By Kenny McMurtrie
December 04, 2013
Saturday at Le Guess Who? always promised to be a calmer affair earlier in the day than the preceding 48 hours. Metz were headlining at Tivoli Oudegracht so things were set to end on a loud and energetic note but as transport had to be caught seeing them wasn’t an option. The halfway house of one of their excellent and sensibly priced (ten euros) t-shirts was the best that could be managed.
Today was also the day that the festival expanded and staged the Mini-Who? throughout a network of an additional 21 venues during the afternoon (featuring sneaky free sets from PINS and ZZZs) as well as taking over the Neude square with its cult market Le Bazarre. Food, clothes, art, music – you name it, it was on sale. I caught the final hour of all of this so had a quick double espresso in The Village Coffee & Music (to the strains of Altered Images‘ ‘I Could Be Happy’ being messed about with on the decks) before nipping over the road to the Plato record store to have a listen to a four piece called Nausica. Pleasant as they sounded, however, their style was just too lightweight for me at that point.
That restlessness in terms of not being able to settle down to listen to an act for very long played out throughout the bulk of the late evening but the plus side was the urge to go for more of a wander and check out other festival venues. Consequently the first port of call after dinner was the very impressive Jenskerk, being used for the first time by the event, to see Douglas Dare. The acoustics were fantastic, as you’d expect from a church, and leant themselves well to Dare’s fragile songs beneath which ran a Violator-era Depeche Mode kind of menace. A chatty bloke happy to be playing in such surroundings he played a number of tracks from his recent 7 Hours EP. I expect Mark Lanagan in the same venue on Friday night was something very special to witness.
PINS had already started their proper show when I wandered in to the Oudegracht and looked none the worse for already having had a live workout that afternoon. Tight playing, fond interaction with the crowd and a no nonsense performance was the order of the day and at this point you’d normally have been properly warmed up and ready to just get more and more involved with what was to follow. The fact that the crowd here was noticeably smaller than previously and that the balcony was closed off were though signs to pay attention to.
The upstairs Spiegelbar was in use tonight though so it was a short trip to see Thao & The Get Down Stay Down entertain an enthusiastic crowd with tracksfrom current album We The Common and older cuts. Energy is not in short supply with this group, particularly in respect of Thao & her keyboardist. Variety too was plentiful as Thao dotted between playing guitar, the banjo, lap steel guitar and percussion (a moment that for some reason drew a massive reaction from the crowd). Describing Utrecht as nicer than the UK (where exactly did they spend their 12 days in the country?) the band were having a ball but for me the fun wore off after half a dozen songs so new stimuli were needed.
After a quick (there were only seven paintings) look at the Damien Jurado exhibition this was first sought back downstairs where Scout Niblett was just coming onstage. Somewhere in the distant past I recall buying a 7″ by her but essentially she was unknown other than by name. Taking the line of no or little conversation (you wondered if some acts were unaware of the extent to which the Dutch can speak great English) her set brought with it a sense of deja vu inasmuch as she was a girl on stage with a guitar singing her heart out about possibly buying a gun to kill a love rival etc. but there was, personally, no emotional connection whatsoever. Off in to the night for new thrills I went.
A lucky short-cut through an alley brought me out at the Gallerie Jaap Sleper (a former abbatoir) where US folktronica performer D.M. Stith was shortly to take to the small stage. Amidst some pretty decent modern art (including a painting that looked like someone from Marillion levitating Mr. Claypole) Stith’s relaxed manner with the crowd was comforting to witness. Personable and chatty (he himself had once lived in an ex-abbatoir and one song was about the experience of being stabbed in the back with a pencil as a child) his spare playing and lightweight tone had many in the audience sitting on the floor enraptured. Describing them as “smarter than Americans” was a vote winner too. I still needed something to tap my foot to though and so once again hit the road.
Yo La Tengo‘s James McNew consigned his solo Dump project to the past in 2008 but ressurected it for Le Guess Who? so it was back through the alley and upstairs (via a quick look in on Scout to see if things were any different there) to see what that was all about. Without a word of a lie I stayed for one song. All I’ve noted about the show at the time was “more fragility”. New sensations were still required so a trip north to see what Greg Haines (oddly missing from the event guidebook) had to offer at the Rasa venue.
What Rasa had to offer was a nice comfy cinema seat overlooking the performance space so I gratefully sank in to that. But for having to head back to the Tivoli for my jacket I could probably just have relaxed there until train time. A quick look at Google informed me that Haines is a modern classical performer, basically, so that could go a number of ways but in the meantime sitting was good enough. Given walking time and the fact that I did actually want to see Crystal Stilts though, I very nearly missed Haines as he seemed to be slightly delayed taking to the stage. ‘Hauntingly atmospheric’ is probably a description of his work that has been worn out by now but there is a definite chill in his chillout. A lot of beauty too and whilst not inducing that foot tapping he was the first of today’s acts that I could, under other circumstances, happily have seen a whole performance by.
Having somewhat reluctantly headed back south I arrived to find Crystal Stilts already on stage. Another band not in a talkative mood they nevertheless gave the audience what they wanted (including an unexpected cover of The Stranglers‘ ‘Duchess’) with frontman Brad Hargett practically immobile throughout. New tracks from this year’s Nature Noir album came over well and thsi was a solid performance. Time for just one more brief look at an act in the Spiegelbar and this time it was Norwegian/Swedish free jazz trio The Thing (possibly best known to non-jazz audiences for their 2012 collaboration with Neneh Cherry). Typically they turned out to be the band that finally produced as far as I was concerned in terms of volume and pace. Initially they could each have being playing a totally different song but as these things have a habit of doing the disparate parts melded and you could begin to discern the frantic sax of Mats Gustafsson (looking like bursting at least one vein would just be an occupational hazard), then Ingebright Flaten‘s bass getting a battering before Paal Nilssen-Love‘s drums came through, death metal-like in the urgency with which they were pummeled. Ringing ears remain for me a sign of a good show and on the walk up to the train station I certainly had those.