October, in Roman times known as the eighth month of the year and in old Dutch it used to denote the wine month. Nowadays October is also known as Rocktober, a name that makes me want to wear my old patch denim jacket and whip my hair around to live rock music. Also this October I’ve seen some live music, but it’s been a curious collection of events…
Opera: The Wasp Factory
Surprisingly Rocktober for me kicked off with an opera! I was one of the lucky fews to get to see the sold-out Wasp Factory at the Royal Opera House. Far from the traditional type of opera though as the music was written by Iceland-based composer and musician Ben Frost who ‘is recognised for his experimental music drawing widely on influences of minimalism, post-punk, black metal and noise’. Apparently I was there on the same night as Simon and Yasmin Le Bon which made my night at the opera a true rock and roll event.
Before the show I met up with the lovely Ben Frost and Borgar Magnason, who played the double bass during the performance. Borgar also plays with Sigur Rós and was very pleased with the airing of the recent episode of The Simpsons set in Iceland which features music by Sigur Rós. In a very funny and cheeky way he confided the following: ‘Every time I hear the double bass in that episode, I think ka-ching!’
For me the character with the most impressive role that evening was in fact the set. It subtly tilted and changed from a muddy dirt floor into a horizontal wall that the actors used to climb in and cling onto to. I didn’t realise this transformation till after a long time though as the minimalistic set (with only three actors) and the ominous and unsettling score played by five musicians of the Reykjavik Sinfónia completely drew me into the piece. I admit I haven’t read the novel by Iain Banks yet, but certainly will after seeing the opera.
Musical: Jesus Christ Superstar
First of all: I am not a musical fan. I admire the grand productions, but I just don’t understand why people feel the need to sing entire monologues rather than reciting them in an eloquent manner to their audience. Also, I feel I can’t justify spending such ridiculous sums for a mere 2 hours. However, as I live in the European capital of Theatre World and am curious to see what the fuzz is all about I do go to musicals at times. It helps that my brother-in-law works for the theatres and often has free tickets. My latest venture was Jesus Christ Superstar at the O2 Arena starring Tim Minchin, Melanie C and Ben Forster. The O2 can hold up to 20,000 people, so the venue is HUGE! To give you an idea of its size, here are some intriguing facts you will be happy to learn: you’d need 3.8 billion pints of beer to fill up the arena; if you are strong enough to push the Eiffel Tower on its side, you could fit it into the O2 Arena.
From where I was sitting (almost against the ceiling) the people on stage looked like tiny ants escaped from Zoolander’s Centre for Kids Who Can’t Read Good. On the screen behind them were projections of mostly static backgrounds, but also contemporary videos (as CNN breaking news reports and Twitter feeds) moving the story into present-day. At least I could see the tiny ants, the unfortunate people seated at the sides of the stage could only see the static background on TV screens for most of the evening.
I was surprised to recognise almost all songs, but then remembered I had seen this musical years ago in the Netherlands. (Oh yes, I kid you not! And not only once, but twice even!) I admit here to you that I LOVED the musical! I mean, how could you NOT love a musical that features a guitar solo and Jesus singing as an 80s rock god resembling the amazing high-pitched Satan in the South Park film? Although the producers had attempted to update the musical by means of props, clothing and also integrating the theme of social media, the music remains of its time. At first I thought the update was alienating, but in fact it is the post-hippie rock music that feels a bit awkward in the attempted revamp. However, it was predominantly the music that appealed to me and had me moving on my seat while bobbing my head along the rock tunes, although I was scared to lose my balance from a lack of oxygen at such high altitude and fall down into the orchestra pit. No such catastrophes, although the scene with the security guards outside the building ushering the departing audience to the tube station made me feel I was an extra in some apocalypse film.
Rock: De Staat
There are many good bands in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, no matter how good they are, their fame often stops at the border. Yes, Dutch DJs have dominated the world for the last years now and George Baker’s Little Green Bag has become immortal thanks to Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs, but can you mention five Dutch rock bands that have received long-lasting international acclaim?
My favourite Dutch band De Staat suffers from the same problem: they are big stars in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany, but sadly hardly anyone has heard of them outside of these countries. A real shame as their albums and live shows are absolutely solid and the songs go all over the place. They are exhaustingly energetic, absolutely crazy and even have Animal on drums!
Although I want to see them be successful abroad, it was in my advantage that they are not when I saw them play in London this month. They played three dates at Our Black Heart in Camden which holds a maximum of a hundred people. When entering the pub I immediately bumped into band member Rocco and in my mind it felt like we had such a bond based on the mere fact we are both Dutch. So I immediately started to talk to him as if we had known each other for years. Instead of treating me as a total loony he was really friendly and took the time to talk to me about the band’s struggles to find gigs abroad and especially in such a massive city as London. And of course we had our photo taken:
This was just two hours before he would go completely mental during his car horn solo.
After the show I got to talk to singer Torre for a moment and asked him the same nerdy question to have my photo taken with him.
Just a few days after the London show I saw De Staat play in Effenaar in Eindhoven (NL). A much bigger venue which improved their performance as the band clearly thrives on the interaction with their audience. I was happy to hear some of my favourite songs they left out from the London show (‘Witch Doctor’ and ‘Make Way for the Passenger’). In all honesty I enjoyed the Dutch show more than the London show, but think it’s amazing to get the chance to see my favourite bands play in small venues over here and even get to talk to them. Last July I caught Belgian band Triggerfinger over at Borderline in London, a much smaller venue than you would see them play in the Netherlands or Belgium, and it was one of the best concerts of them I had attended.
Rock: Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Final and best Rocktober concert was no doubt the Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds concert over at the Hammersmith Apollo last weekend. It was the first time I saw Nick Cave live and as a sad coincidence I would see this music icon just an hour after I heard the news that Lou Reed had passed away. Nick Cave’s dedication to Lou Reed was a monumental version of his song ‘Push the Sky Away’. The beginning of the show was absolutely thrilling. Especially when at the end of the second song, Jubilee Street, it erupted from the gentle song on the album into an exciting and pulsating epic moment while Nick Cave in his hypnotic way repeated the line ‘Look at me’ over and over again as a powerful mantra.
During the middle section of the show I noticed my mind went wandering off as there were too many ballads to keep me focussed. The giant-sized woman behind me helped me stay awake though as even during the ballads she kept jumping up and down rubbing her bosom all over my back. Also, if it hadn’t been for the quiet moments, I would’ve missed the legendary quote from the woman next to me telling her boyfriend: ‘My favourite is his Kylie Minogue song’… The energy picked up again when they played classics as Stagger Lee and The Mercy Seat, songs I had only hoped to hear live. The concert definitely confirmed my expectations of Nick Cave being a true entertainer. In his charismatic and preacher-like way he stole everybody’s hearts, including mine. And the women at the front of the stage literally tried to steal Nice Cave’s heart as they kept groping at his hands and chest. But who can blame them for adoring King Cave? I say: Hail to the King!
So far my Rocktober adventures, but certainly not the end of my music adventures! Today I managed to obtain tickets to see Arcade Fire/Reflektors at the Roundhouse in just 1.5 weeks! General sales start this Friday at 9am. Keep an eye on the Ticketmaster website if you want to catch them in an ‘intimate’ venue as well!