Talk about Le Guess Who? is talk of a consolidated and recognised festival under the flag of the quality and diversity, that allows in 4 days to enjoy diverse proposals as Einstürzende Neubauten, voodoo jazz of Dr. John, the main stage of one day managed by the very Swans or a unforgettable weekend ending party with Turkish singer Selda as a protagonist. Unfortunately work obligations made impossible for us to attend events of Thursday, in which besides the mentioned Einstürzende Neubauten as big claim, were also Portuguese Paus or Ben Frost.
Friday, November 21
Any visitor who comes to Utrecht should know that is one of the most beautiful of the Netherlands and an undoubted charm, besides being the quintessential college town with an enviable atmosphere any day of the year. However, the works that abundant the city, more notably in the part near the station, causes that today the city is like a giant Gruyère cheese in which the circulation and orientation is nothing short of chaotic. As a result, our entrance to majestic Tivoli Vredenburg complex (with up to 8 rooms inside) was delayed more than usual and we just arrived at the final moments of the concert of American Perfume Genius, that on the few minutes we saw presented themes of his new album Too Bright, released last September. Downstairs was time for one of the major claims of the day, his countryman Bonnie "Prince" Billy, that under his aesthetics professor of literature at any institute of American East Coast hides strength and firmness that convert his shows in an experience to remember, both for the sound quality and the synergies between his guitar and the rest of the band, as well as the dimension that reach their thoughtful lyrics live.
Back upstairs we would find the unclassifiable proposal Dean Blunt, more visible part of the duo Hype Williams, who recited poems or own reflections on rhythms coming from the piano or saxophone who accompanied him on stage. After the initial surprise, mainly due to the gloomy atmosphere and the hardness of his lyrics, the show decayed exponentially staying as a mere anecdote in our memory. Luckily one of the living legends of jazz, Dr. John, would transport us immediately to the 70's New Orleans with his "voodoo-jazz" which quickly flow between a public that expected him as big claim the day. Right on the day on which the legendary musician celebrated his 74th birthday (with a surprise tart in the middle of the show included), the American offered a fun and entertaining concert where highlighted classics as "Right Place Wrong Time" and "Walk On guilded Splinters", and that had as main character to the trombonist Sarah Morrow who filled the stage with ease and pace for about 75 minutes.
The end of the night brought us a meeting with the post punk from two very different sides, the wildest hardcore approximation of Danish Iceage or American Parkay Quartz, aka Parquet Courts, closest to the garage of 70. While Danish Iceage underpinned much of their show in the charisma of their leader Elias Bender and basslines by Jakob Tvilling that caused several pogos in the front rows, the Brooklyn guys opted for distorted guitars and faster rhythms with which they closed a good first day of festival.
Saturday November 22
Saturday was the big day of the festival thanks to "Mouth to Mouth" a luxury lineup on the main stage managed by the big headliners of the day, Americans Swans . The first contact was with French Savages and Japanese Bo Ningen, who recently collaborated on the eclectic project "Words to the Blind" which under an experimentation based on Dadaism unleashed for slightly 30 minutes a sound power difficult to match. With a symmetric provision in the scenario, good part of the show resulted in a vocally and spasmodic duel between leaders of both bands Jehnny Beth and Taigen Kawabe. As in search of a necessary mental break, it was time to approach more calm proposal of Sharon Van Etten, that perhaps erred on the setlist by focusing too much on her new album Are We There, that deals with the transience of relations from a dark and often too direct prism. Throughout the concert we lived several phases that varied between boredom and contained and comfortable excitement, but the best of it would come right at the end with the performance of a majestic "Serpents", in which excelled the spectacular guitar sound of Dough Keiths.
The main stage was filled again to receive British Band Wire, band that during the second half of the 70s was one of the spearheads of the punk movement in the islands. Our personal experience warns us that usually results quite disappointing approaching today to live shows of these kinds of bands, and despite this, the disappointment was again impossible to hide. Specially because nothing had in common the last 10 minutes of the show, in which we could enjoy a band with guts and passion, from the rest of the concert, in which the visible apathy of members and a bad coordination (the guitars of the young Smims seem too slow or vocal parts of Graham Lewis were devoured by the sound of the group) marred everything that punk means. The attitude on stage is everything, should be a mandatory commandment for all those who fill their mouths saying that their lifestyle is rock, and a good example to show would be the one of Americans Swans. Absolute headliners of the lineup, with an undoubted experience on their shoulders and one of the best albums of the year under their belt, the band offered an amazing concert where they didn't allow a moment of respite to an audience that just exhausted and equally pleased. The proposal from Gira and his guys is hard and unfriendly, and even in the initial moments can be a difficult barrier to digest for neophytes, but if you can overcome the chaos and destruction generated by guitars and basses full of distortions, a world of new sounds is opened to the listener. From there, only remains dive into the destruction symphony that Gira directs with complete mastery from the voices, and which has its peak point in the percussion section of Thor Harris, capable of hammering pipes or caress the xylophone to create amazing soundscapes. After two hours of concert, and with a setlist focused in their later works (including two unreleased new tracks), the public could only break into applause and receive from Gira a very unusual example of public appreciation in the form of greeting and reverence.
The final icing on the cake would be French Auterche, props and reference from the electronic movement, but not only the incomprehensible proposal that will not allow to take photographs, also that all the lights in the room and the bars must be off creating a claustrophobic atmosphere, made us take the bike to the concert that Cloud Nothings would offer in the De Helling room. The Cleveland guys chose to focus on their last two albums, starting spectacularly with two hits as "Stay Useless" and "Psychic Trauma" that heated up the atmosphere causing pogos and crowdsurfers ipso facto. The immediacy of the show and the sense of urgency transmitted by the leader the band Dylan Baldi were a constant that made the show seemed to last a sigh guided by rapid beating of the drums of Jayson Gerycz, only throttled in the final song "Wasted Days", which unnecessarily lengthened to about 10 minutes in a kind of jam session dominated by distortions.
Sunday November 23
If the previous day was dominated by anger and distortion as main ingredients, on the closing day heterogeneity was the main protagonist submitting proposals as different as the delicacy and subtlety of Owen Pallett, multiculturalism and merging middle East and north Africa in the shows of Suuns & Jerusalem in My Heart and Selda with Boom Pam or rock from one of the new muses from the indie-mainstream St.Vicent.
The Canadian Owen Pallett was responsible for opening the impressive Tivoli grote zaal (With octagonal shape and an incredible sound), and with his intimate proposal gained the spectators from the beginning. With the sole help of his violin and a keyboard, composer known for his first project Final Fantasy or for having collaborated with artists like Arcade Fire and Beirut, surprised with a concert of about 50 minutes, in which the original samples recorded at the time and, shy but sincere little interaction with the audience, managed to catch an attendance that at the end expected more songs. The next concert of the day had as a starring the Niger Mdou Moctar, that beyond the initial visual shock that supposed to see a group of Tuaregs with their traditional clothes and a pair of electric guitars, didn't show soo much musically, with very flat sounds close to the traditional music of the lands of the Sahel. Downstairs the main room presented on this occasion a better entry for the show that Canadians Suuns & Radwan Ghazi Moumneh of Jerusalem In My Heart were performed, being the final result a boring and monotonous show where the fusion of styles was not real, remaining very little of what defines Suuns beyond a misplaced guitars. Even a brilliant last five minutes where finally the voice of Radwan and distortions were perfectly combined, the show was in global totally dispensable.
Just our luck, we recover the pace immediately with energetic show that American Tune-Yards offered at Pandora room. Together with a chorus that filled the stage not only with their voices but also with a hypnotic dance, American offered a danceable and entertaining concert sustaining in a percussion section that handles own Merrill Garbus. In a U-turn , Annie Clark, better known as St. Vincent, offered below probably the most spectacular (and not just by a hypnotic set of lights) show throughout the festival, booting with a peculiar dances and little steps like a geisha in "Rattlesnake", later to be gradually adding more rock and electronic pills throughout the performance.. It is true that at startup prevailed songs of their previous albums and even some philosophical "speech" dedicated to the public that perhaps relaxed too much the atmosphere, but once sounded "Severed Fingers Crossed" and "Every Tear Disappears" the show was raised to levels that demonstrate why the American can be considered already as a STAR with capital letters. When was time for the majestic "Birth In Reverse" and "Bring Me Your Loves", small seeds of anger from the guitar full effects of the singer, the audience was already surrendered, as demonstrated by the applause given after the lone striking good interpretation on the stage of "Strange Mercy", last song of an memorable setlist.
And nevertheless, the place of big star of the day and the festival remains reserved for the sexagenarian Turkish Selda. Quite unknown to the European public, but with the almost mystical band of an idol in her native Turkey (a simple internet search repetitively will return the tagline "Turkish Bod Dylan"). The "singer of the people" is known for fusing psychedelic rhythms with traditional touches of protest song in the 70s, which earned her multiple political problems in those days and even recently hand over generations closer to be remembered in some of the hymns of protests from Taksim square in Istanbul. Musically, there was an instrumental preheating for about 15 minutes by the Israeli band Boom Pam, highlighting their guitarist capable of fusing rhythms of Middle Eastern with surfing or rock with astonishing ease, so when Selda appeared on stage, the room just became a clamour. Any cultural reticence had beforehand was defeated in just seconds with thunderous applause, falling delivered to the evidence and recognition towards a fusion of wonderful rhythms closer to what Morente and Largartija Nick made between flamenco and rock in Omega album. For a little more than an hour it was surprising as not only the large Turkish community in the room, but everyone, it was incorporated into the rhythms of Ottoman, reaching an ecstasy that made the singer returned to stage on three occasions to perform encores. On them would sound again repeated her two big hits "Yaz Gazeteci Yaz" and "Ince Ince" closing a memorable and hardly replicable concert that meant our grand finale to a fantastic festival in which it is appreciated that the quality is always above of any commercial interest, risking for nothing commercial proposals that fall outside festivals with more crowd by fear of the unknown..