HaydenEdit this event
- Melkweg, Amsterdam »
Another crowded night in Amsterdam. There is a queue for everything, even a secondary one to get inside The Melkweg to wait in another queue for coat check and the like. But it is all worth it tonight, or at least feels this way right now. Everyone around is excited, genuinely excited; maybe because it is clear outside for once. But it is busy, very busy, and the typical crowded Amsterdam concert can often be the absolute definition of uncomfortable. The Dutch rarely, if ever, say “excuse me” when they pass, and when hoards of blonde tree trunks set up shop for a few hours in all available exits, sightlines and personal space suffer. Last week, for example, I dropped two beers because of a flagrant elbow to the head (their elbows are level with my head). Spilt everywhere. Tonight, on the other hand, the awkwardness permeating from the overcrowded space is absent. I feel great - just dandy, even with two folks and a load-bearing post blocking the view to the stage. It is this excitement, this anticipation. It’s contagious. The Dutch love The National. I can feel it. Still early. Time to meander over to the side balcony, mainly to people watch the rank-and-file contingent trading beers and conversation below. The smoke seeping from the hundreds of cigarettes alit in close range is even bearable. This is going to be a good night.
It is time. The opener, Hayden, emerges and begins to wax acoustic with a wood and whiskey tuned guitar. The room fills up to watch. I am lodged in place like canned asparagus, peering through a tiny crack between two people for a glimpse at whatever it is coming from down south. Still, this is a treat. Hayden is virtually unknown on this side of the pond, but back in Canada – the old home – he is iconic, currently touring on his fifth album. But the acoustic strum and countrified, contemplative voice is losing the battle with the chatter at the back. Thankfully, four songs in he opts for the piano, a louder accompaniment for his vocals. Everyone shuts up, finally, taking notice. I hear him sing; I can make out the words now, and boy it is glorious. Hayden’s voice rips through each strum, straining the strings with battered tales of rural inebriation, desolation and the dark side hidden in the motel rooms dotting Canada’s countryside. The muse is bloody, but domineering. By now the crowd is silent; been six songs thus far. Still, an exodus heading to the bar smack my back along the way, discomfort surely, but Hayden assuages it. Alone he trumps the discomfort, the chatter, everything that doesn’t matter in the room with these songs. Thirty minutes in, we are all silent, holding off heading to the bar, completely entrenched. And then The National emerge. They lend a hand for a few tracks, including old single 'Dynamite Walls'. Brilliant.
It is still really busy in here. My shoulder hurts. But all is well tonight; nothing can go wrong. Remember, the Dutch love The National. But they make us wait, a good half-hour before surfacing. Without a word, they launch into their set. The Brooklyn sextet – they have added a violinist now – open with the down-tempo, minor-keyed ‘Secret Meeting’ and ‘Mistaken For Strangers’, the crowd remains silent. Together, we are all encased in this immediately. Quiet and loud, slow and slower, we are here, right here, exfoliating our senses in these melodies. But these are not happy songs by any means. Instead, The National tinker with malaise, albeit slyly and sarcastically, but it is the themes of utter isolation and alienation flooding these songs, not unification and togetherness. But none of it matters. We are all here, god knows how many but it is surely sold out, feeling alienated together. As sombre as these songs are, this is electrifying. I cannot look away. Even ‘Brainy’, ‘Squalor Victoria’ and ‘Abel’, all tributes to sadder times are jubilant. The pokes and prods of passers by on the balcony feel embracing, even comforting. I am sweating, but who cares. Everyone is sweating just as much. My eyes wander away as Berninger dives into ‘Apartment Story’. There is no queue at the bar whatsoever. Amazing.
Hayden comes back for the encore. There are five songs in total, the obligatory ‘Mr. November’ along with ‘Start a War’ and ‘Daughters of the Soho Riots’. It has been nearly two hours and every song off both Boxer and Alligator has come and gone. But these songs, along with the crowd, are sticking to me, and it feels nothing short of serene.
Photo: Janus Granka
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