Standing at the Crossroads

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Platinum  selling award winning Albums and nominations for Band of the Year – but who IS Joost Zweegers?  A Dutch Band with an Irish lead singer described by Paul Weller as playing “‘F***ing smashing tunes”, but who ARE Moke?  The Rockpalast ‘Crossroads Festival’ was back in Bonn this week and as usual, every show sounded worth attending and every show was different.

I arrive at the Harmonie to find a group of Dutch citizens arguing about being asked to leave the concert hall. They went in too early and were told ‘The doors don’t officially open for another four minutes…’ German ‘Genauigkeit’?. Only trouble is, practically the entire audience is Dutch or Belgien and they want to go inside! I discover later that the Novastar fansite has been offering a ‘buy one, get two’ bargain on tickets for the show just to holders of Dutch or Belgien passports.Well, it seems to have filled up the Hall nicely (hopefully it’s filled up the Harmonie cash box too!)

So the show gets underway with Novastar and it’s rather strange to be surrounded by people singing every word of every song to songs you’ve never heard before in your life. Singer Joost Zweegers is obviously used to it though. A small guy with cherubic, rounded face, Zweegers has seemingly boundless energy as if he’s been cooped up indoors all day and wants to jump around a lot. As it is, the stage is so cramped with equipment and video cameramen that the only direction he can move freely is upwards – which he does by jumping at every opportunity. He holds an acoustic guitar as if it’s just about to burst free from his grasp and run offstage, and he is almost always either leaning forwards or backwards.

In other words, perfect visual material for a live video concert. Oh, and he also writes cracking pop songs. Matchng this ability to a Paul Mcartney voice, weegers is well worth lending an ear to.

He takes a while to get really into gear though and his Opener ‘Bangor’ typifies the early set – a warm, softly rhythmic ballad with strumming acoustic guitar accompaniment. ‘Weller Weakness’ follows in this vein but on piano. ‘Tunnelvision’ is more poppy and could almost be Sir Paul singing. The show steps up a gear when piano and acoustic are replaced by Rickenbacker bass. ‘Where did we go Wrong?’ pumps along and has the fans jumping almost as much as their hero. Two bars into ‘Mars needs Woman’ and ‘PLUNK’. No thats not a song, its the sound made by a cameraman inadvertantly hitting a keyboard with his elbow.

Zweegers stops mid line, asks a technician for his Rockpalast Mobile. “Yes, your man messed it up – so we’re doing it again!” barks Zweegers, a glint in his eye, the audience applaud and the temperature in the hall doubles with all the heat emitted from red faced Rockpalast technicians. He gets his own back on Rockpalast later by adding a song not on the setlist and by the time his new single ‘Because’ fades from the speakers everyone is smiling – which is just as well because there’s a piano to be taken down from the front of the stage that is going to take all the humour the Harmonie backstage crew can muster considering all the TV cables hanging spaghetti-like from every corner of the stage.

When the piano has been removed and a ‘Moke’ backdrop slung behind the drumkit I begin to percieve other dramatic changes around me. The audience is still largely Dutch/Belgien but hang on – they seem to have discovered an elixir of youth. seems like the Harmonie backroom changed not just the piano but the audience too – cool trick guys!

The name Moke allegedly comes from Amsterdam’s nickname of ‘Mokum’ and most of the band members are indeed Dutchmen – oddly enough playing BritPop music. You might just have heard them without even knowing it – their single ‘This Plan’ was used for a Toyota commercial. They’re good looking lads for sure with stylish haircuts and a look that says – we’re on the way up, watch us go. That high profile image is no accident either: they have a ‘top tailor’ for their stage costumes – Karl Lagerfeld is a fan and chose the band to style his ‘K for Karl’ collection. So Moke are looking forward – only everything about them seems to be looking back: Orange speakers with stickers saying ‘Please Please Me’, epiphone semi acoustic guitars, mod haircuts and as a finishing touch – a picture of Dean Martin on one of Maginn’s guitars.

Musically they are pretty retro too. Maybe it’s partly because lead singer Felix Maginn is from the Emerald Isle, but every second song sounds like the intro to U2’s ‘New Years Day’.  I keep thinking I’m seeing Liam Gallagher too – maybe it’s just the haircut and the moody dark eyes. Speaking to Bernie from Mr Music after the show I’m assured they are very nice guys. He should know; they did an acoustic show in the shop earlier in the evening. It has to be said though that smiling is not something the band do a lot of. Maybe that’s down to the songs themselves. They would have been a perfect backdrop for ‘Looking After JoJo’ that wonderful television movie starring Robert Carlyle and depicting drug racketeering in Ireland at the height of ‘The Troubles’ – which oddly enough was actually musically underpinned by tunes from Paul Weller and The Jam.The bands song “Here comes the Summer” is certainly Irish Powerpop at it’s very best as Maginn sings “No Pope here watch opinions run – down the barrel of a loaded gun”. Very Irish, very 70’s, very retro.

‘This Plan’ is also retro in feel. A bleak story of a troubled mind – in the ‘70s it would fit a troubled Belfast teenager, in 2009 it makes me think of isolated teenagers who take guns into schools. Times changed, but troubled minds do not it seems. Even singing “You and I are beautiful, together we’re gonna rule the world” there’s a doomed timbre in the vocal. Moke were described by one magazine as “The return of 80s guitar rock” which on Fridays evidence seems somewhat bizarre. Lots of hard pumping rock rhythm, but not a solo in sight.  Come to think of it, I missed that with both acts on the night – a screechy, emotive solo.  It was an evening for chords rather than notes.

If I’ve sounded harsh on either of the bands here then I hasten to add both were enjoyable in their own ways and had a shared ability to tap into mainstream music demands. Novastar deserve their success and Moke deserve to succeed. They do what they do well and look good doing it. I was glad though to get home and listen to Walter Trout’s new release “They call us the working class – but we ain’t working anymore” – Also pretty depressng stuff , but finally a heavenly guitar solo to savour…

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