zondag 20 augustus 2017

Strand of Oaks live. Tivoli Vredenburg, Utrecht 18 August 2017

The support finished playing, took of its gear and five men enter the stage and get their stuff together. It's Strand of Oaks. Some intricate sounds between the two guitarists are exchanged and they leave the stage again. Everything set to their liking, with no one from the outside interfering. A fairly rare sight nowadays. Not so long ago I saw two roadies mixing drinks for band members on stage. Here there was one man, laying out the setlist, distributing water bottles.

Again I had to go up all the way for a show in Tivoli Vredenburg. Flights of stairs that seem to have no end. Each time I'm there it surprises me how high up one can go in the building. The room itself appears to be somehow floating underneath the roof. The way there is so open, that it seems like nothing could be supporting the structure high up.

Strand of Oaks has featured a few times on this blog. At least three albums have been reviewed over the past years, so when 'Oor' offered a free ticket I knew it was time to go and see the band live.

The show started with my favourite song from the 'Heal' album. 'JM' is this Neil Young sort of 'Cortez The Killer' kind of song. We were 10 minutes into the show before the 'JM' jams were over and the audience all warmed up. By then the venue had filled itself quite nicely. It may not have been sold out, but standing together was just comfortable, so a good turn out. As soon as the first outburst in 'JM' commenced it turned out what a great band Timothy Showalter has gathered around himself. Explosive, subtle and everything in between.

Especially around the intro of songs, while either of the guitarists were tuning, the drummer showed some nice subtle playing or the lead guitarist played all these little motives with harmonics and muted notes, creating a great atmosphere in which to start the song as soon as Showalter was ready to commence. Despite the fact that I was listening to warming up notes, in between things, these moments set the tone of the evening. Creating small moments of magic that the show profited from 110%.

What surprised me most was that Strand of Oaks' front man seemed to have a good time. From the little I had read about him in the past, he seemed to me someone who never smiles or enjoys things. He sure did this Friday evening in Utrecht. The audience response and sheer appreciation clearly resonated within him and was returned abundantly. So much for reading impressions.

What amazed me was the playing of the lead guitarist. I did not get his name, but a quick Google search tells me that his name is Jason Anderson, a singer-songwriter on his own accord. Equipped with a beautiful guitar, with bird in flight inlays between the frets, he played with an ease that just makes my mouth drop and stand in awe of the beautiful sounds and all the right notes that fly out of his fingers.

But let's not forget the rhythm section. The interaction between bass and drums is phenomenal, while both individually are great players. When things go so smooth in the background, it is easy to excel up front and that is what Anderson and Showalter did. The songs moved smoothly forward enrapturing the audience by the song.

Strand of Oakes plays music that can only be called American from the outside. That can fall two ways with me. This band is totally on my right side. The balance between the instrumental and the vocal parts remains no matter how long an instrumental jam takes, simply because the songs nearly always have enough melody to remain interesting. Even songs that consist of three chords, the melody between those chords are interesting to follow. In others, like 'Radio Kids', there is this delicious guitar riff that keeps coming back after each chorus. The kind it is impossible to get enough of. And when the band really rocks out, like in 'Rest Of It', it has the right punky attitude to really go out there.

My live introduction to Strand of Oaks was an extremely pleasant one. Not only did I have a good time, I was impressed several times by what Strand of Oaks presented on stage and I could tell from the faces around me that I wasn't the only one. Next time hopefully another venue size up? That would be a good thing for this band, as the latest album 'Hard Love proves also, it is ready for the next step.

(All photo's by) Wo.

You can listen to and buy the music of Strand of Oaks here:


zaterdag 19 augustus 2017

Meeting with Bongley Dead

Bongley Dead
After having reviewed two Bongley Dead albums in 2015, 'Demo 3' and 'Demo 4', followed up by an interview I did with the band following its latest release, things went quiet. So much so that just before I went on holiday to Italy this summer, I wondered whether the band was still in existence. This proved very much the case.

Somewhere in the back of my mind there was this faint idea to try and meet with them in Italy, whenever the next time I would go there would be, but as things were so quiet, I sort of forgot about it.

And then something unexpected happened. A few weeks before leaving I received an email with an invitation to listen to the band's new album, 'Undici'. That was a cue to try and reach out. I did and received an invitation to come by. It turned out the band is from Tuscany and that was on route to our final destination further south. So we booked a spot at a campsite in Montecatini Terme and started our holiday there, with an appointment to meet Bongley Dead on Wednesday evening, in their studio in Ponte Buggianese.

During the day my girlfriend and I visited Lucca, where the town is preparing to host The Rolling Stones in September, with posters and billboards all around town (and a lot of other more or less famous artists all through the summer). A week later we have tickets for Amsterdam.

That Wednesday evening we left our campsite and followed the Tom Tom directions. We drove over ever smaller backroads until we had to be close to the studio. What followed was an evening not to forget. We met, talked and became friends fast.

The band played songs from 'Undici' and a few older ones. I was impressed with the ease they all play. All are great instrumentalists, with years of playing music behind them. Simone is a powerful drummer, without having to exert himself. It seems like it just happens, while this extremely powerful sound comes from his drumkit. Bass player Federico has the same ease of playing. Holding back at some points and playing melodic runs in the next. A huge foundation under all else.

There also was a surprise. Bongley Dead is no longer a trio. Cecilia plays all these subtle melodies under the storm Bongley Dead is. Melodies that fight their way into the alternative/indie rock, making it different from what it was and very interesting to follow as her intricate melodies weave themselves into the whole.

Singer and guitarist Marcelo is responsible for all the melodies we heard. He writes beautiful songs that deserve to be heard by a lot more people. He's a good singer and strong guitar player who fills all the holes the rhythm section leaves him. The story of his guitars was interesting as well. 100% custom made by a guitarist from another band, see Simone's t-shirt. Looking nothing like any guitar I ever saw before.

All the band played was recorded straight away, so that each member can listen to the results during the week and come up with improvements for the next session.

After the practice we all played songs for each other. Marcello played a song from another project he was working on with Simone. Cecilia played two songs from her own record and Karen and I played some songs we cover with our band Sweetwood.

Some alcoholic beverages later, it was time to say goodbye to our Italian friends. Thank you for your hospitality and friendship and I hope to meet again.

There was no time to review 'Undici' before the holidays. In the coming weeks I will seriously listen to the album and come back to you on it, as I will with Cecilia's album. In the meantime we enjoyed a special moment, something to really look back on fondly. Thank you, Bongley Dead, for a great evening.

(All pictures by) Wo.

You find the music of Bongley Dead on Soundcloud:


vrijdag 18 augustus 2017

Arcs. Automatic Sam

It was my intention to write a short, but powerful review of Arcs late March, early April, but I failed to do so. Then, when I found out that the drummer of Paceshifters left Automatic Sam for that band, I intended to follow up my review ...; you get the drift.

Recently I played Arcs once again, heard the power and the energy and thought lets get this album off the pile before it is too late.

An album that starts with an interpretation of the intro riff of 'Helter Skelter' has to be good. 'Ukiyo' takes a curve straight away and rocks out in a Neil Young kind of way. The guitars are blowing each other away, riffing and playing a loud rhythm. The bottom end is taken care of extremely obviously. The new drummer is "Animal's" little brother with some restraint. His name? Lars Spijkervet. That sounds kind of cool for a drummer.

I am reading on the bands that influenced Automatic Sam, taken from the name of a character from the Captain Beefheart song 'Tarotplane', I simply do not know a single one of them. What I hear is Foo Fighters, some Led Zeppelin in the riffing. again the hardest side to Neil Young, Queens of the Stone Age. Artists that dare to go for the largest denomination in rock, without hesitation, without holding anything back. Automatic Sam does just that. With a foundation so solid it must be a pleasure to rock out over for the two guitarists Pieter Holkenborg and Rense Slings. The two create a mash up of guitars as solid as a layer of concrete holding the feet of a criminal about to be jettisoned into the East River.

Automatic Sam is a Dutch band from Nijmegen. Arcs is its third album. And is into its sixth drummer in 9 years. Do they wear them out too fast? Tim van Delft probably ran out of spare time when his primary band, De Staat, really started to take off this decade. Whatever the reason, Spijkervet is in his right place from what I'm hearing. I would keep on his right side if I were the other three members.

It's not that I like all songs as much. What I do hear is the energy that goes into the music of Automatic Sam. Nothing is done in half. We run the full gamut together. There's no reason why this music should not be heard outside of the borders of this medium sized country. Go for it, lads.


You can listen to and buy Arcs here:


donderdag 17 augustus 2017

Living In The Night. Dan Hair

Dan Hair is het alter ego van de Nederlandse muzikant Daan van Haren, die met Living In The Night een uitstekend debuut heeft afgeleverd.
De uit Nijmegen afkomstige muzikant werkt vooral ’s nachts, wat de titel van zijn debuut verklaart. Alle nachtelijke uren hoor je terug in zijn songs die vaak een fluisterzachte basis hebben. Deze lome en uiterst ingetogen basis levert muziek op die in eerste instantie vooral herinnert aan de muziek van Elliott Smith.

Dat is mooi vergelijkingsmateriaal, maar het is ook vergelijkingsmateriaal waaraan veel van de soortgenoten van Daan van Haren uiteindelijk niet kunnen tippen.

Dat het Dan Hair wel lukt om overeind te blijven ligt vooral aan het feit dat Living In The Night weliswaar hoorbaar is geïnspireerd door het werk van Elliott Smith, maar vervolgens een eigen weg bewandelt.
Dan Hair kiest voor een geluid waarin ook flink wat invloeden van de muziek van Sparklehorse zijn te horen, waarmee we inmiddels twee songwriters die de jaren 90 op indringende wijze kleur gaven hebben genoemd.
Wanneer Dan Hair zich laat beïnvloeden door het werk van Elliott Smith en Mark Linkous van Sparklehorse (die wordt geëerd in een van de songs) betovert de Nijmegenaar met intieme popliedjes van een bijzondere schoonheid. Deze schoonheid krijgt vervolgens glans door de bijzondere accenten die Dan Hair toevoegt aan zijn muziek. Dit kunnen opvallend rauwe gitaarhalen zijn, maar ook subtiele bijdragen van blazers, strijkers, piano of synths.
Het afwisselen van fluisterzachte passages met stevigere of avontuurlijkere klanken voorziet Living In The Night van flink wat dynamiek, wat bij Dan Hair zelf en bij zijn platenmaatschappij namen als Eels en Grandaddy oproept. Ook dat zijn namen die inderdaad met enige regelmaat opduiken bij beluistering van het debuut van Dan Hair, maar hier blijft het niet bij.
De songstructuren op het debuut van Daan van Haren doen regelmatig aan het latere werk van The Beatles denken, met hier en daar de muziek van Electric Light Orchestra als ‘guilty pleasure’. De meeste raakvlakken hoor ik misschien nog wel met de uiterst lome en bezwerende muziek van Spain, ook een vergelijking om trots op te zijn.
Door de intimiteit van de muziek van Dan Hair is Living In The Night een plaat die aandacht vraagt van de luisteraar, maar deze luisteraar wordt vervolgens rijkelijk beloond met songs die steeds meer geheimen en schoonheid prijs geven. Living In The Night is me hierdoor in korte tijd zeer dierbaar geworden en is nog lang niet gestopt met groeien.
Het knappe is dat Dan Hair muziek maakt die bijzonder lekker in het gehoor ligt, maar op hetzelfde moment vol zit met onverwachte uitstapjes en verrassende wendingen. Het maakt van Living In The Night een plaat die in brede kring aandacht verdient en vervolgens respect zal afdwingen.
Daan van Haren heeft in de kleine uurtjes een aantal bijzondere songs in elkaar geknutseld en het zijn songs die betoveren, benevelen en imponeren. Heel veel aandacht krijgt het debuut van Dan Hair nog niet, maar dit is nu precies zo’n plaat waarvoor blogs als deze bestaan. Ga dit zeker horen.

Erwin Zijleman

Je kunt Living In The Night hier kopen:


woensdag 16 augustus 2017

Elvis is dead for 40 years

Who remembers where he was when he heard the news that Elvis had died?

I do. I was having lunch on a farm called Meroo outside of Mudgee in New South Wales. Having started on the sheep shearing at 06.00 on a cold, crisp morning that soon turned into a warm, winter's day. My role in the whole was to clean the wool after a man called Clive had shorn a sheep in a matter of minutes. All the shit, prickly stuff and what ever else got caught in the fleece that did not belong there had to be taken off. I did that for days on end. At 12.00 we set out to lunch at the farm, walking from the shack in a paddock on the other side of the dirt road. An Australian phenomena showed itself when we walked. As soon as we stepped put of the shade of the shack, a swarm of flies flew up to settle on the backs of the persons in front of me (so undoubtedly on my own as well). They travelled along right until the moment we reached the shade of the house and disappeared as mysteriously as they appeared. How many flies cover the earth of Australia?, is a question I can't even fathom to answer.

Over lunch the radio was turned on for the news. With one reason only: the wool prices in the different towns around the farm. Where best to bring it to at the end of the day? It was at this news bulletin that I heard Elvis had died, which was a shock. The date was August 17. It was years later that I found out that his official date of his demise was 16 August.

Yes, the man was much older than I am, but with 42 not at an age he is supposed to die. In fact he could have been alive today at the age of 82 and record another comeback album with Rick Rubin or some such. Even be touring.

All this was not to be. Elvis is dead today for 40 years.

Who was Elvis to me? Somebody from an era that I wasn't around. The first song I remember is the classic 'In The Ghetto', followed by the monumental 'Suspicious Minds', two hits from 1969. In the 70s I got to know his oldest songs better and his latest hits.

No matter what, I never truly became an Elvis fan. Despite the fact that I like to play some of his old rock and roll hits in the cover band I play(ed) in, it is not something that I play at home. Coincidentally I heard 'A Little Less Conversation A Little More Action' in the Junkie XL remix this morning, which triggered this post. Tom Holkenborg gave an obscure, mediocre Elvis song the boost it needed, giving him his last #1 hit song. At the time I liked this version a lot and found out that I still do.

What I do hear in the old rock and roll songs, is the energy Elvis and his band managed to capture on record. What I hear truly is what I am meant to hear and can imagine how exciting it must have sounded at the time. Something new was happening that caught the youth of America and beyond by the throat to not let go. In some of his later songs, the post 1968, recordings I recognise the class with which Elvis was able to surround himself. Whether it was in a song like 'Burning Love', 'Way Down' or 'Guitar Man', it all holds something worthwhile.

Elvis Presley in the end is a tragic figure. Someone who became more famous than was good for him. Perhaps he just was not smart enough to deal in a sensible way with his fame and riches. I don't know, these are just observations from far off. Fact is, that he leaves behind a legacy which will keep him famous and well-known for eternity. And forever connected with work on a sheep farm in a far off country in my individual case.