MAYRA NASSEF draws up her ultimate list, reflects on concert-going as a now novel phenomena, and tells us who’s ‘still got it’.
Returning to gigs after COVID-19 lockdowns felt surreal, to say the least. After endless cancellations and postponements, it felt like the stars were aligning again: concerts were finally taking place. There were an overwhelming number of shows across 2022-2023, many of which were promoting albums long-ago released. And yet, these shows felt remarkably special– a celebration of the artist’s career and their fan base. Many of these artists grew significantly during the COVID crisis, and instantly sold-out shows were testament to that. It was clear that everyone missed the feeling of ‘togetherness’ a concert creates.
CAROLINE POLACHEK – FEBRUARY 24, 2023 – PARADISO AMSTERDAM
Perhaps best exemplifying the post-pandemic boom in fans and listeners is Caroline Polachek, whose explosion in popularity meant a sold out Grote Zaal (Big Hall) in Amsterdam’s Paradiso. It was not the first time Polachek performed in this repurposed church-concert hall, but this time, it was in the venue’s largest room. Though originally scheduled for October, Polachek delayed the show to the following February in anticipation of the release of her new album, Desire, I Want to Turn Into You. It was well worth the wait. Every song left no doubt that Polachek was in her best element, experimental and whimsical. A confident personality supported by a stellar band, and a show that has easily become a favourite of this year. Polachek’s stage presence is electrifying, her vocal control and her movement, hypnotising. And no less beautiful were the background visuals – together a mosaic of the different atmospheres Polacheck creates in her music.
Believe the hype – her voice is naturally unique and yodel-like with no autotune. In just watching her NPR tiny desk, it is clear that the set-up only contributes to her already theatrical persona. Polachek several times stood in awe of the applause and the cheers, all well-deserved. When attendees were not singing along, they were silenced by songs like ‘Parachute’, in which she commanded the entire room with minimal musical backing. Standouts included ‘Billions’, ‘Door’, and ‘Sunset’.
ROSALÍA – DECEMBER 10, 2022 – AFAS LIVE AMSTERDAM
It is unsurprising to see ROSALÍA on this list considering her meteoric rise into fame over the past two years on her MOTOMAMI world tour. I’ve been a fan of hers for years, and got Early Entry tickets as a birthday present last year. Similar to the Eras Tour, I was concerned that the amount of social media coverage I was seeing online would spoil the experience for me. I was wrong. ROSALÍA has a phenomenal voice and stage presence. Every song is meticulously choreographed and performed, with the exception of those which are stripped-down like ‘De Plata’, a cover from the album Los Angéles and a personal favourite.
The live footage featured on the large screens at either side of the stage came mostly from stabilised cameras, which allowed ROSALÍA and her background dancers to grab the camera themselves and add a creative and dynamic element to the performance. A show in many ways oriented to the TikTok-generation, for better or for worse.
CONFIDENCE MAN – MAY 24, 2022 – MELKWEG AMSTERDAM
Confidence Man have become quite popular in the UK, but the gig I went to in Amsterdam last year was not very crowded. They performed a set marked with costume changes, interesting choreography, and fun interactions with the crowd, all with a distinct theatrical flair. At one point, Janet sat at the edge of the stage while singing ‘Woman’ (a song from their newest album at the time – TILT), and for a moment it felt like her stoic persona was breaking, as if she was somehow sharing a secret with the crowd. It was a self-aware performance, both poking fun at and celebrating electronic music from the 90s. Their energy was infectious, and made it absolutely impossible to stand still during their set.
WEYES BLOOD – FEBRUARY 6, 2023 – PARADISO AMSTERDAM
Weyes Blood is an enchanting performer. Her set in Amsterdam was just so… her. She did not need excessive getup or props, just her band and her music. Occasionally, visuals would accompany the music, such as with ‘Movies’ and ‘God, Turn Me Into a Flower’, in which a video produced by documentarian Adam Curtis played in the background. Weyes Blood wore a flowy white dress with a concealed red light in the centre representing her heart, a wardrobe choice that perfectly encapsulated the feeling of the show – a sincere outpour of emotions. She moved from guitar to piano, singing songs from both Titanic Rising as well as And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow, and consistently talked to the audience, sharing funny stories in between songs. It felt quite intimate, yet still grand; a Weyes Blood specialty.
Hatchie (she sang The Key after I requested it from her over DM and signed my bag), Beach House (enchanting in Antwerp), Ghostly Kisses (haunting but not my favourite), Hans Zimmer and his band (absolutely chaotic in the best way but also occasionally not).