Le Guess Who? Utrecht, Friday, 29/11/13

5am felt like anytime, not tired, but totally wired, chatting onto old pals and lost in this alternative reality bubble that Fat White Family had blown. They're one of those bands that could - quite easily -make you not bother about anyone else, ever.

Let's cut to the chase. And in doing so, cut to the end of Friday night. In the frazzled and incohate Bohemia of ACU,  Fat White Family pretty much erased the memory of that day's gigs in a brilliant display of cussed, confident bozo rock that defies categorising, or writing about if I'm honest. Let's put it this way, down the front, midway through an increasingly shamanistic gig, some bloke half my size (honest, half my size) tried whacking me, wanted to start something whilst dancing along. With nowt coming in terms of fisticuffs from me, he turned and started stroking singer Lias's sweaty torso. Proof positive that Fat White Family do something to you. Dutch dudes? Going wild? In the city that never has a hair out of place? Well, yes.

It's the reason why I've started the review with them, as if to point out to you that as a live band they are truly special, and worth catching if you can. They did similar at Tilburg in September, where they reduced the Incubate crowd into a shambling, gibbering mess. Why is this? They're nowt "new". And given the amount of bands that British press hype up (who turn out to be nothing more than the same old same old with a new label) you'd probably be right in wondering if it's really worth turning up one more time. But no, they're great, fab in fact. They do everything that is considered rock and roll brilliantly and freshly. They have this grimy, damp, committed sound that early Fall or Squirrel & G Man Mondays had; urban, smart and cagey, redolent of pounding the tarmac on the way to the all night garage to get a pasty. Their songs are great too; anthemic and hook-laden, and they've got this presence and patience about them that is totally shamanistic. Yes, patience, that's what I wrote and it's what I mean. This band can hold an audience with an ease that could be arrogant, if it wasn't obvious that it's more a manifestation of diffidence about the crowd reaction allied to a desire to act out their own music. They really live through their songs on stage, in a manner that you could imagine some old codger from the 1880s music hall doing. Given all of this, and given for once there was a sort of relief that yes they were good and yes everyone could relax because they were good and the hype didn't matter (a big thing in NL) the place was reduced to a giddy shambling mess, caught up in, and spat out by this murky and sparky set. 5am felt like anytime, not tired, but totally wired, chatting onto old pals and lost in this alternative reality bubble that the band had blown. They're one of those bands that could - quite easily -make you not bother about anyone else, ever.

I feel a bit bad about everyone else now. Let's redress the balance. Earlier on we'd popped down to the church to catch Ed Askew play. Churches are brilliant venues, built to spread messages and obviously in vogue this past few years in the festival world; (Spanish church at Rewire festival, Lutheran church at Haldern, looking at you here). Why? Well it's safe to say they are a programmer's dream; perfect places to put artists who need a cavernous silence and a reassuringly thunderous (architectural) presence to bring out their qualities. That's why the quiet, thoughtful Mr Askew was here (looking for all the world like a poacher with his hat) and why his psychedelic folk was working a treat on the early crowd. Askew has a voice that somehow could only come from the late 60s. It's a warm, lilting tenor, somewhat cracked in places now but still one that was built to soothe and to quietly question. Add the soft pastel shades of his music, and his smart, sweet lyrical observations and you've got a gig that is gentle, reassuring and warm. It really was like being wrapped up snug under a blanket. Weirdly though, I prefer listening to his music (songs like Bridges in the Rain for instance) at home, as somehow it felt weird seeing him; he's someone who is essentially a companion on a lonely night. I suppose it would be like watching Moondog in the flesh. But, let's be fair, he was really good.

Warmed and reassured, Incendiary decided to shoot over to RASA, to catch Hailu Mergia, Ethiopian keyboard wizard and taxi driver. Part of this whole renaissance of Africa's recent musial past (driven by "head" labels like Awesome Tapes, Secret Stash and Sahel) Mergia's gigs come round but seldomly; so we were excited, and then bloody disappointed as somehow the sound seemed to be all over the place; the drummer drowning out everyone else in an increasingly irritating display of powerhouse jazz fusion drumming (argh). Mergia, visibly pissed off, busied himself with negotiating a way through this opener, though the muddy keys weren't really aiding his cause. Still, we stuck with it as the spacey textures and abstract rhythms he kicked out promised much. And lo! somehow Mr Drummer calmed down and with the aid of the sympathetic and energetic double bassman, applied himself to building a workable, sinuous backdrop for Mr H to sprinkle his trippy notes over. Things got increasingly whacked out; the slightly older jazz cat audience grooved in a manner that befitted them. It would be meet and proper to say that "shit" got "loose". At one point, Mergia tried to use his accordion but the strap broke and he decided to fuck it and carry on tinkling the ivories, which actually worked well as the place was in a grooving mood and the tempo and trust built up on stage needed some release. Some spacey jazz followed; but the sort of happy, sunny, trippy sound that you don't associate with jazz, as, to these old ears there was a fair dash of Ethiopian (Azmari) wedding music in there, and that added a mesmerising feel to the gig. A quiet triumph.

Back to the Janskerk to see Linda Perhacs. We walked in and heard a song from one of her backing singers (fine, but nowt flash and a tad transatlantic/formulaic/classic rawk) and then a bloody long story about Linda's days as a dental asssistant. Which was a bit, well, mood kiling to be honest. Perhacs has an inspiring and gentle voice and her songs from her classic LP Parallelograms (or the one and a half songs we caught) are brilliant. But it just wasn't to be for us. In contrast to the Vashti Bunyan gig a few years back, where Vashti had us eating out of her hand with  little or no backing, it was damned difficult to get a grip on the music despite the beautiful arrangements and simpatico backing band. Dentists! Preambles! Keep out of rock! Oh I don't know, maybe we just weren't in the mood. Then over to Kargadoor for Piano Interrupted. They looked like serious lads, lads moreover  who were very insistent on asking the venue dudes to get more chairs and sort the lights; but to be fair they were right as the place got rammed and the lighting was, well, weird... blinding the band and leaving the rest of us in outer darkness. Never mind. we were happy as the gig was brilliant; at turns soothing and wild. Incendiary likes Piano Interrupted, they do interesting things and their music is always stimulating. They like to build a sort of mesh of classical elements with (the inevitable) laptop noises, and whilst you may think that these things are ten a penny, this band adds something quite unique. For one, there's a solid and very well crafted presence about their sound that invites experiment. You can tell that they are itching to deconstruct everything. So you see this build up of a very clever arrangement in the mid register being offset with sharp turns of pace or sudden stops. This fractal quality of their sound is their key trick; just as you think things are settling down and everything is getting a touch too pleasing, they pull off a smart about turn and we are left facing the same sound from a new angle. It's fun. Then there's the band themselves. However "nice" and academic they seem, however talented they are, there's this curmudgeonly DIY feel to them. They are pushy, and alert to exploiting any nuance they feel could be stretched. And this makes for a thought provoking gig. Great stuff.

Off to ACU for Absolutely Free who were enjoyable and far more relaxed than when we saw them as DD/MM/YYYY, and No Joy, who sadly didn't play due to a van break down. Lower were next; Danish punk lads with a hint of scally about them; the singer just needing a deerstalker to pull off his mid 80s hooligan look. The guitarist, for his part, was a dead ringer for Steve Albini. What to say about Lower? Well, it was okay. The singer declaimed righteously, pulling poses, acting out his part well enough while the band glowered beghind him; cranking out a grumbling, growling, tub thumping noise that had a touch of sort of Warsaw about it. And so it went on, fine, and enjoyable and aggressive in a moody, Kurt Brandon sort of way, but not really going anywhere fast. At this point we were thinking well, Fat White had better pull off a gig, as we were getting a wee bit jaded. 3am can be a funny time to watch any gig. But they did. And, seeing you've got this far in the review, you know what happened. Enough said. Can't wait till they're back in NL; and neither should you.