The Gathering in The Hague

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Continuing this year’s trend of ‘going to see bands I don’t know’, last night we travelled to The Hague to see The Gathering play a singer/songwriter festival on ‘Queen’s Day Eve’. It is the night before Dutch national holiday ‘Queen’s Day’, not dissimilar in atmosphere to Ireland’s St Patrick’s Day. They dress in green, the Dutch wear orange. Both nations fancy their beer.

Not the most ideal night to be walking The Hague streets. Long before midnight the punters were drunk, the atmosphere inflammable. Loud music burst from overflowing pubs, young men pissing on every corner and in between.

We skipped the other bands for an extended visit to local Chinese restaurant Kee Lun Palace (of the ‘mostly chinese people eat here’ variety, thus excellent) and arrived at the venue at the end of Bettie Serveert’s set. Bettie Serveert were and still are a highly derivative band, with a mediocre vocalist and boring tunes.

Just the opposite then, from headliners The Gathering whose set started at 12.30 am. Originally a ‘death metal‘ band, they refuse to be pigeonholed and continue to progress. I have largely ignored them in the past, but their current line up and vibe is appealing: gothic, ethereal rock with pleasing, dramatic melodies, clever arrangements and excellent singing. Their musicianship stands out. Chart topping copycats Evanescence simply do not measure up to the standard The Gathering set.

The short festival set focused on their newer, ‘lighter’ material which held my attention for a long time. I did appreciate the later venture into their more metal influenced songs. Anneke van Giersbergen is an accomplished singer, but I’m not completely convinced by her as a performer. There’s an element of plastic about her work – the gestures, facial expressions seem a little forced. Still, impressive warbling. She could mix it up a little more — her one ‘spoken’ vocal stood out in a good way.

Too bad the Italian fan couldn’t keep from singing along loudly to the most fragile song. Lady, you’ve a pretty voice, but really – keep it in the shower.

22 pictures, mostly of vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen. All taken with the Ixus 400.

R.E.M.’s Summertime

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Sometimes when you hit that shutter button, you know – you FEEL it’s the one. When I took the picture above, I knew I’d captured the moment. This is Michael Stipe looking out over 50,000 people at the Pinkpop festival in 1989. He’d grabbed a chair, set it as close to the edge of the stage as possible and he was singing ‘Summertime’.

We’d been standing in the sun all day. Some of our group were slamdancing to The Pixies. Some of us were laughing at Tanita Tikaram who couldn’t hold a tune to save her life (even her fans turned away in disgust). Some of us felt sorry for Marc Almond, pelted with food by an intolerant audience> We had all dropped our jaws in surprise when Elvis Costello came up and defied all logic by being solid, stunning and simply… sexy.

Costello, belting out ‘I want you’, had broken a string mid-song. He’d stood there, solo, still crying the words, his arms stretched out wide. A roadie rushed in, literally sliding in on his knees. He freed the singer of his guitar, slipped him on a new one, and plugged it in just in time for Costello to seamlessly continue his song. We had never been more in awe of musicianship.

We had made our way to the front row. Pressed up against the barrier, a little left of center. R.E.M. were last on the bill. It had been 2 years since they played our country. Two years since I had reluctantly gone to see them and had come back a fan. We didn’t know it then, but R.E.M.’s Pinkpop appearance was to be their last in Holland. Ever. Believe it or not, the next two occasions the band booked Dutch venues both were cancelled for health reasons.

This one almost didn’t happen either. The accident prone band nearly had to cancel at the last moment because Bill Berry’d been bitten by a tick, back in his beloved Georgia garden. The man nearly died of Rocky Mountain Fever in a German hospital. But they patched him up.

I still think the band were at their best in ’89. Stipe in his white floppy suit, sporting what he now calls an ‘unfortunate’ haircut, seemed on the verge of insanity. Buck hadn’t put on the pounds yet, and it was before ueber-nerd Mills got into dye jobs and glittery suits. And… damn it, they still had their drummer.

They launched straight into mayhem: Exhuming McCarthy, Turn you Inside Out, Stand, Orange Crush… the set heavily dominated by Document and Green favourites. Stipe swirled around the microphone stand, brandishing his megaphone. Feeling Gravity’s Pull felt like the apocalypse.

Then they let us all come down gently. King of Birds, Summertime, Swan Swan H and finally, with Mills playing bass sitting down on the edge of the stage, ending with You are the Everything.

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