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Lais in D'Oosterpoort

Jeroen, Sidsel and I saw Lais perform in a packed Oosterpoort tonight and they sure didn't disappoint. Considering that, on the basis of their four records, I consider them to be among the very best European music has to offer, that's high praise indeed.
They were backed by a guitarist, bassist, drummer, keyboardist and accordionist, and that backing group sounded a lot better on the new material than the big production I mentioned in my review of the album.

The evening's setlist (approximately — I didn't take notes and didn't recognise all of the songs):

Hymne (partly taped with the live vocals entering halfway through the song)
Dormez, Dormez
song in english
De Drie Maagdekens (announced as "a song about us")
La Plus Belle de Céans
Marie Madeleine
After the Goldrush ("We've always been doubtful about singing in English, but were convinced by this Neil Young song")
Les Douze Mois (with the singers blowing bubbles during the instrumental break)
Jasio U Pana (part of a block of songs that were sung and played by the three singers and five instrumentalists around a single ribbon microphone, and introduced as follows:

This is a Polish song whose words we didn't understand, but we arranged it for our voices anyway. To us it sounded sad, so we were a bit worried that the words might not be. We were lucky enough to find a very nice Polish cleaning lady at a camping, who translated the words for us. It started, unpromisingly, with a happily married couple, which isn't very interesting, but fortunately, the husband was drafted to go into the war and the wife pined away, and in the end the husband even goes (gun-to-head-gesture which would be repeated at the end of the song's performance) "poof". So it's an appalling, gruesome song that we're very happy with.
Marider ("Another song in a language, Béarnaise, we don't understand a damned thing (geen sikkepit) of")
De Wanhoop
Doran (following the block of single-microphone songs, I thought this would be the most obvious song for them to play next and take the concert back to its bigger sound — and they did! This prophecy thing is a lot easier than it looks)
Two songs in English, the first of which was a J.J. Cale composition. I like J.J. Cale, but somehow the English-language material just doesn't work. Somehow the harmonies suffer from the singers trying too hard to get the English right, and in spite of all that effort it still sounds accented.
Le Renard et la Bellette (another predictable segue, but man was I happy to hear this song, and to realise that with drop-D tuning on the guitar, it's actually not that hard to play. It was introduced with a longish talk about the dance moves that are supposed to go with this upbeat song from the coast of Brittany)
'T Smidje (channeling Steeleye Span)
Wanhoop van een Wees
Klacht van de Verstoten Minnares ("another horrible, dismal song")
Al Béole 17

Unaccompanied song in Dutch
Opzij (yet another obvious segue and a fantastic set closer)

Except in the English-language songs, the harmonies were razor-sharp. Often, it sounded like there were more than three women singing, and I was particularly happy to hear them do what appeared to be sampled vocals on the Douce Victime album live, without ever interrupting the flow of the main vocals. They've learned a few tricks in the past few years!
On the more upbeat song, the three girls, dressed in adorable little dresses and boots, moved across the podium in a tightly choregraphed routine. They aren't great dancers but they do know how to use the space (we were in the balcony seats, so we had a good 3-D view) and looked happy, relaxed and enthusiastic throughout. The musicians weren't particularly charismatic and kept to themselves, but did a great job accompanying the singers. I was occasionally surprised with how pared-down the playing was compared to the records, but at no point did any of the changes sound wrong; I might have missed the hurdy-gurdy and other folk instruments used on the records, but the guitar, keyboards and accordion replaced them very well.

Lais will appear live on Dutch public radio tomorrow (Sunday) night! If you live in the area that can receive Dutch stations, and know what's good for you, you will tune in to Radio 1 at 11 PM, with a tape recorder at the ready. You'll have to sit through a lot of news and current affairs reporting which will undoubtedly depress you, but that's a good thing. It will get you in the mood for the Lais songs, at least one of which will be about a penniless orphan girl who is approached and violated by a stranger, laments her misfortune and dies at her own hands. Or about a girl who is poisoned by her evil stepmother. Something nice and miserable from the Flemish traditional repertoire.


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