Friday, October 21, 2011

Concert Day (Last One, for Me): Ahoy, Rotterdam, The Netherlands (October 21, 2011)

It does feel a little strange waking up for the last concert for me in a Mark Knopfler tour, which isn’t the last one for Mark & the band as well. It’s been quite a while since this band performed without me in the audience.

Right from the get-go, it was a hard decision for me to make. There were a few factors involved in the decision; and to those of you who still consider “money” to be the primary barrier to cross, let me assure you that “money” wasn’t a factor. I’ll just say that, attending this entire, relatively short 33-concerts tour would force me to make sacrifices that I am not in the position to make as it might have adverse impact on many things down the road.

Rotterdam isn’t too far from Delft—about 15 minutes by train. The concert was scheduled to start at 7:30pm. Knowing in advance that that would be the last concert for me in the tour, I opted (along with Jeroen) at a general admission ticket so we knew we should be there early.

Nobody was into the idea of working too hard, then. Left shortly past noon to a local restaurant in Delft, figuring that lunch is going to be the last main meal for the day. A local festival was taking place in Delft’s city centre.


This cart you see above is quite the Dutch feat. It’s called “Draaiorgel”—basically, a street organ which traditionally is being powered by turning a wheel, but nowadays is mostly electronic.

Draaiorgel in Delft, The Netherlands.

Don’t ask me why—that I don’t know myself; perhaps a psychologist could tell—but when I travel, I exhibit a slightly different personality than when I am at home. One big difference is, that when I travel, I tend to strike conversations with strangers much, much for frequently. When I travel, much of the shyness is left somewhere in Canada’s airports for me to pick up when I come back. For some reason, when I travel I feel more liberated than when I am at home—very strange especially considering the fact that I live in Vancouver, which certainly is of the more “liberated” (spirit-wise) cities I ever had the pleasure to step in.

When you strike up conversations with strangers in foreign countries, you can learn a lot about people and cultures. It’s amazing how much you can learn about a place just by listening to people talking and paying close attention to the most miniscule body language.

And what I found out in The Netherlands is something rather strange. It happened, many times before, when I would approach someone, start talking and very shortly after you realize how other people, even not being any part of the ongoing conversation, begin listening. Not just listening, but evidently talking with others about the very fact that you went up to someone and struck a conversation.

You then turn and look at these other people; sometimes they look back at you and smile, sometimes they look away as if being ashamed of something.

Later, when conversation somehow fades away, other people around approach you and start talking to you. It’s just as if you have unlocked some door that people were “secretly” waiting to be opened by someone else. That someone is you.

By actually striking up a conversation with someone you have never met in your life, you suddenly become an item of interest. Why is that? having discussed that in depth with Jeroen (who happens to be Dutch, which helps getting at interesting conclusions), it turns out that the Dutch people aren’t very well known for their tendency to walk up to strangers and talk to them unless they have a very good reason to do it.

This is in total and sharp contrast to most places in Canada I had been to, and I should tell you that I’ve seen more of it than perhaps 99% of Canadians. In Canada, talking to complete strangers is not considered an unusual act—in fact, it happens quite often, so often that you can’t avoid doing it yourself even if you came from a country where such actions are frowned upon (try striking up a conversation with strangers in Israel; see how far you get).

There’s obviously no “good” and “bad” here. I am just a visitor in this beautiful continent and this sweet green country of The Netherlands, so the best I can do is speak on my own behalf. I’m wondering what it is in the common Dutch mentality that prevents them from stepping up and talk to strangers. Is it being afraid of violating other people’s personal space? What is it that they’re trying to avoid? What is it that they’re scared of? Or is it the altogether lack of desire or interest in talking to strangers and communicating with new people?

The distance between Delft to Rotterdam Centraal—Rotterdam’s central train station—is about 12 minutes by train. Rotterdam Centraal is one of the most important and busiest train stations in The Netherlands; many international trains pass through this station that serves as a hub to most local trains as well. You can reach pretty much anywhere in The Netherlands by hopping on a train, tram or metro line in this stations.

The station has been going through extreme renovations over the last few years—renovations that are expected to end some time during this decade.


Rotterdam’s metro station is some impressive giant piece of construction—very well lit and signed, tourist-friendly—much unlike, say, Antwerp’s.


It was an easy 10 minutes ride to the Ahoy.

The Ahoy is Rotterdam’s premier sporting arena. Other than sporting events, this arena also hosts concerts. Red Hot Chili Peppers performed here just a few days ago; Tina Turner, Iron Maiden, Alanis Morissette—these and many others have performed in this venue over the years. Mark Knopfler’s band played here a few times before, the last time being during 2008’s Shangri La tour. During 2010’s Get Lucky tour, the Ahoy was going through renovation which may be the reason why all three concerts of the band that year were done in Amsterdam’s Heineken Music Hall.

Early entry (ahead of the public) was provided for this concert. Instructions called for gathering in a specific place by 6:00pm, then to be led to the arena before the doors are opened for the general public. Signage in the area wasn’t very conclusive as to where it was exactly that we were supposed to be waiting, or what is going to happen.

We arrived at the agreed-upon location for early entry, and found it to be like this:


That is, pretty empty (that’s a few bagged sandwiches you see there, as well as Jeroen’s jacket). Well, not much can go wrong here.


Later on, Ingrid showed up, coming back from a nearby restaurant. People started showing up shortly after, and continued to accumulate until 5:45pm.

Now there’s something that prompts anxiety in people when it comes to general admission shows, especially for people like myself who aren’t exactly the type of people to elbow their way anywhere. I have had my share of troubling general admission concerts during last year’s tour and let me tell you, I’m more than willing to acknowledge that I’m not the type to fight over my place in non-existent line-ups.

Some of the Canadian politeness must have sunk into me over the years; put a typical Canadian in such general admission shows in Europe, and you got yourself a pretty anxious individual. We simply don’t like being crowded and we don’t like to fight each other, or race each other, for the purpose of being another inch closer to some guys playing instruments on stage.

In some places, people take these things very seriously and it’s not very hard to reach a point where things get out of control and all you need is just one idiot to start a fist fight. Not my cup of tea.

Nobody really tried to keep track of who arrived first. Sure, when the first few people arrive, it’s easy; but when there’s 100 or so people there, people who arrive later take advantage of the mess that is already ensuing and, from there on, it’s the law of the jungle: the strongest survives, the rudest prevails.

The big doors were open and we were all let into a chamber for yet another waiting area, where we were left to stand for another half an hour or so until the sign has been given and an attendant led us to the arena’s door. I was happened to be the third one to enter, after some asshole elbowed me as we were entering; luckily he was about twice my age so my revenge involved showing him some dust as I went blazing through the Ahoy’s dark space.

I wasn’t very far from spending the night in hospital, though. As I gained top speed, I suddenly realized that there’s some metal construct running through the arena, apparently to cover some cables but effectively looks like—and acts like—a speed bump. I realized the existence of this obstacle in the last millisecond and was able to skip it with only hurting my toe. Thank you, Mr. Engineer McAssholeson, for this brilliant design.

A few seconds later I was already seated with my back to the stage, my legs spread out (that’s “general admission concerts 101” for you) and trying to evaluate the damage inflicted upon my toe. Not much.

People kept coming, until the doors were opened for the general public when scores of people came running inside at once. Within less than a minute, it was all over. Now all that was left was to wait.

Nature called for a short restroom visit about 30 minutes before the concert’s commencement. Now that’s the routine I probably hate the most. When you’re in a general admission concert, occupying prime real-estate, you have to carefully plan your restroom visit. Remember: leaving prime real-estate is easy, but getting back there can be tricky. Everybody wants to see you get the fuck out, nobody wants to let you in.

Took me some 5 minutes of self-convincing that there’s no way in hell I can survive this concert on a full bladder, and then I decided to make my way out in the worst method possible—walking in 90 degrees to the stage, cutting through the audience straight up.

In retrospect, there’s a problem with this approach. For a successful comeback, it is vital that the same people who you came across on your way out—will be the same ones you encounter on your way in later. People (at least in The Netherlands. I’m not entirely convinced this would work in Italy or Spain) are more likely to let you pass through if they can remember you going past them on your way out.

Therefore, it makes (again, in retrospect) much more sense to do it differently: rather than cutting through the audience in 90 degrees to the stage, you should first go sideways to the very edge of the stage, and then off to your business. That’s simply because you’re bound to meet exactly the same people on your way in, as on your way out.

Anyway, getting back to my prime real-estate wasn’t too hard (although I did have to circumvent a few people who miraculously lost their hearing when I asked them to move aside a little) but I realize that, had I done that 5-10 minutes later, I’d never make it to the stage.

So, to summarize:

  • Finalize all restroom visits at least 30 minutes before the show.
  • Go sideways to the edge of the stage, then out.

Remember this and you should be fine… in most cases.

7:30pm arrived, the lights went out and there it was—the last show for me, for this tour.

So after the Paris show, the band went to Antwerp for some mediocre audience attendance which was, well, annoying. It was good to be in Rotterdam in that respect: the Dutch audience is quite the lively one, plus Mark and the band have a firm fan base in this country. I couldn’t have imagined a better way to bid this tour goodbye, than standing in the front row of such an ecstatic & supportive audience.

Seeing many people jumping and moving clearly does something to the band, Mark included. Mark has been in a very good mood so far this tour, and it seems like Rotterdam brought his good mood to a new peak. I can hardly recall such a vivid, smiling, active Mark Knopfler over the 130+ concerts I have attended.

Everybody played brilliantly in Rotterdam making this concert equal, in quality and overall experience, to the Paris concert, rendering them both as memorable experiences.

Why Aye Man started the show. Typically in this song, Mark shines during the solo parts before and after the last verse. This time, the solo involved playing some interesting harmonies only rarely before heard (by yours truly). One could sense that Mark is in “experimentation mode”, and coming up with such harmonies “on the fly” isn’t very easy, especially when you intend the outcome to be pleasing to the ear. And it was.

Same strategy was taken during Hill Farmer’s Blues. Pleasant harmonies, plus, this time, Mark has been witnessed working extensively on his Gibson’s highest frets, conquering pretty much whatever the Gibson’s neck had to offer with respect to pitch. At times during this solo, it was so good and brilliant that band members started smiling. I, myself, was so impressed with what was going on that, for a few seconds, I shut my eyes just to be able to absorb everything. If there was one recording-worthy Hill Farmer’s Blues so far for this tour, Rotterdam’s must have been the one.

Corned Beef City reappeared on the set list, as well as Privateering which is now an inseparable staple of the show. The next highlight was Marbletown’s jam session when the entire band seemed as if they were going ape-shit over something. All inhibitions were left somewhere between Antwerp and Rotterdam and what we got was a jam session that blew minds away. Not just ours, but also the band’s.

Typically, after an unusually outstanding Marbletown jam session, Mark holds the lower B♭ and vibrates it for a few seconds before signalling the band for the final G5 strike; this time, it was held for ages, extracting notable smiles from the band and loud laughter from the audience, followed by a warm, hearty smile by Mark himself who proceeded to strike that G5 and conclude a brilliant Marbletown performance.

Speedway at Nazareth and So Far Away concluded one of this tour’s best concerts (so far; unfortunately I won’t be witnessing the rest of the concerts) leaving the audience in complete awe.


As Rotterdam is so close to Delft by train, Jeroen and I were initially in the idea of staying for Bob Dylan’s concert. You know, this being the last concert experience this year and all.

That, however, has changed after the band’s concert. I was so overwhelmed, that I decided that there is no way I’m going to let overly loud music ruin it for me. Unsurprisingly, others (Jeroen and Ingrid included) shared the same opinion. We simply decided to leave about 10 minutes before Bob Dylan’s concert.

The looks we got were… well… implying a huge deal of surprise. It’s very unusual to see a group of people, who were holding the most precious pieces of real-estate in the arena, simply turning around and leaving the hall after the opening act, not to return. We offered our prime space to whoever was happy enough to take it.

On my way out sifting through the masses, someone asked me if I’m really leaving, joking that if I go to the restroom, he won’t let me go back to my spot. I replied that I have no intention to return, and got an extremely surprised look in return.

Well, what can I say. It was a brilliant show—a perfect way for me to end my share of the tour.

Went for some drinks with Ingrid in the pub located right inside the Ahoy. A few others joined us shortly after; we left the premises minutes after Bob Dylan’s show concluded.

Quick subway ride to Rotterdam Central, and as we were about to board the train back to Delft, it was announced that there was a “collision” (read: suicide) on the tracks between Schiedam Centrum and Delft so the train is going to stop in Schiedam, where busses will await the passengers to drive everybody to Delft so they can continue their journey. A mild annoyance but nothing to cry about.

Back at Jeroen’s apartment, a good cup of tea went down smoothly, followed by a good night sleep.

I will be staying in Delft until Sunday afternoon when I will be taking a flight back to paradise—that is, the city of Vancouver. You know that you’re happy where you live, when you look forward to go back home after taking a vacation.

Well, this was a short run through Europe for me, attending a few shows of what I still think is the best musicians’ line-up active today. It’s been a pleasure meeting old friends as well as new people; hopefully you found my experiences interesting. Who knows, if there’s a next tour, we might run into each other again.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing the details of your latest journey. I looked forward to each new entry and am very sorry to see it end. You "once again demonstrated to me how dynamic and surprising life can be." (intro from an especially good paragraph).