Secret Meeting score: 75
by Paddy Kinsella
Whether it’s true or not, we Brits think that Amber Arcades’ latest album European Heartbreak is an ode to our excruciating break-up from the European Union. When Annelotte De Graaf, the Dutch artist behind Amber Arcades and incidentally a war crimes expert, starts tonight’s show by announcing ‘we’re from the European Union’, we feel even more confident in this knowledge.
The music, unlike our mood surrounding the issue, is not maudlin or rueful, but instead ironically jubilant. The guitars are pleasant and cheerful, the trumpets triumphant and the drums parade-like. In fact, the soundscape is more evocative of a stroll up a narrow Parisian street rather than a walk through the medieval market town of Boston – the area with the highest proportion of leave voters in the country.
The mood of the band – all bedecked in white – matches the music too, with the four lads backing Amber cracking smiles, playing off each other and telling ‘in jokes’ throughout tonight’s show. The show’s beginning is fittingly celebratory: Oh My Love (What Have We Done) has elegiac acoustic guitar and a beautiful light chorus where Annelotte sings ‘we’ll have a wonderful time’; though the song could be about waking up on Brexit morning you’d never know by the instrumentation, while Goodbye Europe has performative backing singers, a couple of wonderfully self-indulgent guitar riffs and an effortless, even cocky feel to it. On Alpine Town Annelotte loses the guitar and stalks the stage, leaning on the mike stand and casually sticking her hands in her pocket. So far tonight is like an ironic Brexit afterparty, as if with their soundscapes and their smiles Amber Arcades are saying ‘if you don’t dance you’ll cry.’
The first sombre moment comes with Self Portrait. Other than a mournful trumpet, Annelotte is completely alone with a resplendent spotlight shining upon her. Even Annelotte in her bright gold suit knows that every party needs a come down, singing ‘there’s a time and a place to catch fire.’ Old songs do make an appearance – four in total – but while they’re pleasant enough, the sound nor the subject matter is half as interesting as the new stuff.
Tonight’s ending comes in the form of album closer Baby Eternity. It starts slowly enough with a stalking bass and commanding vocal, but ends with jousting guitars, crashing drums and frantic keys. It’s a fitting ending for a night that’s full of surprises.
Just two and a half years ago, I was lucky enough to see Amber Arcades support Palehound at Gullivers and tonight’s support act, Basement Revolver, who were excellent, could easily forge a similar path to their touring partners. With Amber Arcades though it’s hard to know how far their upward curve can go. But if they continue to change tact, as they’ve done so well on their new record, their journey knows no bounds.