There sure was a cold wind blowing though Dusseldorf last night, and with it came buckets of snow, and massive anticipation for the Arcade Fire concert in the Philipshalle. The initial disappointment their tour didn’t stop in Holland made way for a nice little city trip to the Christmas markets of Dusseldorf, where I stood drinking glühwein in the snow, playing Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) in my mind on repeat: “And if the snow buries my, my neighborhood..”

When the time came and the small community that is Arcade Fire took to the stage to loud cheers, they opened with the Suburbs tune that was made for the part: Ready To Start. The simple drum beat and driving guitar were the perfect match to the crowd’s excitement, the mood was set for the night. They held on to the electric vibe with a solid 4-piece opening combo, threading together Keep The Car Running, Neighborhood #2 (Laika) and No Cars Go. “Women and children, let’s go!!”.

Then some time to calm down a bit with the ever charming Regine taking central stage for Haiti and Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains). She seemed in very good spirits, doing her characteristic little rhythmic moves and even picking up some colourful ribbons for her dance routine. It’s during these songs, when I’m not bouncing around as much, that I notice how incredibly talented and multi-instrumental all the band members are.

Next up, the one song from The Suburbs I was most anxious to see: the ambitious Rococo. This song is the ideal setting for Win’s dark doomsday approach, “they build it up just to burn it back down”, perfectly accompanied by the eerie violin sounds and hushed “rococo-rococo-rococo” background vocals of the band members. What a pleasure to hear it played live! Win has really come into his own as a lead singer, carrying it off with great confidence. Here is a little youtube snippet.

Then a complete surprise, as mentioned in the opening sentence of this post: Cold Wind. This song won me over when I first heard it on the soundtrack of arguably the best tv series ever made, Six Feet Under, but I never heard it live before. Win mentioned they hadn’t played it for quite some time. Sadly I have to say it didn’t really live up to its haunting potential with a few hiccups during the song, but still a welcome surprise.

After a sizeable Suburbs middle section with Deep Blue, the uplifting romp along of The Suburbs with The Suburbs (continued) as outro and the frenetic rock out of Month Of May they carefully crafted another 4-part section to leave every single audience member begging for more.

Personal favourite and Funeral classic Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels) kicked it off, moving on to We Used To Wait which had Win jumping up on the monitors belting out “Hear my voice screaming sing the chorus again!”. Next up was Neighborhood #3 (Power Out), where Win left out a complete section of the song to thank a guy who stood up way in the back seats. He must have been delighted with himself. Power Out finally merged directly into to crowd favourite Rebellion (Lies), “Everytime you close your eyes, lies lies!”, a great set closer.

I was really hoping that some of the gems of Neon Bible would feature in the encore, but only Intervention was played, followed by the ultimate Arcade Fire live anthem Wake Up. O, wilt thou leave me so unsatisfied? Where was Black Wave/ Bad Vibrations? Where was (Antichrist Television Blues)? Where was Black Mirror? Oh well, I guess it would take playing all three albums entirely for me to be fully satisfied.

I think it’s fair to say Arcade Fire  is a band that has grown and matured over the last few years. The show might be less explosive than it used to be with band members constantly running around the stage banging drums, but that has made space for beautifully crafted songs, a confident band with mesmerising stage presence and a catalogue of songs that would each do well on stage. Their shows are an absolute treat, and if you haven’t seen them live yet I would urge you to do so!

SETLIST

01 Ready to Start
02 Keep the Car Running
03 Neighborhood #2 (Laika)
04 No Cars Go
05 Haiti
06 Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)
07 Rococo
08 Cold Wind
09 Deep Blue
10 The Suburbs
11 The Suburbs (continued)
12 Month of May
13 Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)
14 We Used to Wait
15 Neighborhood #3 (Power out) [extended version merging into 16]
16 Rebellion (Lies)

ENCORE
17 Intervention
18 Wake Up

“I know there’s no such thing as ghosts but I have seen the demon host” sang Timber Timbre‘s Taylor Kirk, but it sure felt a bit spooky with his eerie voice in the almost unlit church venue. A very atmospheric start to Crossing Border‘s second full on festival night.

I got more into the festive swing of things with Belgian band Marble Sounds, who I had shamefully never heard of until last week. Time I check out their debut ‘Nice is good’, because their melodic and slightly melancholy sound deserves further exploration. Maybe ditch the girl singer, but that might just be a matter of taste.

I finally got to see Tokyo Police Club next, and though they were a lot better live than I expected, there was only one conclusion for me. It’s music much better suited to the two fifteen year old semi-emo girls standing next to me, bursting at the seems with excitement.

Sadly I wasn’t able to get in to the Spoon gig because the venue was supposedly full (twitterbugs claimed otherwise, but oh well). To pass the time I took a stroll back to the church where the bewitching Smoke Fairies were playing. I was surprised to find myself quite mesmerised with the beautiful combinations of husky yet angelic vocals and country twang guitar.

With a line around the block for people wanting to see The National, I was happy to go the other way and get right up close to Local Natives. They cleverly opened with World News, which is such a stomper that after barely two minutes one guy jumped out of his seat and a wave of people all the way to the back of the posh theatre room followed. Who can sit still for this? The band member smiled and seemed to turn it up a notch. “This one is for the people who stood up, during our very first song. The pressure is on.”

No pressure at all, an effortless win for this charming and multi talented band from Los Angeles. With great songs like Shape Shifter, Wide Eyes, Talking Heads cover Warning Sign, the beautiful Airplanes and explosive set closer Sun Hands all the ingredients were there from the start. And they still only have one album to play from! I for one am really interested to see what this band does next.

Lima area

When you wake up on day three there is always a slight feeling of panic. Surely this cannot be what my face looks like? Why am I not able to stand up straight any more? Where did I leave my voice? Three nights with at most 4 hours sleep, lying on a wafer thin ‘self inflatable’ mattress really take their toll. But there’s still so much to see, no rest for the wicked.

SUNDAY 22-8

I decided to start my day off with a touch of hippy and headed straight for Yeasayer. I didn’t really know what to expect live as some of their songs are better suited to a state of mantra meditation, but I was pleasantly surprised. Their set was really diverse with more hits than I realised and the band sounded great, with both singers pitch perfect.  Even though their music can be a bit complicated for such a big stage there were plenty of anchors to hang on to: Sunrise, Ambling Alp, ONE and 2080. A wonderfully melodic and smooth start to the day.

Yeasayer live at Lowlands 2010 (photo Nick Helderman via 3VOOR12)

Even though The National is not necessarily my cup of tea I decided it would be worthwhile to have a peek and indeed it was. I was treated to a beautiful rendition of Bloodbuzz Ohio and heard a well oiled band playing intense songs with understated emotion, but it still didn’t grab me. A friend of mine said that if I love Radiohead I should love The National as well, but I’m going to have to let him down.

And now for something completely different: Die Antwoord, completely off kilter rap techno hip hop Zef  beat threesome from Cape Town. I had high expectations for this act, bringing something completely new to the festival lineup. It turned out to be a very entertaining show with special mention for the tiny and talented Yo-Landi Vi$$er, but it didn’t blow me away. The beats were there, the X-rated lyrics were all over the place (Jou ma se poes in a fishpaste jar!), the hits were there (Enter The Ninja, Beat Boy, Wat Pomp), but somehow it didn’t reach the next level. A lot of the material was still rough around the edges and friend & fellow Zef man Jack Parow did a much better job of connecting with the audience. And where was Parow during the hilarious closer Doos Dronk?

Die Antwoord at Lowlands 2010 (photo Jelmer de Haas via 3VOOR12)

On to Manchester new rave alumni Delphic, who delivered exactly what you would expect: a whirlwind show of synthesizers, beats, strobe lights and aspirational lyrics (Give me something I can believe in), brought with a lot of energy and conviction. The crowd enjoyed it and so did I, but somewhere in the ‘rave’ part of their music I lose interest. Maybe it’s the Manchester thing, never really got any of the bands with that sound, bands like Foals speak to me a lot more.

On the other side of the dance spectrum we find the straight laced but seductive London synth sound of Hot Chip. I’ve seen them a few times now and enjoy them more each time, they understand perfectly how to build a festival set and have the crowd jumping around in no time. With a hit packed catalogue of material to choose from it’s almost too easy: Over And Over, One Life Stand, Ready For The Floor, One Pure Thought, Hold On... Shame that Joe Goddard wasn’t with the band this time, although they used video images to produce his essential warm vocals.

Hot Chip

After the steaming Hot Chip crowd flowed out of the sauna of the Bravo tent I wandered over to the India stage for a spot of Two Door Cinema Club and was amazed to see a huge crowd stretching far beyond the tent joyfully dancing and singing along to every song. How did that happen? Did Something Good Can Happen get so much airplay that everyone bought the album? The Northern Irish boys are still a bit shaky in parts but are playing with loads of gusto and the crowd is clearly loving it. It’s cheerful and cleverly made pop music at it’s best, perfect little festival band but I’m curious to see if they have anything else up their sleeve.

At this stage of the day, hitting 9 PM and the festival slowly coming to an end, I find myself calculating the chance I will be able to make it through the next gig standing up. And so I decide to enjoy Massive Attack from the sidelines with some much needed refreshment. Not a decision I would usually make, as this is the kind of band you need to experience from within the dark brooding belly of the beast, way up front in the tent, where Martina Topley Bird’s bewitching vocals surround you. Sadly I was surrounded by kids in their late teens – early twenties who hadn’t the slightest idea what Massive attack have contributed to music.

Fool's Gold

Then comes the crucial moment: deciding which act will be your last one of the festival. Go the obvious route and head for Queens of the Stone Age at main stage Alpha? No, seen them before and not enough of a fan to brave the masses. Go out with the festive gypsy sounds of Shantel? No, not in the mood for Balkan beats. We happily ended up at the intimate Lima open air stage where Fool’s Gold gave the perfect end of festival performance. The musicians seemed to be having the time of their lives, the music was appropriately sunny and upbeat with a lot world music influences (African, Israeli and hometown Brooklyn to boot). I enjoyed it immensely and so did everyone else considering we were all still singing the last song for ten minutes after the band left the stage. They even came back for an extra bow and to take pictures of these crazy Dutch people who didn’t know when to stop.

Our little gang ended the night with the completely mental party cooked up by legendary Dutch DJ Kees van Hondt with his special brew of insane German and tiroler folk beats (where does he find this stuff??) and all the partygoers bringing attributes to the tent (mainly broken branches, inflatable animals and any unsecured piece of festival furniture). Then back to the camp sight to spend roughly three hours dreaming of what a wonderful edition 2010 was. Let’s do it all again next year.

Lowlands at night

angelic Lowlands visitor

After a semi-relaxed schedule on Friday the tables turned on Saturday and the running-around-like-a-blue-arsed-fly-phase announced itself. I even missed out on a couple of promising acts, but one must make tough choices in these harsh circumstances…

SATURDAY 21-8

Starting your Lowlands day at 1 PM pretty much feels like 5 AM on an average week day, but it was worth it for the silliness that was “Lowlands Sings“. The biggest festival tent was completely packed with people excited to start their day with the ultimate in cheesy communal karaoke. On stage: a few comedians presenting and about 30 people handpicked to be the choir, in fetching outfits. We sang classics the likes of Killing In The Name Of, Rammstein’s Die Sonne (choir dressed in lederhosen) and Hey Jude. The crowd was not having any R&B though, Alicia Keyes’ New York tune was relentlessly whistled to a halt. Guitars please!

Foals showed they can whip up a storm in any setting with their sublime brand of funky eighties electronic indie. I went to see them a while ago in Tivoli (much smaller venue), but they still managed to create the same atmosphere in the big Bravo tent. With a pang of pain I left before the end of the set in order to go and see Jack Parow and his Zef tunes. He was playing in the X-Ray and before he even started there was such a crowd they could have put a Y-Ray beside it. The tube-style venue was wafting fumes of body odour and stale beer in the heat, but people were sticking it out all the same. No wonder, Parow gave a very entertaining performance with massive beats, cool artwork and most improtantly, his trademark witty lyrics.

guy with Parow-style cap

As I walked across the festival terrain I decided to buy those protective ear plugs I used to snigger at (I’m getting on a bit) and it proved to be not a day to soon: the Blood Red Shoes gig was set to volume level ‘destruction’ I reckon. I’ve seen them a few times so it didn’t come as a surprise that they’re loud, but many of the people around me were covering their ears for fear of brain melt it seemed. The band was in good form, energetic and smiling at each other, giving it all despite the intense heat. Still I couldn’t help the sneaky feeling that their songs are starting to sound a bit ‘samey’, both musically and in the often repetitive lyrics.

Blood Red Shoes at Lowlands 2010 (photo Jelmer de Haas via 3VOOR12)

Time for some peace and quiet, some poetry, some contemplation: Villagers. Their debut album has steadily been growing on me over the last weeks and I was excited to see them. The setting was perfect, the sun just dipping behind the Charlie open air marquee, and Conor O’Brien taking the stage without band to do a ballsy acoustic performance of Twenty Seven Strangers. He had me at hello. I was struck by the heart felt and decisive delivery of O’Brien’s lyrics, for instance in I Saw The Dead and the sublime Becoming A Jackal. But the band is also well able to pick up the pace, with some of the songs ending in a howling O’Brien and band members frantically flailing arms at instruments. Part Elliott Smith, part Bright Eyes and a dose of Patrick Watson, sheer beauty.

Villagers

Hanging onto my mellow folky mood I was in luck: Local Natives were up next. I was amazed at how wonderful their harmonies were live, such a warm sound that reaches out to you. I can’t say anything to fault this show, they were just spot on. Warning Sign sounded like a classic seventies folk song in their rendition, with a taste of west coast peers Fleet Foxes. There was an absolute goosebump moment with the beautiful Airplanes. Can’t wait to see there guys in a full concert.

Local Natives live at Lowlands 2010 (photo Nick Helderman via 3VOOR12)

Here comes a little brokenbranches confession. Despite strict military planning I wasn’t able to go and see the LCD Soundsystem set in the tent due to the inability to stand for another minute. Running across the festivalgrounds takes its toll even on me, and so it happened that I was singing along to Drunk Girls whilst munching on a curry in the neighbouring food area. Slightly annoyed with myself, but what can you do.

I managed to recharge my batteries just about enough to go and see Beach House for a wonderfully dreamy end of the evening. The band took their time to get going, but at some point you could see they had the audience won over and I saw several lovey dovey couples canoodling during gems like Heart Of Chambers and Norway. One thing that’s even more astounding live: how did Victoria Legrand get her voice to be so husky?

Beach House

Collateral damage of the day: I wussed out at LCD, I missed the apparently great gig by La Pegatina and the Bloody Beetroots’ grimey beats. You can’t win’em all. This is also true for the Lowlands organisers who had a slight blemish on their otherwise immaculate festival: playing a late night film (The Expendables) in a tent with 8 massive pillars obstructing the view from about 75% of the possible seats in the tent. Fail.

Lowlands chewed me up and spat me out four days later with a voice like a sorority girl after spring break and in a general state of physical decay, but what a glorious experience it was! Before I fall into a complete coma it is time to line the festival highlights up for inspection: who did I see and were they everything I ever dreamed of?

FRIDAY 20-8

I was determined to kick off Lowland 2010 with Triggerfinger, but right off the bat I was distracted by Cymbals Eat Guitars playing the Lima stage on the way there. I was lucky enough to stumble right into Wind Phoenix, perfect sunny song of distorted genius to start the weekend! But the pull of the massive Alpha stage was strong and on I went to the rock raunchiness served up by Belgium’s finest Triggerfinger. Who can resist the loin-stirring voice of singer Ruben Block and those primordial guitar licks? Alpha responded from the gut, screaming along Aaaaaa-aaahhhhhh in Deep Purple style. Great choice for opening headliner on Friday, including the nice touch to bring Selah Sue on stage for their revved up cover of Duffy’s Mercy.

Triggerfinger at Lowlands 2010 (photo Tim van Veen via 3VOOR12)

Sticking around main stage Alpha what followed was a hero’s welcome for the cream of the crop of Dutch hip hop label Top Notch: The Opposites, Dio accompanied by indierockers Go Back To The Zoo and Flinke Namen. I figured it would be a good show, but I couldn’t have predicted the massive mayhem that followed, the crowd was lapping up every song, encouraged by increasingly stomping beats. Can you get a few thousand people to crouch down on the floor and then start jumping? Can you get them to scream out that they’re hookers (D’r zijn hoeren in de tent dus we gaan nog niet naar huis)? Yes you can, if you perform with the raw energy and enthusiasm these boys brought. Great show, I was already flogged at 4 PM on day 1.

The Opposites at Lowlands 2010 (photo Tim van Veen via 3VOOR12)

Already a broken woman, I stumbled across the way to the Charlie stage to see Frightened Rabbit. Although everything seemed in order and I like their brand of indie, I couldn’t get into the gig. Maybe my brain was still set to hip hop mode, but it lacked a bit of magic for me. I decided to soak up some sun whilst listening to Broken Bells. Why they were programmed in the Alpha tent is beyond me with such a mellow sound and a new project too, the tent was only half filled as was to be expected. But it was perfect lounge music for lying in the sun. I enjoyed the beautiful alt country nostalgia of Band of Horses a lot more, “No one’s gonna love you more than I do”. Although in fairness, both bands don’t offer much in the way of stage antics, best consumed with eyes closed perhaps.

Enough of this main stage fodder! Off to the dark depths of the sliced-in-half-tin-can that is the X-Ray stage. Canadian electronic beatguru Caribou was cooking up a slow intoxicating mixture of psychedelic soundscapes. Just when I was feeling a bit hypnotised by the video graphics he shook it up with the amazing Odessa and after that there was a kind of extended foreplay that erupted in the irresistible pulsating seduction of Sun. The man knows how to build a set. If I was a smoker I would have lit up after that one.

Caribou live at Lowlands 2010 (photo Nick Helderman via 3VOOR12)

Walking past Air I did a double take but really couldn’t find the oomph to worm my way into the tent just to see two guys on synthesizers play Kelly Watch The Stars again, I pass. I did arrange to meet up with friends for a reliable boogie with Groove Armada, but we were disappointed. A routine uninspired set with choppy starts and stops to songs and random shouts to ‘hype the crowd’. Even dance floor favourite Get Down sounded lackluster, shame. All the more because I missed Tame Impala to be there!

We ended the night in good spirits though, joining the masses for the Zer00’s Heroes party: enough of the Doctor Alban and Haddaway ninieties crap, in with the naughties: Gaga, Britney, White Stripes and De Jeugd van Tegenwoordig!

Twelve hours from now we’ll be in the car, packed like sardines & Lowlands tunes thumping on the stereo on our way to the coolest traffic jam of the year, can’t wait! This year I’m even more excited than usual, because I know the surprise we’ll unleash on our festival gang tomorrow night! When we’re all pitched up on our little camp site and huddled under the ‘communal tent’ with a well deserved beer, the moment will be there to unveil the ultimate in Lowlands merchandise: LLOWNOPOLY!

Last year’s merchandise project resulted in the rather awesome Llowly Planet festival guide, but this year we’ve turned it up a notch and produced an entire board game! All of the parts can be seen in detail and downloaded here. We’ve done a radical overhaul on the classic Monopoly using the festival terrain map as a game board, the stages and facilities in stead of streets and many hilarious festival related questions and dares in stead of chance and community chest cards. I’ve already had a few people downloading it to take with them to Lowlands too, would be awesome to see other playing it on the camp site!

I’m off to finish packing, and will report back on Monday in ridiculous detail. Meanwhile I leave you with a helpful instruction video “How to pitch your tent on the festival camp site”.

[1] day but more videos til Lowlands!

Today is a bit different. With only 1 opportunity left to post a video I was unable to choose. So I’ve decided to post all my remaining recommended artists I haven’t had the opportunity to showcase yet.

Frightened Rabbit – gorgeously melodic indiepop, good enough to forgive the occasional cheesy lyric

Hot Chip – irresistible nerdiness, and when played live incredibly danceable too

LCD Soundsystem – I expect mayhem, anthems and fierce moshing!

Marina and the Diamonds – She’s talented and quirky and wants to make sure you know

Miike Snow – skillfully crafted indie dance pop by Swedish hit doctors, leaves you wanting more

The Low Anthem – such delicate tunes and tales of woe, will they survive a festival?

The National – Slow to win me over, but I’m crumbling for the moody majesty

The Opposites – Cream of the Dutch hip hop crop, funny and skills to boot.
Also a fitting last clip as it is actually about looking forward to Lowlands!!  “Lowlands zin in, zin in Lowlands”

[2] days & videos til Lowlands!

Today: the surreal antics of Die Antwoord, yes it’s real and it’s damn good too.

[3] days & videos til Lowlands!

Today: Magnificently hypnotic addictive trippy electro dance video-weirdness by Caribou.

[4] days & videos til Lowlands!

Today: One of this year’s main attractions and rightly so, banjo-rific Mumford & Sons.

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