Satyricon @ Fryshuset, Stockholm

After missing their previous concert in Stockholm, because I was in Bucharest and the one in Bucharest because I was in Stockholm, it was now about time to try my best not to miss another live show of one of the best live bands out there. It’s been 8 years since I last saw them in Vienna and many things have changed both in my life since then and in their sound. One thing is for sure: I moved closer to Norway! I say that because Satyricon, a Norwegian band, play what is called Norwegian Black Metal. Throughout the years their music evolved from a lot of growling and powerful guitar riffs to melodic pieces of work curdled together in quite a complex way. I still don’t know how so many guitars can keep track of the fast pace of the songs and how Frost, the drummer, has the energy and precision to play at a mind-blowing speed. Yet again he hasn’t been named one of the best drummers in black metal for nothing.

As grim as it sounds, the band and the music itself are not something to run from, on the contrary, I’d recommend it to anybody who has the courage to take a sip out of extreme metal. However, it’s not for the faint hearted. The songs tell stories and help channel anger, yet I haven’t seen an angry person around me at any of their concerts, just a lot of people having fun and eventually a little bit too drunk. But only smiles and all ears.

This concert in Stockholm has been on my list for 6 months now, and happy I am for putting it there so long ago as it was sold out. When I actually got to the venue I also understood why it was so: it was so small, too small, in my opinion, for a band as Satyricon. They are perfectly capable of enlivening crowds of thousands, yet, there were just a few hundreds of us in front of the stage. The organisation of the event was quite poor, if you ask me: poor security, probably too many people than the capacity of the venue, a mandatory coat-drop, but everything changed once the band started playing. Satyr was as charismatic as ever and a great frontman as he always is. He talked to the audience, demanded appreciation and seemed pleased with the reactions he stirred in us. And I have to say that so was I as it is the first concert in Sweden when I see people reacting the way the audience did at the Satyricon concert: a constant murmur, people singing, clapping, screaming, asking for more in a loud manner, not waiting for the encore in a civilised and silent way. It is true that Satyr kept involving us in the show all concert long and that I’ve noticed quite a lot of foreigners around me, but even so, I wish all rock concerts would have such devoted and active participants. If I didn’t make it clear until now I am going to say it again: we had a very good reason for it to be so.

All in all the band went through their new album, old hits and they made them all sound amazing. I still can’t believe how good Repined Bastard Nation sounds live and how the guitars are so well synchronised. That song played live gives me the goosebumps. Than of course there are the moments when Satyr gets his hands on a guitar. I knew from previous experience that I must listen closely because I will not be disappointed. And I wasn’t, the guy is a maestro.

This time they included Mother North in the core of the concert and left other songs for the encore: The Pentagram Burns, Fuel for Hatred and K.I.N.G. From the new songs I totally loved To Your Brethren in the Dark and The Ghost of Rome.

As a reminiscence of my black metal days, this concert came at a moment when I didn’t know if I have the vibe for such music inside me or not. Well, it is still there and it still fits like a glove. It wasn’t long after the first chord that it all came back to me and I was able to make sense of what others would call noise. And I left there with a huge smile upon my face and a desire to see them play live again. So, tusen takk Satyricon, it was amazing!!!

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Marillion @ Le Zénith Paris – La Villette

Last year in September I ended up in the UK, because why say no to a week-end getaway? It was about the same time I ran into a magazine that had a cover story dedicated to the British rock band Marillion. That magazine landed in Romania two days later, but it drew my attention on the band’s latest album, F E A R (F**k Everyone And Run), a piece that the guardian named Marillion’s best album in 20 years. What stirred my interest, besides the music itself, was the fact that the music sent a message, the whole album is a story with an amazing soundtrack, something that reminded me of Brave, their 1994 album that took me years to make sense of, and only got it in its whole meaning after I started being interested in popular culture and the politics of music. So yes, F E A R sends a message, it is there if one wants to get it, but even if one doesn’t, than it is at least worth listening to because it sounds very good. For me, who doesn’t know the band as well as the hardcore fans, out of which I personally know two, the album sounds a lot like Marillion, which means that if I listen to the instrumentals I get it: it’s them. I am plotting an in depth analysis, if only I had time for it. Even if most listeners and reviewers praise it as a masterpiece, unfortunately it will not reach the peak of popularity: no, it is not radio friendly but it sounds amazing live. And here we get to the interesting part: listening to the whole album live. Because this is what Marillion are doing during their current tour, they are playing F E A R  in its entirety. And they did so at Zénith, Paris, on October 7th, and I was there, together with the two hardcore Marillion fans mentioned earlier. As an occasional listener I think that I probably had an objective approach to the concert, so objective that I had to say it during the concert: “they sound so good!!!!!” And that crowd! When I said before that Marillion fans are a wonderful and passionate community I wasn’t mistaking. This concert made me believe it even more, so much joy streamed from the audience that it was, occasionally, just as interesting to turn back and look at the crowd as it was to watch the band play on stage.

The guys were in a very good shape, Steve Hogarth was his usual chit-chatty self, always ready for a joke, a story, and 26 (!!!) songs. The concert itself had two parts: F E A R first, and after a short break, some of their classic goldies. I’ve listened to the first part with great interest, and I looked at the images displayed on the screen behind the band with greater interest. Because they meant something and because some of them were sending some messages that were so real they simply hurt. Link that to the music and see what you get. My favourite parts: Living in F E A R and The New Kings (i) F**k Everyone And Run. The album itself joggles with topics as power play, social inequality and injustice, media manipulation, some of the topics that occur in music that dares to send a political message, the music that was thought obsolete, but that is there, just not in the mainstream. The images used for The New Kings (i) F**k Everyone And Run sent a shiver down my spine, I translated them, for me, into the arrogance and greed of certain people in the society, people with a lot of power and an even greater deal of ignorance. To fully get the whole message I’d probably have to attend another concert and pay even more attention to everything. There are more ways of reading into music than just by moving ones hips to the rhythm.

The second part of the concert was the one where people were hoping to hear their favourite Marillion track played live. For me that was The Great Escape and guess what? They played it! Alongside Easter, Afraid of Sunlight or Neverland. To make things sound even better they had 6 guest artists playing violins, horns and cellos. They teased the crowd with jokes, conversations, backstage footage and two encores, the second one showered with confetti.

I am pretty sure I missed a lot of details in the concert but I am sure I didn’t ignore the fact that it sounded great and that Marillion is a band worth seeing live and listening to as often as possible. Yes, they have lighter music as well, I guess everybody knows some of their previous hits. Nevertheless, a lot of their songs sound very good. Now I am eagerly waiting for Steve Hogarth’s concert in November, very curious how that will be like.

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Swedish Open 2017

This was my third year in Båstad. With the ATP tournament in Bucharest cancelled, I keep saying that I have to stick around in Sweden a bit longer because they have tennis tournaments here. Three of them every year: two ATP and one WTA and two of them are linked and take place in Båstad. I wrote about my experiences here before but this year was a truly special one. Swedish Open celebrated its 70th edition and that meant double the tennis, double the party and double the work. Triple the work even, since we all wanted to make the celebrations unforgettable.

For me it is simple: tennis comes first! The sea and sunsets come right after, the parties I can somehow do without but above all are working in a team and being a part of the Player’s Family again: the squad that takes care of the players. The ones that are in the background, that make sure things run smoothly before or after the matches and during rain delays, and it is important to know that Båstad can bring a lot of rain delays. This means that before putting your nice shoes on and getting ready to party in Pepe’s Bodega, we all have to make sure things are put in order in the Players Lounge and in the Players Office, that the coffee is hot and the freshly baked cakes and cookies have enough vanilla custard on the side, that the mineral water is cold and there are enough snacks and fruits around, that the players get their lunch and welcome gifts from our great sponsors (my favourite one is Teddykompaniet, of course) and not only. You great everybody with a smile on your face, you say “hello” and “have a nice day” and eventually your face drops when Manolo Santana, Björn Borg or Stefan Edberg enter the lounge. Yes they entered the lounge because in the end the ATP tournament this year was about celebrating them, and not only them, but several other tennis legends that took part in the tournament in Båstad along the years. Among them was also Ilie Nastase the first ever ATP World number 1, a guest this year, or Mats Wilander who is one of the nicest and most polite persons I’ve ever seen. It was hard to restrain myself from talking about his show “Game, Set and Mats” with him but you are not there to chat with the players and guests, you are there to work! I must remind myself that every time one of my favourites walks in. And as much as I love watching the players on court, with all the thrills of the spectacular points, I find it quite easy to work with them. I respect them a lot and surprisingly tennis players are people too, and very nice people above all!

So after blowing helium in a few hundred balloons, dressing up nicely and ensuring that the Lounge is decent and relaxing for the athletes, it was party time. Smile, make everybody feel good, celebrate Swedish tennis and enjoy seeing Bob Sinclar playing in Pepe’s Bodega. And after you inhaled some helium from the balloons and said funny words in funny voices, remember that in the morning you have to be back at work to open the lounge for a new day of tennis, for new activities for the players, good times and hard work. And the second day, an the third day, and so on and so forth until the sad day of the finals when you say goodbye to the ATP staff and the ATP players, the ones that were still there, and you say hello to the WTA staff and the ladies who are ready to rock the courts. And everything starts all over again. Smile, make sure things are in order, prepare the welcome gifts, blow helium balloons, dress nicely, dance and come back to work the second morning just to wake up on the final’s day and be confused about one thing: it’s over, am I sad about it or do I feel like I want to go home? The truth is somewhere in the middle.

If you think working at a tennis tournament is glamorous, you are right, in a way it is. But before you actually get to enjoy the selective company of some of the best athletes in the world, you put up with a lot of hard work, with learning to work as a team, with the idea that one single detail might ruin everything. You anticipate, analyse, solve, if it needs solving, and you do this with a smile on your face. You make sure the guests have everything and after all this, you don’t really feel like going to the fancy party anymore, you just sneak into your pyjamas and chill at home with your team mates. Power naps help you through the toughest days and coffee helps a lot.

But, at the end of all this you have seen a few very good matches, you’ve seen what it is like when tennis meets music and Marcus Daniell plays his guitar, you have chilled at the beach a bit, splashed around in the pool, saw some very beautiful sunsets and spent some time (about 24 hours every day for almost 3 weeks) with some really amazing people. And you saw David Ferrer win another tournament after some great matches against Dustin Brown, Henri Laaksonen, Fernando Verdasco (that had a bit of a nazi incident inserted by an uninvited guest) and Alexandr Dolgopolov (wow, I’ve actually seen all these matches, and not only), you saw Caroline Wozniacki play and Katerina Siniakova bursting into tears because she just couldn’t hold back her emotions after the she won the tournament. This just to mention a few tennis highlights. Some other tennis highlights are related to watching tennis from the side of the arena from where you see both the court and the sea. It’s hard not to get lost into the blue horizon and stop paying attention to the game, but it’s also a beautiful sight to rest your eyes upon at the changeover.

I wonder if I missed anything? Looking at the length of the post I’d say I didn’t but I am sure I left out so many things. Like not mentioning Ola Salo’s concert or my amazement when I realised who Ola Salo was. Due to my ignorance in my mind the particular person was just the singer from The Ark… well, not anymore, now he has a name!

I’ll miss the tennis, I’ll miss the sunsets and the beautiful sea and I’ll miss the people. I am very happy to have been a part of this event for another year, and if all goes well maybe we meet again next Summer. Until then, Stockholm Open is just around the corner. Game, set, match, championship: David Ferrer, Knowle/Petzschner and Katerina Siniakova, Lemoine/Rus.

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The Voice of a Generation

I was 15 when I started listening to them. They were among the few rock bands that you could see on TV during the day. Their music spoke to my emotions, it helped me calm down my anger and understand my fears. I was a happy kid who didn’t understand much of the world and who got scared easily but I had my music to explain things, to pass time, to practice my English and not only. They were loud, my poor parents and neighbours had to bare with me raising the TV volume to a really high level. They went hand in hand with HIM for a while and Guano Apes or K’s Choice. They are a band I am still listening to now, years later, but while HIM, Guano Apes or K’s Choice didn’t appeal to a large number of people, Linkin Park seemed to be the band of a generation, the voice of a generation. After I’ve moved to Bucharest I’ve met quite a few people my age or close to it, that listened to them. We went to their concert when they played in Bucharest in 2012. I have waited eagerly for that concert and I remember wanting to listen to “Crawiling”. They didn’t play it.

“Crawling” was the first song from them that hypnotised me. The beginning of the song was so catchy and Chester’s voice screaming the chorus just to go down into such clear and calm vocals during the verses and to break down into screams again was something new and appealing. And the video was interesting to watch, the girl playing in it was beautiful and expressive and wore black eyeliner, which I did a lot those days.

“Papercut” was probably the song that got me to like them for good and forever and back then I found the video to that song quite scary, yet fascinating. This song made me go back and pay attention to “One Step Closer” as well, one of their earlier tracks, and in the end I bought their album, “Hybrid Theory” and started to listen to it on repeat. It truly became an icon for my teenage years and besides the songs that I already knew from TV, I really liked to listen to “Pushing Me Away”. It was the last song on the album and it always left me so calm, it seemed such a perfect ending for all the emotions that were expressed in those songs. Of course I filtered the songs and gave them meaning according to my feelings and even though their music is not the calmest, it always gave me such peace. It also sounded good to me, don’t get me wrong, the guys rock!

“In the End” was a song they played so much on TV that one could get sick of it. I didn’t. It’s such a good track with so good and relatable lyrics, and years later I still listen to it and they still have meaning and they still speak things out loud. Plus the piano part sounds so good! I remember leaving the TV on and going around the house and when I heard the piano part start I would return and watch the video.

Then came their next album and with it came “Numb” which is probably one of the most beautiful songs I’ve ever heard. And “Faint” and “From the Inside”. And one after the other their songs were played on the radio, on TV, in the pubs where we were hanging, they were played live in front of our eyes when we saw them performing, they ended up in my playlists. And it the end the music matters!

The news of Chester Bennington’s death a few weeks ago seemed unreal. Linkin Park have been there since I was 15, they were a band I wanted to see live again because they were worth it. I listened to their music carefully and with passion, I sang along, I transformed their meanings so I could relate to them better, to understand them better and to like them more. I hope he finds peace, may God rest his soul! He will be dearly missed, a talented artist and the voice of a generation.

 

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Placebo @ Bucharest

I am a huge fan of music and a live event with a band that I like is enough to reshuffle my whole schedule, if needed, just to make it to the concert. So this is pretty much what happened during my short visit at home in Romania a few days ago.

The location of the concert: The Roman Arenas in Carol Park (Arenele Romane, Parcul Carol). This is my favourite park in Bucharest, it hosts the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a mausoleum for the fallen built during Communist times, the George Grigore Cantacuzino fountain build in 1870, The National Technical Museum „Prof. ing. Dimitrie Leonida”, the Romanian Academy’s Astronomic Institute, a fountain with the zodiac signs on it, several statues (“The Giants” and a statue of Dr. C. Istrati, professor, academic, minister and mayor of Bucharest), and an arena for live events that I mentioned above.

The event: Placebo, an alternative rock band from the UK. It was the third time I saw them live, but that doesn’t matter, I would go see them live again. A bit of a depressive band, they’ve been around for 20 years and they thought about celebrating that with the fans, so they organised an anniversary tour that stopped in Bucharest during the same time as me. They were a strange presence on TV years ago, especially when in one of their videos, Pure Morning, the singer, Brian Molko, an androgynous figure, jumped off a building, to everyone’s despair, and then ended up walking perpendicularly on its walls, to everyone’s surprise. Another of their videos is the futuristic Special K, a good song that takes its title from a drug but that doesn’t deal just with drugs but with love as well.

The event started with the video of Every You, Every Me, probably one of their most popular songs, if not the most popular. The concert had, according to the band, two parts: the depressive one and the energetic one. During the depressive one they went from one ballad to the other, with my personal highlight of Special Needs. The energetic part set the audience on fire. Besides the fact that Placebo is quite loved in Romania and the fans respond really well to rock concerts, the music sounded so good that everything seemed to fall into place to everyone’s delight. You could see that in the way people danced, clapped, sang along and asked for more by cheering minutes in a row and lighting up their phones, but also in the band’s reaction, their kind words and large smiles. There was a lot of passion on both sides involved in the event. I can’t think of a best moment for the concert, the melancholy of the first part made the audience listen and enjoy the beautiful music, the energy of the second made everybody jump on For What It’s Worth, sing along on Special K or The Bitter End, watch the beautiful video of Song to Say Goodbye while the band was performing it live, and the cover of Running Up that Hill (A Deal With God) was simply brilliant. To my delight, they even brought a bit of politics into their show: an image of a package of cigarettes with Trump’s face on it and the message “seriously harms you and others around you”. They didn’t play This Picture nor Bright Lights but they delighted everybody with 25 songs in over two hours of live music. It was quite a show!

 

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