Sunday, June 26, 2005

Beery hot fun in the summertime

Is there really a better way to spend a hot sunday afternoon than to go to a beer festival? I've been trying to broaden my beer horizons lately, considering I'm in the greatest beer country in the world, and all. And one tires of Hoegaarden, Maredsous, Duvel, Palm and the like after a while. Under a surprisingly cool big white tent set up in one of Antwerp's main squares, there were 22 stands, 38 breweries and who knows how many different kinds of beer. No beer tent is complete without music, and there were not one but two brass bands and a bagpipes guy. Not exactly local colour, but whatever. It's not like anyone can get enough of "My bonnie lies over the ocean," anyway. And the brass band rendition of "Copacabana" was not to be missed.

Entrance was free, you paid 2 euros for an empty glass and then 1 euro for 20 cl. of any beer. We remained reasonable, sharing eight glasses between the two of us, but still had to go have a pita and take a long walk to make sure we were fit to drive.

The usual categories: blonde, brown (come to think of it, I didn't see any white beer, but there surely was some somewhere), monastery, trappist, kriek (made from a kind of cherry). Then, there were some less usual ones. We ended with Huyghe's (the makers of Delirium Tremens) Mongozo Coconut, which was not only good (and really did taste of coconut!), but also a fair trade product and could only be bought in Oxfam shops. Also of note were Contreras's incredibly rich Valeir Blond and Lefebvre's very tasty Barbar blond honey beer. I have no idea where any of these beers can be bought, which is rather annoying. Slightly less special, but still good: Bockor's Kriek Max and De Leyerth's brown Novicius Vertus, 5.9 degrees, refreshing (especially for a darker beer) but lacking a bit of body (unlike the lively breweress who served us).

We also picked up a book by Michael Jackson (yes, THE Michael Jackson: the biggest beer-writer in the world, the back cover tells us) on Belgian beer, which should speed me down the path to beer expertise. A nice wood handled bottle opener came with the book, a nice complement to the glass (specially made for the festival) we got earlier on.


Yes, I know what you're thinking: "Mwanji, what are you doing, paying 56 euros (twice!) to see Lenny Kravitz, when you wouldn't even pay half that (once!) to see Sonny Rollins?" That's a good question. First of all, we didn't just see Lenny. We also saw Duran Duran. Secondly, we didn't pay, the tickets luckily fell into our laps when a friend couldn't go. So I popped my rock festival cherry for free with the TW Classic, in Werchter (rural Flanders; the main event is next week).

I'd never been to a big rock concert before. The kind with video screens (which, during Duran Duran, were lagging disturbingly behind the live action) so that you get to see more than inch-high stick figures. The kind in a big field, ringed by car manufacturers, banks, mobile network operators, magazines and food stands. The kind where it takes you half an hour to walk from the grassy parking lot.

Of course, Duran and Lenny weren't the only people on the bill. I would've like to have seen Novastar (Belgian piano rock songwriter) or Brian Wilson. But we found out that the tickets were ours fairly late in the day. So Duran and Lenny had to do.

Kravitz played what you'd expect him to play: new stuff like "Where Are We Runnin'?" and "Lady" (a poppier thing that's nowhere as good as the D'Angelo song of the same name), old stuff like "It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over" and "Are You Gonna Go My Way?" (as a second encore. IVN had lost hope, but I knew it was coming: AYGGMW is to Lenny what "Take Five" is to Brubeck.) and middle-aged stuff like "American Woman" and a very good "Fly Away" that closed the set before the encores. But I was disappointed by the way the songs were played. Impeccably, yes, it all sounded exactly like the recorded versions (which, in terms of singing, is more than many can say, but still). I was expecting more fire, more looseness, more eruptions. They came, inevitably, with AYGGMW, "Fly Away" extended itself to burst with life, but overall to many songs came and went without really affirming their reason for being outside of "Well, I've recorded these songs before, so I might as well play them."

Kravitz looked as you'd expect him to look: sunglasses at night, strategically removed to generate shrieks; nipple rings, revealed at the end when he ripped open his shirt; sexy (although IVN doesn't think so. I think she's wrong); rock star poses (a bit disappointing, though, because they struck me as having a forced stiffness, an odd combination, to say the least) that screamed "praise me!" He made declarations that seemed generous but were actually about himself: "It's an honour to play on this stage that has been blessed by Duran Duran, true living legends." Just like you, Lenny! "We're here for one reason and one reason only: to celebrate the greatest blessing of all: the blessing of life! Can you get with that, people?" Um, no, not really.

Kravitz brought who you'd expect him to bring: "the supergenius" second guitarist, with whom Lenny gracefully shared solos; Cindy Blackman [always a fun jazz trainspotter's moment. She may not be in the pantheon, but who wants to see John Coltrane in a bikini? Her solo may have been disappointingly senseless pounding, but she looked great in her black bikini with pearl beads hanging from it, long curly hair in a made-to-head-bang afro and amazing arms. "Does anyone want to come up here and keep Cindy warm?" Lenny asked. I'll let you guess as to the number of volunteers.]; three backup singers, one of whom was Isaac Hayes (you can see him for yourself in the photo), and a horn section, both of which brought the necessary soul/funk inflections. Okay, so Hayes wasn't singing backup, it was just someone who looked exactly like him.

So, what did we learn last night? Lenny probably said it best: "I love you all, but God loves you even more."

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Wiliam Parker Quartet ft. Leena Conquest - 08/06/2005, Brussels

William Parker - b
Hamid Drake - d
Lewis Barnes - tp
Rob Brown - as
Leena Conquest - voc, dance

It's been a while and I've lost my notes.

Beforehand, in discussion, this group was described by one member of the audience as being hard bop. Which it is. And isn't. Therein lies its greatness: populist and progressive, rooted and free. The tradition is to be heard straight-forwardly in Barnes's neatly articulated lines (even his occasional blurts are clean-cut); in Brown's piercing and heart-on-sleeve brand of bop, that finds its own third way between '60s volubility and '40s melodicism; tangentially in Leena Conquest's vintage soul voice, not the biggest, but secure and swinging. Then there are the two guys at the back.

Parker, who wrote the tunes and lyrics (spiritual and esoteric, not really my thing), takes off from simple and irresistably groovy Motown/Stax vamps and regularly lands in freer territory. Drake is one of those people who seems to embody what modern jazz is, or could be, or should be: swinging, yes, multicultural, omnivorous, passionate, churning. When Parker pulled out his guembri (Moroccan two- or three-string bass) and the pair jammed on a Gnawa rhythm for 10 solid minutes, I re-evaluated everything I had just heard. I even re-evaluated "Caravan." There was no glib appropriation: they were playing the rhythm for what it was, for the joy of playing it and showing that they knew it, but also for themselves, for what they are. And so, Drake's more swing-oriented playing took on another tint: its accents and fills, sometimes rock, sometimes reggae, sometimes gnawa, clearly became a beautiful sort of inverted prism: the different forms of rhythm blended into his own kind of jazz. And we're back to the tradition, but enriching it rather than living off of it.

Student music sucks. But the birds are hot.

It's astonishing how nostalgic students in their early- and mid-twenties are. At least, according to whoever DJs their parties. You'd think all these hip dressers and future leaders of the nation would be interested in dancing to something more forward-looking than Gloria Gaynor. Even the new additions to the canon get sucked into this vortex: "Seven Nation Army" can now be classified somewhere between "Billie Jean" and "I Will Survive."

Of course, a high density of pretty girls excuses pretty much any and everything.

Why is it that the conference of the birds is at its most intense and awe-inspiring just before dawn (light sky, no sun)? That's the real after-party.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005


Since Clap Clap asks so politely... I hate this kind of thing, just like I hate "What's your favourite colour?" (what colour am I wearing today?) or "What famous person would you like to meet?" (nobody. Apart from Clap Clap, of course). I might just be able to settle on Mingus as my favourite musician, but have zero interest in meeting him. More related to this questionnaire, I really should make Beaneath the Underdog "the next book I'm going to read" one day. So, although I have no idea who this could possibly interest, here goes:

Total number of books I own:
Most of them are in boxes, as I've moved 7 times since 1996, and the ones in my house tend to be mixed up with IVN's, while who knows how many are somewhere in my parents' basements, but I'd guess somewhere around two-three hundred (I guess comic books don't count).

Five books that had a big influence on me:
Hmm, this is going to be difficult. Here's a fanciful, and thus weak (in the sense of not really adhering to its title) list:

1984 & Animal Farm, George Orwell: I was obsessed with them during the summer of 1995 and still refer back to Animal Farm regularly, especially when pondering the (d)evolution from the French Revolution's guillotining of the aristocracy to the Fifth Republic's President occupying the former's palaces. Georges Brassens also has a song about a courageous little white horse (aka "the most poignant song ever") that reminds me of AF. The two books are so closely associated in my mind that I'm not sure whether this counts for one entry or two.

Adventure Stories For Boys, ???: I remember the big yellow writing on the blue cover and particularly the story involving one Toledo Steele, who had a cane that hid a long sword-like blade. He was cool.

Sun Certified Programmer & Developer for Java 2 Study Guide (Exam 310-035 & 310-027), Kathy Sierra, Bert Bates: Admittedly, I didn't read it by choice and it makes no claims to being great litterature, but it's essential to why I do what I do and why I work where I work.

Social Theory of International Politics, Alexander Wendt: Simply because it's the only academic book I read cover to cover in my four years of university and the pair of degrees they produced. It's an interesting experience though: it allows you do discuss and disagree in detail with the big-timers.

Last book I bought:
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, J.K. Rowlings: I can't wait for it to arrive.

Last book I read for the first time:
Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert: I found it lying on a bookshelf, I have no idea where it came from, and figured I should read it. I felt all high-schooly, but better late than never. It's cruelly funny, sometimes beautiful, often painfully opaque (what are all those objects/clothes/etc. he endlessly describes?) and it was nice to read something in French again. Right before that came Michael Chabon's excellent The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which fits right in with my recent re-watching of the greatest super-hero movie of all time, The Incredibles.