Living in the Netherlands

The Magical Month of Music

aka, February.

It began on a Friday night at Paradiso, a former church that now showcases various entertainment acts in Amsterdam. The star of the show was the legendary Conor Oberst. At least for me, the frontman of Bright Eyes has always been somewhat of a mythical figure.

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Most people are familiar with my obsession with live music. I was fourteen when I went to my first concert, and though I couldn’t stay for the entire set because of a curfew, it was the beginning of a wonderful tradition.

What I hadn’t realized through all these years was why I am so drawn to this pastime. As I watched Conor Oberst sing out his emotions on stage in front of a large room of strangers, I felt inspired. It put me, as an observer, on a rollercoaster of emotions. I laughed at his humorous stories. I wanted to scream ‘la da da’ at the top of my lungs after this line: “Because it is the ones with the sorest throats, Laura, who have done the most singing.” Only then did I begin to understand the motivating power of this tradition. I, too, wanted to create something meaningful.

This blog serves in part as an outlet for my creativity. As you can see, I have not been as active in this endeavor as I would like. In those brief, fleeting moments underneath the dim lights in the converted church, my recent lack of inspiration started to make sense. With so much to explore in a foreign country, I’ve been neglecting my passion for live music. And without that form of release, my creative output remains stagnant.

Good thing February was the magical month of music, right?

The following night, I went to a local show for a band called Amarins & le gatte negre. I first saw this Dutch band (that sings in English) perform in September at Floriade, the world horticultural expo in Venlo. I knew from the program, which described their sound as folk-gypsy-swing-pop, that I was going to love this band. Even that doesn’t do them justice, as they also incorporate the accordion, kazoos, and duck sounds into their music.

When I found out that they would be disbanding in February, I was more than a little sad. Luckily, I was able to attend their last show at Delicatessen Zeeburg in Amsterdam. It was the perfect venue for the occasion – my friend and I were actually worried that we may have intruded on a private performance because of how small and intimate it was. I have no doubt that each of the band member’s families were in attendance. (And in related news, I may have photo-bombed a few of their pictures).

It was clear that the band members were having a blast on stage. Whenever they made a mistake, they would erupt into laughter and begin joking with one another and the audience. Unfortunately for me, this was all happening in Dutch and it went completely over my head. The energy and love in the room was unmistakable though, even across linguistic barriers. I am so glad that I was able to witness their last performance as a band. Also, they were given flowers and popsicles at the close of their set, which was way awesome.

I also had the pleasure of seeing Allen Stone in concert, at a venue in Utrecht called Tivoli. A quick note about the venue: originally, there was a group of people (if I remember correctly, they may have called themselves “Tivoli”) that would bike around with alcohol in tow, looking for an empty building in which to host parties. This created a cat-and-mouse situation between the squatters and the police, as the police were always trying to prevent the next party. After some time, the squatters found the building that now houses Tivoli, which was an ideal space because of its large interior and central location. However, this made it easy for the fuzz to locate them. The game between the two groups continued. One night, the police planned to bring dogs to chase off the party people, but they caught wind of this rumor and brought some kind of substance that would distract the dogs, essentially rendering them useless.

Needless to say, the police were growing increasingly frustrated by the group’s antics. Eventually, the city relented and donated the building to the group, provided they would make sure it didn’t fall into disrepair. I learned all of this from Utrecht Free Tours, and evidently Paradiso (where I saw Conor Oberst play) has a similar background story.

Anyways, enough of the history lesson and back to the music. It was in this historic building where I saw Allen Stone and his band play. His robust, soulful voice is all the enticement I need to start dancing. Be forewarned, my dancing is terrible. I’ve come to accept this fact, and now make an effort to have the cheesiest dance moves imaginable (not pictured, to minimize my embarrassment and your pity for me). Instead, enjoy this blurry picture of Allen Stone!

Allen Stone at Tivoli in Utrecht

And here’s a video compilation of the three concerts mentioned above. The first is from the Amarins & le gatte negre show, illustrating how cozy the gathering was. In the second clip, Conor Oberst sings “Lenders in the Temple.” And to address the final clip – yes, Allen Stone, it is love you’re feeling.

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