Le Guess Who? Festival - Thursday 24/11/11 3voor12 DB’s Utrecht

On this showing Rats were tougher, looser and a bit messier than is normal but to be honest it’s good they mess with their sound: they have to avoid being straightjacketed by people’s expectations now they are getting popular.

Choices choices… excellent venue as dB’s is, it’s a bloody pain that its location is that little bit off the beaten track. You can either choose a 40 minute hike through the suburbs of Utrecht or get the connecting train to Utrecht Zuilen, which runs every 30 minutes. So not the best place to include in your itinerary if you are reviewing gigs spread over a number of scattered venues, especially when you’re not “biking it”. Sticking around watching young Dutch bands at dB’s on Thursday meant missing Stephen Malkmus in the Tivoli Oudegracht... Callow Youth won out, but I still feel a twinge of regret at missing Mr. M as I write these words. Ho hum.
Anyway, let’s accentuate the positive: dB’s is a gem of a venue, a good atmosphere, lots of facilities, a pretty good sound and a friendly crowd of folks.  First to benefit from this heady combination were Cosmo V, a very youthful threepiece fronted by a languorous looking girl singer. The other two - a pair of gauche lads who shared out laptop, bass & guitar duties - looked like they were auditioning for a walk on part in “Postcard Records: The Movie”. Drenched in the light of their projections (some of which were very psychedelic indeed) they launched into a pleasing enough set, intriguing in parts. I say intriguing because the music they make is full of elements that could – if you wanted to be extremely judgemental - be done a hell of a lot better. However there is a concomitant feeling that “doing it better” would wreck their vibe completely. There’s something brittle about their music which is enormously appealing. They look and sound gamin, their songs are seemingly held together with string; (the concentration required to stick in there and keep delivering was evident to all) and their insistent, underpowered soul groove was set up against some very cute guitar licks and textures. Bands such as Dalek I Love You, Monochrome Set and The Go Betweens sprung to mind. Interesting.
After this were April, a remarkable looking duo - again utilising laptop, bass & guitar – a duo who further reinforced the night’s 80’s vibe by dressing like extras on a Japan video shoot. There are strong elements of the New Romantic about them visually, the lad on bass sported a notable set of heels, and exuded a sort of angular and sharp edged glam, reminiscent more of Clockwork Orange rather than Slade or The Sweet. He danced with his bass guitar in the way Alfie Agius used to dance in the Teardrop Explodes too, all swooping gestures and pouting profiles. The girl looked serene and disinterested, a la Bilinda Butcher, strumming her guitar in a distracted manner. Musically they hark back to Josef K (their opening number was a dead ringer for Radio Drill Time which they can’t have heard, surely) or the Cocteau Twins or maybe MBV in their Strawberry & Wine incarnation. They have interesting songs and on this evidence, weren’t frightened to play a quiet slow passage now and again, which is a pleasing thing nowadays. The only real fault I could find was they weren’t loud enough and, because of that, the vocals seemed a bit hesitant, and some of their set could now and again fall into sounding one-paced or pedestrian, or too similar in terms of tone.  But there’s something very good about them that’s for sure.
After popping out for what seemed like a quick drink the noise in the hall cranked up again, leading many to think the Rats on Rafts gig has started up. And the band did seem to be playing with the intensity reserved for a gig, not a sound-check. Their opening track was a growling mid-paced street urchin shuffle, reminiscent of the Soft Boys classic Old Pervert, or an old Three Johns track (try Firepits for size) or even Freaky Dancing era Happy Mondays (with that jumper David Fagan could be Paul Ryder circa 1986). And what do you know…. after getting a tremendous reception from the crowd the band announced that it was indeed the sound-check and buggered off to get a beer in. One- nil to Rats on Rafts… Once back on, the band delivered their usual thumping, adrenaline fuelled set, highlights being a tough Sailor, Plastic Plaster (which really could be a kids TV tune from 1979, its incredible debt to Read it in Books notwithstanding) and a snarling God is Dead. And Moneyman, which is in danger of turning into a Can-style jam reminiscent of Pinch. The noise got louder (no considerations of balance mattered by Jazz) and as ever at Rats gigs, people danced and jigged about as the heady mix of sharp guitar and precision tool-like drumming & overheated funk from Florian on bass started to make inroads into everyone’s heads. On this showing Rats were tougher, looser and a bit messier than is normal but to be honest it’s good they mess with their sound: they have to avoid being straightjacketed by people’s expectations now they are getting popular. Dutch trendies are great at proscribing what should & shouldn’t be to the things or people that catch their allotted nanosecond of attention. I want more of that shuffling looseness in the sound check. There again they would probably be back to playing pubs again if they did that… Hobson’s choice indeed.
After this a few beers, a last train missed and bedtime at 4am. But a good night.