Rainbow Reservoir and Amber Arcades – The Cellar, Oxford

In my mind there exists a kind of Beautiful Freaks family. It includes my father, Kim, my friend Rob who’s often been on the radio with me, Max who writes review for the website, Emma, with who I did the nicest interview a while ago, and Angela from Rainbow Reservoir, who’s been a guest in my show twice now. They don’t know about it, or each other, but they’re all part of the family.

Rainbow Reservoir are playing tonight and I’m seeing them live for the first time. They sound heavy instead of quirky, like on most of their EP tracks, and my expectation that a banger like ‘Just Say Yes’ could work a lot better live indeed comes true. Of course, the lyrics are still tongue-in-cheek, with one of my favourite examples being from a new song they played: “Hey girls / What do you want? / Start a revolution? / Why not finish the one we have”. I think it’s called ‘Girls Vs. Boys’. Other new songs on the setlist have ominous titles such as ‘Creepy Kiss’ – which, given its short length, was almost certainly a joke song – and ‘Drunk Maria’. But it’s the softer songs that I love best, showing the heart Rainbow Reservoir have for indie pop. Two-in-one track ‘City Bike/Factor of 10’ is fast becoming my new favourite of theirs, and it deserves the slightly louder live rendition. So the songs are there, all my most treasured Oxford band needs now is the audience: only about 10 people were downstairs at Cellar when they started playing.

Max by the way thinks they sound like Half Man/Half Biscuit, a band I or Angela had never heard of before. I can see the connection. When we’re talking after the show he asks her where she’s from and I quip: that’s all already in the interview we did!

Second support act Ella turns out to be Amber Arcades’ keyboard player. So basically Amber Arcades without singer Annelotte de Graaf. Her songs are nice, but not particularly surprising in any way. Amber Arcades themselves, on the other hand, have really become a well-oiled live machine. And it’s time for me to reappreciate them. When Fading Lines was released, I didn’t get the hype and thought that, with the exception of the mesmerising ‘Turning Lights’, their songs were rather repetitive and uniform. Seeing them live at End of the Road festival didn’t change that, even though Kim and I met them at the staff camping and shared a moment together brushing our teeth in the dark (and you would certainly expect that creates some sort of bond, right?).

But now, hearing them once more, it seems like Amber Arcades has changed. Suddenly they’re a forgotten French band from the psychedelic 60s, caught only on rare Compact Cassettes. Suddenly, they’re almost Beatlesque in the simplicity of their melodies. Suddenly, their shimmer reminds me of Deerhunter circa Halcyon Digest, say ‘Desire Lines’, which I then desperately want to hear, right there in one of Oxford’s basements. Suddenly, they’re Amber Arcades again, and you can hear the Dutchness in their sound, which I can only describe as craftmanship. Perhaps that’s what I struggle with: the decency of their songs. They are well-written songs, with well-written melodies, but there isn’t much more. At the same time, I’m not sure why I would want more: there’s nothing wrong with a song for the song’s sake.

A lot has been written about the hilarious situations to which De Graaf’s background as a lawyer has led – like calling out interviewers on their vague questions. This time, she tells us she will skip the bit where bands walk off stage only to come back for a staged encore because of time constraints. But, she tells us, procedures have to be followed, so she still says “This is our last song” before the one that would’ve been last before the encore. The actual last song then is of course ‘Turning Lights’, with its kraut-rock motorik, post-rock climax and space-rock noise. When that noise slowly enguls the cellar, it becomes hard to distinguish which sounds are a byproduct of the loudly oscillating sound waves, and which are a conscious product of the four musicians on stage who have now blended into one. It’s a moment that could last for ages, so when it’s over it’s way too soon.

Since then, I’ve played Fading Lines a couple of times. Amber Arcades is certainly at their best live, but using that memory I can now also appreciate the album more. It’s funny the way listening to music works. Funny and nice.

-- Caspar Jacobs, October 21, 2016