looked as if he had no trouble filling the Dance Hall. (By the way, there are a lot of people who walk straight on past the entrance gates and never look back for three days. The Dance Hall and the Boiler Room have the most persistent audience, which is a bit of a shame if you’re in one of the other tents with dance-based music… they won’t budge.) Girl Talk was there to have fun: early in his set he loop voice and beats in his computer and dived into the crowd, to dance with his audience. Girl Talk is 50 minutes of samples, some of them slower or faster, but all of it organic. With occasional moments where Gillis programmed his computer, grabbed his microphone and boosted up the crowd. A welcome change, we must say.

Girl Talk – Bounce That

It’s 7.30pm and the Marquee invites another power duo, albeit a rather different one. And, speaking of differences, Dresden Dolls didn’t even look like their usual selves: gone is the make-up, now it’s just Brian on drums and Amanda on piano. (Well, there’s still some stuff underneath Amanda’s right eye.) Formerly described by themselves as “Brechtian punk cabaret”, the duo may be less cabaret but is still every inch as much Brechtian punk as they used to be. The absolute highlight was penultimate song “Girl Anachronism” played with so much power and at such a high speed you’d think Brian and Amanda had to catch a train. With Brian signalling he was out of breath afterwards, Amanda gave him a minute to recover by addressing the crowd and informing them of the upcoming tours of Brian (as part of The World/Inferno Friendship Society) and Amanda (solo album, Who killed Amanda Palmer?, coming out soon), but then it was back to business with an adrenalin-boosted finale. Almost the best concert of the festival.

THE DRESDEN DOLLS – Night Reconnaissance

Kele Okereke only has to raise his hands in the air to get thousands of people clapping, even if it is to one of Bloc Party‘s weaker songs (the one where Kele advises his audience to cut an arm off when it annoys you). The massive applauses (which sometimes sounded like a collective orgasm) may give the band a bit too much credit for their value, but Bloc Party are good and popular.

Headlining tonight: Sigur Ros on the main stage (with an afterparty by Soulwax), Elbow in the Marquee (we didn’t see their concert, but the next day in Holland they were apparently superb) and Étienne de Crécy in the dance hall. The light effects were minimal (image 3×3 cubes lighting up in variations, with de Crécy in the middle one), but played out with maximal effect (and in alignment with the beats). Did Kraftwerk perhaps design his set? If you’re the sort of person who rates a concert based on the visual effects, this was a triumph. If not, it was still a treat. And if you like to watch cubes with light effects, it was orgasmic.

ETIENNE DE CRECY – Live performance (excerpt)

And now for the jury’s verdict… The jury decided not to end this Pukkelpop with a top ten, but with a couple of prizes:
* Best concert we watched: Mercury Rev
* Best runner-up: Dresden Dolls
* Twat of the year: the idiot with the Flaming Lips balloon at the Ting Tings concert, with the message “The Ting Tings suck” on his balloon
* Least deserved headliner: The Killers on Thursday (this, by the way, seems to be a general conclusion by reviewers and audience)
* Most out-of-place headliner: Metallica
* Worst line-up in several years: Pukkelpop 2008

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