DAY ONE: MARCH 20th, 2005
Getting Lost in Amsterdam:
Apparently this was the nicest day in Amsterdam in several weeks, and the café patios along the canal, tourist boat rides, and mountains of bikes were out to celebrate. Amsterdam is a city where you always have to watch where you are going, despite the stimuli readily available to help you forget where you are. Arriving into town at 9 a.m. following an early morning flight from London, Amsterdam was alive with the essence that makes this city so enticing: easily excitable tourists, laid-back locals, and a relaxed atmosphere blanketing the town with a certain calm that cannot be found anywhere else. The Melkweg is a gem of a venue. It has two similarly sized venues, a restaurant, tea room, movie theatre, dance studio, dozens of dressing rooms, and ample toilets; all run by the same laid-back approach that dominates the Amsterdam lifestyle. While a substantial amount of work had to be completed before the 7 p.m. door time, no one rushed or panicked, and without incident the venue was geared up, bands were sound checked and doors were open at 7 p.m. Several fans took the opportunity to view a screening of the fantastic Festival Express in the upstairs theatre before the night took off, while others relaxed in the restaurant, the tea room, or outside the venue for what proved to be a perfect, although chilly, Netherlands evening.
Disco Biscuits and Crowd :: Jam in the Dam
The Old Hall (capacity 750) started an hour earlier than the Max (capacity 1000) each night, featuring bands at 9 p.m. and 12 a.m. respectively, while the shows in the latter began at 10 p.m. with the night's headliner on stage at 1 a.m. Particle, Keller Williams, Umphrey's McGee, and The Disco Biscuits took turns rotating around the rooms and set times, each playing the larger room at least once and headlining, except for Keller who stuck to playing the earlier set each night.
The Show: 9 p.m.
Keller was the first to take the stage, signaling the beginning of the festivities with an a-cappella take on "Bohemian Rhapsody" with the sold out crowd assisting with the choral arrangements. Following the surprising, yet aptly eccentric opening, Huey Lewis' "I Want a New Drug" received the cover treatment, as well as an entrancingly comedic version of the "Ghostbusters Theme," complete with Keller's own call-and-answer work using his voice and acoustic guitar. From the onset, Keller Williams embodied the Amsterdam philosophy - seriously lighthearted whilst performing something extraordinary in an ordinary fashion; often masking brilliance with accessibility to create inclusively welcoming beliefs stressing that the better way is often the other way. Crafting melodies by looping his acoustic and electric guitars with a bass, keyboard, and synthesizer pad, Keller's one-man-band approach shined through spirited versions of "Talk to the Hand," Martin Sexton's "Black Sheep" and his homage to the daytime game show, "Bob Rules." In addition, Disco Biscuits' Jon Gutwillig came out as the first collaborator, adding his intricate, jazz-fusion guitar work to Keller's own "Tribe," featuring an extended outro where both parties tickled each other's melodies, building towards a climax to close out the first impressive set of Jam in the Dam.
Keller Williams :: Jam in the Dam
Two hours down, too many more to count to go.
Particle was next, lighting the inaugural torch in the larger Max to a packed crowd eagerly awaiting the Los Angeles quartet's highly acclaimed instrumental electronic funk. The left coast lads did not disappoint, opening the set with a twenty minute, deeply funky Pink Floyd style jam, possibly in ode to Amsterdam's Umma Gumma, a Pink Floyd themed coffee shop. Asserting the band's fiery danceable stature from the onset, the light show, along with the anticipation that everything was being filmed for an upcoming DVD (more about that later) ignited the foursome, as originals "Eye of the Storm," "Below Radar," and the twenty-five minute closer, "The Golden Gator" sounded as fresh as a street waffle, feeding off the demanding energy of the crowd obviously stimulated by a full day of getting lost in Amsterdam.
Steve Molitz (Particle) :: Jam in the Dam
Back to the Old Hall for the Disco Biscuits, but I could barely get inside the venue because of the mass of fans jammed inside for the set. Due to the fact that Bisco drummer Sam Altman is busy with pre-med schooling the New Jersey based band rarely perform live at this time, and thus, this would prove to be an emotional trip for both band and fans. Jam in the Dam coincidentally happened to fall within Altman's Spring Break, and the band jumped at the chance to be a part of the spectacle.
Viscerally emanating that excitement from the inception, the quartet, in their usual improvisational fashion, began their set and refused to break for more than a few seconds throughout the two hour onslaught. With a determined "Morph" and fan favorite sandwich "Spacebirdmatingcall" > "I-Man" > "Spacebirdmatingcall" dominating the set, the Biscuits instrumental fluidity shined brightly through the cloudiness within the Old Hall, keeping nearly 1,000 heart-wrenched fans at their collective peaks until 2 a.m. rolled around.
Unfortunately, nearly two weeks of traveling and sleeping in airports, had taken its toll on my body, and my wits suddenly shut down for the evening. Bidding farewell to the Melkweg for the first night and asserting the verity that Umphrey's McGee would be my top priority on Day Two, I waved goodbye, stumbled along the quiet canals for forty-five minutes, and passed out as one Amsterdam's beautiful church bells rang three times amidst the silence of an early Sunday morning along the Prinsengracht.
DAY TWO: MARCH 21st, 2005
Although I did not have time to fully experience Amsterdam's adult playground, breakfast is still the most important meal of the day. Barney's, located on the Harlemmerstraat on the outskirts of the Jordaan, is the best place in the city to gobble up those necessary vitamins and minerals needed to make it through an exhaustive day of walking and touring before the music starts. Heck, a full English breakfast inside a coffee shop - what a novel idea. Both the Disco Biscuits and Particle were finishing up breakfast as I arrived and after some cloudy appetizers, two mouth watering Dutch pancakes smothered in fresh fruit, Canadian maple syrup, and butter were placed in front of me. My breakfast date inhaled (no pun intended) the full English fare: eggs, the side of a pig, hashbrowns, toast, beans, and tomatoes. Along with coffee and pineapple juice, this was the perfect start to yet another perfect day in Amsterdam.
Umphrey's McGee :: Jam in the Dam
With the sun shining, canals steaming, and my belly and lungs full at 11 a.m., Jam in the Dam Day Two was in full force, and I was still two miles from the Melkweg. As if my appetite had not been fully quenched by Barney's eats, a cheese shop with rings of Gouda larger than car tires caught, and another binge purchase ensued, this time for the remaining meals of day.
Herein lies the true beauty of Europe - fresh, mouth watering produce, sold by local merchants without the big box stores to clog up the process. Amsterdam is a feast for the mouth as well as eyes and lungs, and a five minute stroll for breakfast along Harlemmerstraat proved that. Still a few hours before crew call at the venue, I was twenty five Euros lighter, yet two pounds of cheese, fresh bread, and sun dried tomatoes heavier and filled with a breakfast that was so tasty, I simply had to review it. Enough about the food for now though so I can talk more about the Disco Biscuits and Umphrey's McGee.
8 p.m.: The Melkweg: Autograph session featuring most of the artists.
Forming a line in the lobby beside the Max to sign some posters, the artists let the fans become the storytellers for an hour. Almost every ticket sold to the festival went to an American, and with many experiencing Amsterdam for the first time, stories were plentiful as laughs were traded between the artists and their patrons. While one ecstatic European fan showered Aron Magner of the Disco Biscuits in thanks, exclaiming his happiness over the band's first European performance, many fans regaled Darren Pujalet and Steve Molitz of Particle with stories of near-death tram moments and the benefit and convenience of Amsterdam's famous Smart Shops (where you can buy almost any legal and herbal drug known to man). It was a beautifully simple moment of camaraderie and relaxation, shared by over a thousand people finding common ground in an uncommon setting, with the bike scars and museum tickets to prove it.
Darren Pujalet (Particle)
Jam in the Dam
10 p.m.: The Max with the Disco Biscuits and the Old Hall with Umphrey's McGee:
Another packed Disco Biscuits show, but this time I was inside with the gaggle, sharing the anticipation floating within the haze. Once again, the Disco Biscuits refused to stop at any rest areas, molding together "Confrontation" and "King of the World" into an entwining twenty-plus minutes that, like the fragrances at Barney's, provided a tasty sneak preview to the onslaught that followed. That onslaught, to the tune of "Basis for a Day" > "Mulberry's Dream" > "Morph Düsseldorf Tease" > "Basis for a Day" whipped the crowd into a frenzy that continued unabated throughout the set. After a short, composed deviation with the poppy "Three Wishes," the rest of the set followed in true form with an animated "MEMPHIS," sprouting familiar tales of prostitution, drug use, and debauchery that flourish in the cracks of Amsterdam, which add more flair to a city already packed to the brim with it. The two-hour improvisational jaunt was yet another fiery foray from a band that, as witnessed through their four hours of performing at the Melkweg, truly makes the most of their limited opportunities to play together.
Jon Gutwillig (Disco Biscuits) :: Jam in the Dam
Midnight rolled around and the Midwest contingent gathered in the Old Hall to prepare for Umphrey's McGee. By opening with Mark Knopfler's "We're Going to War" from the Wag the Dog soundtrack, Umphrey's McGee made a statement that they are one band to keep an eye on in the scene's post-Phish hodgepodge. After a brilliant "Push the Pig" and "Syncopated Strangers," both Aron Magner (Disco Biscuits) and Steve Molitz (Particle) appeared on stage and along with resident Joel Cummings, leapt into a three-way keyboard jam in "Triple Wide" that proved to be one of the musical highlights of the festival. With Molitz playing the bass line backwards over Cummings' Moog synthesizer, and Magner playing the melody on the Roland, Cummings took over the Hammond B-3 while the remaining members of the band, minus drummer Kris Myers and percussionist Andy Farag, left the stage. Lasting nearly fifteen minutes, the "Keyboard Cavalry" jam wound chunks of Particle's electronic wizardry, Disco Biscuits' unpredictable trance-fusion, and Umphrey's metal-jazz wank into a slurry thick enough to break burnt toast. After Molitz and Magner concluded the jam, signaling the return of Umphrey's guitarists and bassist, the collaboration gods struck again, as Keller Williams appeared two songs later for a dub-heavy version of "Trenchtown Rock." Featuring Keller on vocals and voice-flugelhorn, the short take was mind-numbingly sweet, showcasing Keller's clever vocal manipulation that circled within the tight instrumentation of the house-band.
Umphrey's McGee & Disco Biscuits:: Jam in the Dam
After a metal-heavy "Der Bluten Kat," I took a much needed fresh air break and found myself back in the heat of the Max, watching Particle do what they do best. While they were stretching out a funky cover of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition," Keller Williams reappeared and lent more vocals to the final verse of the song, twenty-five minutes after it began. After Keller waved goodbye and the band launched into a lengthy take on "7 Minutes till Radio Darkness," I bid farewell to Day Two and walked home, marvelously content as the church bells chimed out a quiet lullaby to wake up the locals. Two days down, one final party to go.
DAY THREE: MARCH 22nd, 2005
Short Digression #2 - The Leidseplein, 12 p.m.
One of the most tourist-filled sections of Amsterdam is Leidseplein, located just beside the Museumplein and the hustle of Dam Square, which is just up from the Red Light District. Leidseplein is an amazing neighborhood - home of both the Melkweg and the Paradiso, as well as any ethnic food you could ever desire, an American sports bar (playing March Madness) and cheap, plentiful Vlaase Frites (chips served in a paper cone with mayo and ketchup; a nutritiously fattening Dutch tradition) and falafels. Leidseplein is the perfect setting for Jam in the Dam - alive, vibrant, multi-cultural, and up-all-night. The final day was the first day I was able to float around the area, stopping in at Boom Chicago - a famous comedy show featuring American actors - for a beer on their extensive patio and a cheap falafel at one of the late night joints lining the Leidsestraat. Leidseplein Square turns into one giant patio with restaurants sharing space in the summer, complete with buskers churning out traditional Dutch music and vendors showcasing their ability to make variations of fried dough so damn delicious. When visiting Amsterdam, look no further for eclecticism than Leidseplein - a unique place fittingly perfect for a unique event.
Particle :: Jam in the Dam
The Boat Cruise, 1 p.m.
There is a DVD being shot of the festival by Filmmaker Lawrence Shapiro, and I was lucky enough to sit in on an interview with Keller Williams. We rented an eight-person wooden raft to trudge the sludge of Amsterdam's waterways and opened up with Keller about his experiences playing in and walking around the city. Halfway through the ride, we stumbled upon the houseboat Keller had rented for the festivities, conveniently lodged between the Herengracht (another street, like the Prinsengracht and the Keizergracht that align the main canals) and a crane, which was fishing the canal for stranded bicycles and anything else that could slip into the dark, brown bottom of Amsterdam's boating history. Apparently an Amsterdam tradition, hundreds of thousands of bikes somehow find their way to the bottom of the canal each year, and the city commissions a crane to scan the bottom of the water to find the culprits. A gorgeous juxtaposition between the centuries-old architecture and the modern crane attempting to re-beautify the soil they habituate, the boat cruise was, much like my three previous days in Amsterdam, filled with the eccentric electricity that powers this captivating place. After discussing the crane, the history of Keller's rented dwelling, and the ethereal essence surrounding the past few days, we dropped Keller off near home and motored back to the Melkweg to prepare for Jam in the Dam's inaugural swansong.
Keller Williams :: Jam in the Dam
The Melkweg: Evening
On to the show. Keller opened the night in the Max, continuing his penchant for covers by throwing both "Groove is in the Heart" and "Dancing in the Streets" teases into an opening jam that ended up in the bouncy "Fuel For the Road." Acoustic virtuosity ensued, channeled primarily through Keller's innate comedic attitude and his ability to loop five different instrument lines together into a cohesive mash of dirty blues, jumpy bluegrass, folk, and energetic rock. "Rosalie McPhall," sandwiched between fan-favorite "Porta-Potty" followed, as Keller's humor popped up again to narrate a story of finding love in the most undesirable of places. Bob Dylan's "Maggie's Farm" and Tenacious D's "Kielbasa," as well as Keller's own "People Watching" and "Stupid Questions," highlighted the remaining hour of the set, which was peppered with piano tickling, violent acoustic strumming, and careful digital looping to wrap the whole package together. Taken right from a Google search, Keller is described as, "a one man band for the digital age," and his three sets at Jam in the Dam definitely confirmed the accuracy of that moniker.
Umphrey's McGee followed in the Old Hall, opening fittingly with their metal-laced original "Hangover." Long, drawn-out, cock-rock infused jamming dominated their set, paraded off by the lengthy "Miss Tinkle's Overture" > "Mulche's Odyssey" that inhaled bong hits of The Allman Brothers, Pantera, and Metallica through the dual-guitar genius of Jake Cinninger and Brendan Bayliss playing identical lines that would make any head banger drool. A Rufus Wainwright cover, sung by a member of the crew as well as guest spots by Charlie Hitchcock of Particle and a "Hot for Teacher" cover continued the insanity, showcasing just how eclectic and cohesive the sextet can be. It is a difficult task to create a spin cycle of genres that does not shrink after many washes, but Umphrey's McGee pulls it off.
Umphrey's McGee :: Jam in the Dam
Finally, the Disco Biscuits' trance-fusion finished off the ebullience of Jam in the Dam, winding another two hours of non-stop tunes through the "The Very Moon" > "Helix" > "The Very Moon," while ending with a brilliant "Home Again," featuring Joel Cummings and Brendan Bayliss of Umphrey's. Despite 3 a.m. rolling around and the curfew having been breached, the quartet returned for one more jazzed-up trance foray with fan favorite "Aceetobee" that concluded well after 3:30 a.m. Taking a page from Keller, guitarist Jon Gutwillig digitized his melodies, effectively looping himself throughout "Aceetobee," giving himself more space to improvise over the swirling piano work of Magner and slap bass of Marc Brownstein.
Disco Biscuits and Bayliss :: Jam in the Dam
Short Digression #3 – The Painting 4 a.m.
In Particle's dressing room lay a painting, created as Particle snaked through their set by live artist Frenchie Live, a painter who has worked with the quartet before. This is an entrancing mush of colors: bright pinks, reds, and oranges along with darker blues, purples, and black, coiled together into a post-modern slew of beauty that mirrors the themes of Jam in the Dam perfectly - gorgeously eclectic and spontaneous, with a certain careful execution floating underneath. In addition, a small window in the top left of the painting contains a grinning Molitz, peering into the painting amidst the swash of colours and textures entrancing him. A suitable visual to describe the festival, as Jam in the Dam emulates the same themes by bestowing a peeping glimpse into Amsterdam's lifestyle that produces the same mischievous grin amidst the swash of emotions that this city produces.
Sam Altman (Disco Biscuits) :: Jam in the Dam
Conclusion: 5 a.m. – Gathering my wits along the Prinsengracht:
This was a wonderful event, wonderfully planned and carried out in a more than wonderful city. Amsterdam is a fabled place, where the spirit of tolerance shines through everyday life, creating a peaceful business that sweats splendor. The professionalism of the Melkweg, meticulous organization of promoters Armand Sadlier of Vision International and Walther Productions, and performances by the bands simply must be repeated. A legacy is brewing in muddy Amsterdam, and it is oozing cries for this event to become annual. If you have read this much of my review, I am guessing I will be grinning alongside you at Jam in the Dam 2006, soaking up the essence of an event ranked as one of the finest ever. Besides, I cannot get lost in Amsterdam by myself every year.
Words by: Shain Shapiro
Images by: Sam Friedman
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