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Le Guess Who? 2014, Various Venues, Utrecht - Day 3 (2.0)

  • Written by  Stef Siepel

I’m actually kind of surprised when Sharon van Etten says that She Keeps Bees are from New York, because I wouldn’t have automatically assumed that. She (singer Jessica Larrabee) just seems to have this nicety about her that makes you think she should be from Minnesota or something. She is so thankful that everyone has come to her show that she sometimes loveably enthusiastically forgets that she needs to be talking into the microphone rather than into the air. She even almost apologizes for throwing some of those do-you-believe-in-life-after-love Cher moves in there to keep “that rope” behind her head, meaning her sizeable ponytail. “It’s physics” she explains, after which she briefly mimicks the singer.

She Keeps Bees came out with a new album this year, and so they’re touring, and if tonight is anything to go by, you might want to take a look at whatever (I imagine relatively small) venue they’ll be playing. The soft-loud interplay throughout the gig is used to great effect, and the way the drums and the two guitars manage to work together and not, say, battle each other shows that they know a thing or two on how to craft a sound. So the synthesizer which she praises  for being so very clever (she’s going to ask it to do her taxes next time around) is not the only thing that has some smarts. And then there’s still her lovely hoarse voice, which again can go up and down, whatever the song requires. On two songs she even basically starts a capella, which is ballsy. One of those bands that play that kind of non-pretentious indie rock you cannot help but love, and even on some songs, feel touched by.

Sharon van Etten is having fun. She’s having fun with She Keeps Bees, saying something like, and I’m paraphrasing, “I miss you guys so much in New York, and now we finally see each other again! In Utrecht, what the...”. She’s having fun with her fellow band members, who she sneaks glances to whilst undoubtedly sharing in jokes. And she’s definitely having some fun with an Irishman up front, who is almost miming her songs back at her and whose laugh has Van Etten in stitches, saying she wants it as her alarm clock sound. “I’m thinking bad thoughts”, the man says, to which Van Etten replies with a don’t want to know, then saying that the next song is dedicated to him, entitled ‘Break Me’, which has both of them laughing loudly. It shows how much she has evolved since she played right in front of The National in Eindhoven years ago. There, a young, insecure kid was on stage, but here is standing a woman who owns the stage and who is being backed by some professional musicians to help her get all these sad songs for star crossed lovers across.

Musically, again, she is a novice no more (except that she apparently broke her amp, but oh well). She moves from soft, acoustic songs to louder songs she herself accompanies with the electric guitar, and she moves from her hits like ‘Our Love’ to a song that apparently didn’t make it onto the last record. Her voice is wonderfully fragile, a quality that she manages to keep in there despite her having to go over the top of raging instruments on some of the songs. This, for example, is evident during closer ‘ Your Love is Killing Me’, where she has to quite loudly ask her lover to “break my legs so I won’t run to you”, but despite the needed volume she does manage to get the desperate, the sadness, and the inescapability of the fall in there. She’s grown up as performer and as an artist, but in her voice and in most songs she doesn’t let you forget that growing up is not without it’s growing pains.

There are quite a few reasons to be jealous of Binkbeats, the young Dutchman. First of all, he’s making his live debut in the big room in Tivoli Vredenburg (where, for example, a few weeks earlier Morrissey was playing). So he’s certainly all smiles about that. Envy all around also for his incredible set-up though. Binkbeats, next to creating new sounds, also deconstructs tunes by other artists, and in order to do this he’s put every instrument imagineable on stage, and then some. In a lovely circle he’s got all kinds of “actual” instruments, devices, electronical hardware, and you name it. It looks absolutely fantastic. With in the center of it all mr. debutant.

And cue technical difficulty number one, two, and four-hundred-thirty-nine. That’s the thing about technology, it might not work exactly how you’d want it to work. And I’ve seen many seasoned musician get annoyed, angry, and apathetic because of that. Not this young kid, who apologizes, recognizes that the first couple of minutes were not up to scratch, but then tries to fix it, and the rest of the set he manages to do what he wants to do. He uses all kinds of samples, loops, sounds, and live instrumentation and singing to, eventually, get the desired effect. Some of the songs sound perhaps a bit too deconstructed, with all the odd bits and pieces not being put together to create an ongoing flow. On some of the tracks this does happen though, and then his wizardry comes to the fore pretty well. Just for the comeback alone this guy deserves a thumbs up (though, admittedly, it’s not like he’s never been on a stage, having performed with Kyteman Orchestra, but that’s less a-boy’s-storybook, don’t ya think?). 

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