Amber Arcades is Utrecht resident Annelotte de Graaf’s band. She played almost all the instruments on her DIY debut ‘Patiently’ EP but borrowed some musicians for last year’s ‘Fading Lines’ album. Tonight in the back room of the buzzing Finsbury pub, she has a new group of musicians in tow — Manuel van den Berg on guitar, Otto de Jong (bass) and old friend Casper Broekaart (drums). But de Graaf starts alone, playing guitar as she sings ‘Constant’s Dream’, the band joining in a third of the way through. The drums carry a hefty thump, even though Broekaart has covered his kit with tea towels and is using a mallet. Van den Berg’s guitar perfectly complements de Graaf’s, as she effortlessly changes key and dynamics, slipping in and out of dreamy acoustic passages.
Van den Berg adds colour, carefully selective reverb and a playfully psychedelic break in the upbeat, poppy ‘Right Now’, while de Graaf’s gentle vocal carries the strong melody, creating tension with the quicker underlying beat. The guitar duelling and interplay continues on the pacy europop of ‘Come With Me’, augmented by a great bass line from de Jong.
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De Graaf dedicates a slower, sweet and woozy ’This Time’ to the group’s tour manager, before shredding some punky chords on ‘Fading Lines’, matched by de Jong’s tight new wave bass, Broekaart’s fast drums and van den Berg’s cascading, waterfall guitar. The song buzzes to a reverb ending and de Graaf announces that she is “feeling a little rocky”, as in rocky ’n’ roll. ‘I Will Follow’ veers from slow to fast, quicker still and finally winds down while, all the way through, the guitars twine around each other delightfully.
Amber Arcades take on a Nick Drake cover with ‘Which Will’ — from his third and final album ‘Pink Moon’ (1972) — which will be on a new EP to be released in June. De Graaf’s vocal floats slowly and sublimely over the racing clockwork of the bass and chiming guitar. Broekaart uses his drum mallets on the sedate ‘Apophenia’, which has a country and western feel, with slide guitar and haunting vocals. ‘Perpetuum Mobile’ stars a drum machine and doo-wop ’50s bass, but the reverb whammy stick guitar and pedals introduce a psychedelic surprise amid the naive ’50s/’60s europop vibe.
“This is our current single… the working title was ‘Rock Song’,” de Graaf says to introduce the catchy ‘It Changes’, Broekaart counting in “een, twee, drie”. It’s more a pop track than a rock song, as guitars race around each other in lovely circles, and most heads in the crowd nod along to the beat. Returning to The Finsbury’s tiny stage after the briefest of breaks, de Graaf asks “is it cool” to do an encore and kicks off ‘What a Heart Can Contain’ from the first EP — a waltzing sandwich made up of Italian-style ’50s pop, featuring mandolin-like guitar, either side of a harder, darker filling.
The drum machine returns for ‘Can’t Say That We Tried’ from the forthcoming Cannonball EP, and van den Berg briefly switches to atmospheric keyboards. De Graaf’s guitar gets louder and louder, over a big bold bass line from de Jong, who takes a turn on backing vocals. But it’s her compelling voice that’s the real star; her melodic line soaring above the track: “When I dream, I dream alone”.
She offers the crowd a chance to finish the band’s left-over kebabs, see some weird photos she’s taken and buy Amber Arcades merchandise, but not before climaxing the set with ‘Turning Light’ — an epic slab of boppy ’80s bass, the drum machine again, Star Wars effects, a spaced-out middle break and finale, and an instantly memorable vocal hook. The crowd intensifies its appreciative nodding along, until a dancing de Jong ends the set with bass feedback. The group manage to produce a post-britpop sound blended with swirly europop and early ’80s scandi-pop, not unlike Kate Jackson or Virna Lindt. Amber Arcades is de Graaf’s creation, but she must hope the band stays together to add live depth to her creative core.
Photo credits: Ian Bourne