Elbow greet Amsterdam
Elbow greet Amsterdam, November 14th 2011

The dry, freezing autumn air penetrated my jacket like an unwanted house guest as I emerged from the underground car park. The 300 meter dash to the entrance of Amsterdam’s Heineken Music Hall, seemed like a Victorian Arctic race, but as the glass and steel doors were pushed opened, I was greeted by the welcoming warmth inside.

The 5500 capacity venue was actually built with shows in mind, and therefore has the ability to load a truck in the comfort of the venue, instead of the potential bitterness of the Dutch Winter. The main hall is also called the Black-Box, for one very obvious reason, it’s black, well, more an off grey than black, but that alliteration wouldn’t work…

The stage was set for Manchester’s slow cooked heroes, Elbow, whose songs of loneliness, alienation and drinking capture the imagination of those who have a need for depression. Those of us who don’t have a desperate need for depression can enjoy the songs, sing and clap, and by the end even I was singing along.

Elbow are always well received in The Netherlands, and I must admit that I was really looking forward to seeing them. Attending shows for me is what we call a busman’s holiday, which, for those of you who don’t know, is an analogy for going to socialise in a place you might actually work. This can cause a potential conflict of consciousness; on one hand you want to enjoy the show, on the other you are technically listening to the show and being critical… Very critical.

If we technically listen to something then it will always sound wrong because you can hone in on what you are listening to; like a voice in a loud pub. That’s no way to listen to someone else’s mix. For this very reason I will stand somewhere where I know it won’t sound it’s best, therefore when asked how it sounds I can just say that I honestly don’t know as I’m too close to the wall/balcony/insert-various-building-features-here and it would be unfair of me to comment.

So, there I was, standing at the side of the room trying desperately to see the stage through some girls afro, as the band entered the field of conflict. I was instantly struck by the noise level, it was soft, well round, and my eye balls stayed firmly within my skull. In fact, they stayed there for the entire show. The level was wonderful, and I could hear pretty much everything.

The Audience seemed to have some form of disconnect. They seemed to want to get into the show, but it was as if there were some hidden force holding them back. They would clap and cheer after every song, they even sung the Dutch version of happy birthday to these 20-year-old veterans of the fickle music industry. Maybe this disconnect was due to the sound level. The trigger point of the audience is around 95dB. This is supposedly the sound level where out bodies start reacting to the bass frequencies, but maybe this is more about these essential low-mids. They are hard to create and can sound very muddy, cloud your mix, and keep definition at bay, but if you could clean these frequencies up, you’d have a far more powerful mix.

The only real criticism I had for the entire show was the over all sound of the PA, and this wasn’t due to the sound engineer, but more a comment on the lack of detail you can get from a line array and my position in the venue. The cymbals needed to splash and sparkle, but instead they sound more like a mac book pro. If only there was more warmth from the lower mid range, then the connection of audio to audience would have been greater and the peripheral sound of chatter around me would be been drowned out.

It sounded that good where I was standing, I can only imagine how good it sounded in the centre…