Amber Arcades – Omeara, London, UK (7th June 2018)

In these troubled Brexit times, amid increasing uncertainty and worries over the UK’s future relationship with the rest of Europe, Dutch singer/guitarist Annelotte de Graaf is putting ‘European Heartbreak’ in the spotlight. That’s the name of the next album from her band Amber Arcades, due out on 28th September through Heavenly Recordings. They play gigs at this summer’s festivals then in the autumn, and at Omeara tonight the band provide a taste of what’s to come. 

Amber Arcades perform just about the whole of the new album, all bar one song, leaving time for just five tracks from previously recorded material — mostly loaded into an enjoyable encore, although there’s an earlier showing for the insistent and poppy ‘Right Now’, with its psych break and splintering guitar.

The new tracks are a meticulous blend of Europop sensibility and, curiously, Americana — with hints of a country influence and even Bruce Springsteen. The result is neither American rock nor European pop, reminiscent of genre-bending arrangements by Canada’s finest performer, the late lamented Leonard Cohen. The themes are alienation, disillusion with romance, national identity and politics.

“We are Amber Arcades, from the mystical land of Europe,” de Graaf tells the London crowd. ‘Simple Song’ matches strumming guitars and poppy keyboards, gently ebbing and flowing around rhyming lyrics. ‘Oh My Love (What Have We Done)’ sounds like a reference to Leave voters’ Bregrets, but could also be a rueful love song. Steel guitar effects and speak-singing give it a country and western feel. There’s more country steel on ‘Something’s Gonna Take Your Love Away’ and Manuel van den Berg enjoys slide guitar on ‘Antoine’.

‘Goodnight Europe’ is another lament for the EU’s fractured heart and broken dreams, the country vibe giving way to a rock-out ending: “Goodnight Europe, no-one really got you, I suppose, it’s hardly a protest but I’m sad to see you go. Oooh Europe, I’m sorry they boarded all your windows and your doors, now it smells like death is coming up through the floors … it’s hard to tell right from wrong, I guess we kinda knew it all along”. 

The new songs are littered with references to European countries — a house in Spain, southern France, driving a van to Switzerland — reinforcing the feeling that this is a concept gig to introduce a concept album. The videos trailing the album release are short, scripted films rather than the songs alone, adding to the conceptual feel of the whole project. If that makes it sound heavyweight, it’s not at all — ‘Where Did You Go’, for instance, is light and poppy, with a hint of Blondie’s blend of power chords and punk. 

But the older tracks at the end of the set and in the encore add a more direct attack. ‘It Changes’ from last year’s ‘Cannonball’ EP is driving and catchy, ‘This Time’ from the ‘Fading Lines’ LP highlights tremolo from van den Berg’s whammy bar and strong vocals from de Graff, while the riffing on that album’s title track and smart guitar interplay on ‘Come With Me’ get the crowd gently bopping.

Yet there’s nothing gentle about the last song in tonight’s set — ‘Baby, Eternity’ from the forthcoming album builds from a slow cymbal-tapping start through to strumming before climaxing with ever faster guitars, speed drums and bass from Erik Heestermans and Pieter Zaal, respectively, and Velvet Underground keys from Bart Hoevenaars. De Graaf strikes a guitar hero pose, and she and de Graaf drop their wailing axes on the stage to end a fascinating night that provides a big insight into the next phase of the Amber Arcades project.

Amber Arcades played:
01. ‘Simple Song’
02. ‘Right Now’
03. ‘Oh My Love (What Have We Done)’
04. ‘Goodnight Europe’
05. ‘Alpine Town’
06. ‘I’ve Done The Best’
07. ‘Where Did You Go’
08. ‘Hardly Knew’
09. ‘Something’s Gonna Take Your Love Away’
10. ‘Antoine’
11. ‘It Changes’
12. ‘This Time’
13. ‘Come with Me’
14. ‘Fading Lines’
15. ‘Baby, Eternity’

‘European Heartbreak’ tracklist:
01. ‘Simple Song’
02. ‘Hardly Knew’
03. ‘Oh My Love (What Have We Done)’
04. ‘Goodnight Europe’
05. ‘Alpine Town’
06. ‘I’ve Done The Best’
07. ‘Self-Portrait In A Car At Night’
08. ‘Something’s Gonna Take Your Love Away’
09. ‘Antoine’
10. ‘Where Did You Go’
11. ‘Baby, Eternity’