By Kenny McMurtrie
December 02, 2013
Utrecht is in Holland. Not Ireland, Denmark or Belgium (or “where the blondes are”) as supposed by people I mentioned the festival to before heading over. Southeast of Amsterdam it offers similar sights to those you’ll have experienced if you’ve been to the larger city. Le Guess Who? is a multi-venue urban festival that’s been taking place in the city for eight years.
Opting to stay in Amsterdam and commute down each day, however, proved less wise in terms of the actual gigs on offer than envisaged. Train timings to make it back to catch a tram ‘home’, coupled with the fact that the Tivoli de Helling venue (the most southerly of the ten involved) is a good 20 minute walk from its sister venue beside the Oudegracht canal meant that we experienced very few shows on the Thursday night. The festival website does recommend making use of a bike to get about the place but not personally being in a fit shape to cycle meant it was only ever going to be shank’s pony for yours truly.
Still, we caught the very end of King Khan & The Shrines set at Tivoli Oudegracht so at least had the briefest of hints of what might have been. Neko Case was then our next desired viewing so we trooped off south. One or two map consultations and a detour over a temporary bridge later we arrived at de Helling and had time to take in a couple of numbers including the “testicular” ‘I’m A Man’ from current album The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight. Case was a great prescence on stage with plenty of chat for the fans and in-band banter, maiking for a nicely inclusive atmosphere. Time was against us though so catching the end of the set wasn’t an option as we had to head back north to see some of The Fall.
Having already seen Mark E. Smith and band this summer at Long Division I’d wondered if there’d be that much difference in seeing them play to a foreign audience but upon making it up to the balcony of the Oudegracht it was clear that June’s performance was pretty much the current template. MES was initially nowhere to be seen (hence the move to a higher vantage point), sat down and hidden by the guitar amps as is his wont. The question of who’d let a homeless guy up onto the stage was asked once he came out from hiding to range around a bit. By this point we had a train to catch and as I’d seen it all before we headed off.
On Friday we decided to drive down as a) the bulk of acts we wanted to see were being curated by Ty Segall at de Helling and b) it promised to be a later night than the previous one. Mike Donovan‘s solo show was in progress when we first arrived but we got bored after a few numbers (semi-acoustic protets/angsty songs without much bite weren’t cutting it) so left to get a beer in the nearest bar as the venue’s rather let down by having little non-performance space. Making it back after 40 minutes or so things had drastically changed – people were crammed in like sardines in a can to see Segall and band play his Sleeper album in full. This was a great show with Segall clearly revelling in the audience’s appreciation and the enthusiastic pit that was bouncing and diving around to songs that had a bit more energy behind them than you’d have expected from hearing them on disc. Nice too to be able to actually see him playing as opposed to having to peer through the murk at the Liverpool Psych Fest.
Next up came White Fence (pictured at top). The audience had noticeably (though not massively) thinned out for this set and I hope those that left enjoyed what they went to see as they missed one of the best shows I’ve seen all year. Up until tonight the band had been known to me in name only and that’s always something that makes you wonder how things will go down when an act steps on stage. All doubts though were dispelled when they tore into playing. Coming on like a super-charged Yardbirds (although with possibly the most unflappable bassist on the planet) Tim Presley and co. had the stage-front part of the crowd in a frenzy right from the off and kept them keyed up for the duration of their 50 minute or so set. Sixties-inspired garage/beat combinations in the present day surely don’t come any more authentic than this.
Lastly tonight we caught Bordeaux’s Magnetix (staying awake till 03:00 for the Jacuzzi Boys just wasn’t going to happen). A crash course of the duo’s 2008 Positively Negative album the evening before meant I’d a decent idea of what to expect but as ever the live experience was one step removed from the recorded one. If The Cramps had been French, with Poison Ivy on drums rather than guitar, then they’d have been Magnetix (or vice versa). Aggy Sonora pounds away on the kit whilst Looch Vibrato sings, howls, imitates cats fighting, stamps all over his pedals and finally flings his guitar backwards over the (vacant) drum riser, there leaving it to die a howling death on its own. You want rock ‘n’ roll? You just saw it.