Having a new album out under the PBII name around the same time the original line-up known as Plackband would be celebrating their 40th anniversary is a nice occasion for a special show. Therefore I find myself in De Boerderij in Zoetermeer on a Sunday at 14:30h, which feels a bit odd. But it's the music that counts, right? And I prefer the air-conditioned venue to the 25+ degrees outside!
PBII - Rocket
The previous two PBII albums (Plastic Soup and 1,000 Wishes) dealt with a single theme. For their third album the band wanted a theme as well and after long consideration, PBII decided upon focusing on the dreams of the late Dutch astronaut Wubbo Ockels, who later went on to engineer and invent things in the green energy sector. See the links at the end of this article for more information about Ockel's foundation.
The show was introduced by Wubbo Ockel's brother, and Ockel's widow was seen in a video shown on large screens. The band really committed to this project and its cause. During the songs several videos were shown, alternated with live images. Well, live - there was quite a delay in the projection of the live shots (technical problems?), which was a little distracting so I watched the stage instead of the screens for most of the time.
Hearing a full set of songs you've never heard before can be hard. Still, the sound was very PBII. Prog in the mid to late 1970s Genesis or Hackett style, very melodic, some Plackband-sounding instrumental sections, and truly lovely keyboard and guitar solos. Brautigam seems to be getting even better. I've come to see PBII as a modern version of Plackband, with an updated sound. PBII play a modern kind of prog, also happier than before. Still not overly complex, fortunately, but some of the longer pieces still have unexpected breaks and changes. Gravity and Mother made a big impression and I like the theme tune, Rocket, returning.
With soprano Nathalie Mees as a full band member now, the band have more power and range in the vocal department but also an extra vocal line to write, giving more ingredients to a fuller sound. Ruud sings good and varied melodies, but his voice is not too powerful and it appears he has to choose between power and pitch, which he does very well, I have to add. It's not a vocalist showcase, it's the end result that counts. I love the sound of strings, especially the cello, so adding three violins and a cello player is very much approved of. I wouldn't mind if they get a bigger role in the band's sound. That and a very creative percussionist also handling all kinds of effects adds even more to the sound.
The venue sound and mix was good. I could hear almost all of the strings and percussion even during the heavier sections, which could not have been an easy task, with so many musicians on stage.
40th Anniversary Surprise Party
I am sure a large number tonight, I mean this afternoon, are here for this part of the show as well: a set of old Plackband music. I know I am. The difference, in my opinion, between Plackband and PBII is that the music of the former is darker. Not heavier per se, but having a darker atmosphere, more mysterious. I like that.
I know more than just Plackband has happened in 40 years. With special guests announced I knew there would be a spot for former vocalist Koos Sekrève doing the French song the band did a few times before. I also expected some tribute to the late Karel Messemaker, who was the singer in November (band with Ronald Brautigam and Michel van Wassem in the mid 1990s) as well as Plackband's singer for a while after the reunion. And then there were the two previous PBII albums, of course. But first, Plackband, with original bass player Albert de Keijzer and singer Kees Bik.
See the Dwarf was a good opener. It shows several typical Plackband elements - the heavy emphasis on melody and breaks, the dark mood, witty and original lyrics and vocal melodies. Although he is obviously older, Kees Bik's voice was still in good shape. The breaks, great melodies, the haunting sound - I just love it. Seventy Warriors showed even more of that and probably exactly what I love about this band. The instrumental end section had that dark, heavy, heavily melodic, goosebumps-giving soloing. They were sometimes called the Genesis of The Hague, but this was more Pink Floyd if you ask me, and the best of it! Progressive blues I call that - played from the heart, melodic, and powerful. And what a marvellous guitar solo by Ronald, the highlight of the evening! Excellent atmosphere and wonderfully played. I need more music like this.
A bit surprising, to me at least, was that the set was divided rather unequally if you count the years and not albums. Or if you count my taste only. After only these two excellently performed Plackband songs and the French song with Koos Sekrève, focus was moved to November for several songs in a row, with November drummer (also former For Absent Friends drummer) Ed Wernke. Nice, but lighter, a big contrast with the Plackband sound. I mean lighter musically, in atmosphere, and composition. I always imagined November was tailored to fit Karel's voice, who I always found a little too light for Plackband. With Karel later fronting Plackband, they covered a Peter Gabriel song a few times, Red Rain. Nice, and Karel's voice was beautiful on there, but too light for Plackband in my opinion. Please be clear, I am not judging the band's choice of singers or musical style, just expressing my opinion according to my taste.
With November and PBII the sound of the band changed compared to Plackband, probably deliberately, and that's OK. PBII's sound is more modern, but also has sections that recall the Plackband sound and that makes a wonderful mix. It seemed like the PBII songs for the second set were chosen with this in mind, they showed a development from the old Plackband sound and pleasing my taste in selecting some of their best songs. With that in mind, the November songs were an intermezzo, but to my ears also a bit of a distraction. Of course, the goal was an overview of the history of this band, so mission accomplished. Adding an a capella song by Kees Bik between the two Plackband songs and a Rocket song at the end sung by Natalie made this a varied set full of highlights and with something to enjoy for all.
A show like this proved to me once more that my taste prefers the darker, mysterious atmosphere and heavier sound of Plackband full of emphasis on the duels between keyboards and guitar, and that Kees Bik's lyrics, voice, and vocal melodies fitted that band more than anyone else's. I'll be listening to the recording of tonight's version of Seventy Warriors a lot!
As for the current band, this was a great showcase. The band went to great lengths to make an attractive show with a great sound. I didn't expect the string section (announced as guests but a few days later it was made public they are now part of the PBII band), which was a great move. Great show, guys.
PBII - Rocket
Ouverture (Rocket, Part 1) Gravity Life In the Clouds Trapped Main Theme (Rocket, Part 2) Blue Marble On My Own Again Pure Destruction Mother Grand Finale (Rocket, Part 3)
40th Anniversary Surprise Party
See the Dwarf (Plackband) Shadows on the Sun (a capella song by Kees Bik) Seventy Warriors (Plackband) L'enfant du 92ème (Plackband, with Koos Sekrève) Africa (November) Memory (November) With You (November) Plastic Soup (PBII) Fata Morgana (PBII) Perfect Day (PBII) Happy Energy (PBII)