This is, more or less, a translation of a review written in Serbian on my other blog. I wrote them back to back, so I apologise for any mistakes and/or leftover non-translated text. I translated it within 15 minutes.
Wow. A concert review I have actually written on time. Truthfully speaking, I was doing my best to write it as soon as possible. The festival sponsored by Tuborg and organised by the people of Avalon production and EXIT that took place on Saturday, 18th June at the Kalemegdan castle in Belgrade, Serbia, 3 km from where I live and where I'm writing this from, sure was one of the most memorable events I have ever witnessed, mostly due to Amy Winehouse's performance that's being spoken about all around the world.
I'm sure you're all familiar with complex and troubled music personalities as well as their struggle against substance abuse, as well as the consequences they end up facing due to many years of the said abuse. Serbian fans are more than familiar with mishaps. In 2006, the legendary Rolling Stones had to delay a large number of concerts when Keith Richards fell of a coconut tree. At the Green Fest in Inđija a year later, the Red Hot Chili Peppers had to shorten their setlist due to one of them falling ill...here, out of all possible places in the world. And the small fish in the sea have their own moments, too: a couple of weeks ago, on their first-ever gig in Belgrade, members of Croatian band Brkovi disappointed an entire raft full of people when they got on stage completely drunk and played a couple of odd improvs such as this one - and, well, life goes on.
A cynical person would probably say that Amy Winehouse was simply a disaster waiting to happen to our enthusiastic crowd, the whole set-up was calling for an unusual, badly-done performance through which she could pass out, get booed or break a bone. At the same time, it appears that nobody was paying attention to the multitalent that is Moby, scheduled to perform the same night, as well as three bands that are ex-Yugoslavia's own - Zemlja gruva (The Land of Groove), Elemental and Bei the Fish. All the eyes were on, as one of Zemlja gruva's singers said, "the queen".
So, how was it? Delightful, despite the Amy controversy.
In the beginning, I have a couple of little remarks towards this event's organisers.
Where was the food? Where are those hot-dogs that you normally sell at the EXIT festival? I couldn't care less about promoters offering cigarettes, I couldn't care less about Tuborg - I was starving! It's natural to get hungry during a festival that goes on all throughout the night, right? Oh well, at least the security wasn't munching on sandwiches right before our eyes while we were trapped in some sort of a cage at the temperature of 40 degrees Celsius, on our way to dehydrate. And yes, that happened once upon a time, too.
Where on Earth did so many mosquitos come from? I killed two bloody ones (literally) long before dark, and there was a story going on that the place would be desinsected.
I am also not sure why the organisator was advertising this as a concert. Why don't you say it out loud, that this is a re-branded Tuborg Green Fest? We know what happened in 2007 [Red Hot Chili Peppers debacle], we know that the event was cancelled in 2009 [as Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode fell ill]...and all of that still doesn't mean that people wouldn't show up, either way.
Anyway, back to the present time. I arrived to the concert ground around 5.30 PM, worried that there would already be too many people and that it would not be possible to take the place in the middle of the front row. However, there were only about ten people at the gates of the fan pit [people here tend to be late to everything] and, in the meantime, journalists of Studio B [Belgrade's legendary local TV and radio station] asked me a couple of questions, which was shown on their evening news. I truly hope not many people watched that, as my mother told me that I looked wonderful and my head was on the entire screen which sounds pretty disturbing. Shout-outs to the cameraman and the journo - nice peeps!
The gates opened 20 minutes later than it was scheduled. I managed to get in first and grab a spot in the very middle of the front row, right below the singer's microphone. Soon I was accompanied by two nice girls named Ivana and Joana, and later on, Miloš "Ćufta", my elementary school mate and an avid concert goer who decided to see all good musicians performing in Belgrade this year, popped up out of somewhere and joined us. We watched the support groups perform, including one of my favourite ex-YU bands, Bei the Fish:
The audience seemed to be awesome, which was most likely the reason there were no riots after the event - girls in hippie dresses, married couples, even senior citizens. Most of them came for Amy Winehouse, but some of them considered Moby to be the true star of the night as well. The fan pit was filling rapidly, but it was still possible to spread one's arms and/or turn around and sit down, if necessary. I liked that!
And so we were waiting...and waiting...and waiting...passing our time by singing whatever they play through the speakers: Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This), Firework, Sexy Bitch. The audience has warmed up and they're in a great mood. But this would change very soon.
The "queen" appeared a little later than what was intended, after a band of excellent backup musicians dressed in orange suits got on stage before her. With blonde highlights in her hair, wearing a black and green stripped dress, she jumped onto the stage and headed straight to the guitar player to give him a hug. As the cheering got a bit quiet, she turned her back to the audience, sat down and took off her shoe, solely to toss it at the backling vocalists. Then she sat down again again, likely to take off the other, until the first chords of Just Friends were played. Sadly, instead of singing, Amy was mumbling something and then she went on with band introduction. I firmly believe that this video will end up being shown in documentaries about her life and I hope that, once it happens, she'll be healthy and happy, and there to actually comment on it.
During the first song, the crowd was still cheering on. As it continued in a similar fashion, we were aware that we were witnessing an unusual concert, later quoted by newspaper Blic as "the worst in history of Belgrade". A little bit later, the cheering stopped. During one of the songs, a hat was thrown at the stage (not cups and plastic bottles, as quoted by some media - just a hat). An older lady who was more or less asking us in the front row to make place for her, the same one who kept on repeating that this was her dream coming true, disappeared after the second song of the night, Addicted.
We thought that this would be it, that she needed some time to warm up, that there was absolutely no way this would go on. But that was wrong. Amy continued to improv, having first greeted Athens and New York. Then she had a lengthy monolog on the origin of her backing vocalists, stating they're Nigerian. A couple of times, she even asked us whom do we think she likes more and why.
We forgot all of those "You can do it!" and "You go, girl!" from the very beginning of the concert. While people with cheaper tickets were already booing and whistling from the back rows, we were just standing there in disbelief, clapping probably because nothing really bad happened to the singer. At the beginning of Tears Dry On Their Own, Amy moved herself and the microphone closer to the backing vocalists, solely to yell out the second verse. The rest of the song was pretty much an instrumental track with backing vocals, as if someone was messing with Audacity or a similar program.
After having previewed one of the songs from the upcoming third studio album, Amy had a rather good start on Some Unholy war, only to get completely distracted afterwards, put her hands on her mouth, then stare at the backing vocalists as if she had seen a pair of ghosts. At the same time, she did not spot a green laser pointer that some joker was pointing at her cleveage. Then she hugged herself, the audience booed louder and the vocals of someone behind me were actually louder than the real ones.
That was when she left the stage for the first time and the band performed a cover of Boulevard of Broken Dreams, famously sung by Tony Bennett some decades ago. Some of us actually didn't believe that Amy Winehouse would be back, after having seen her talk to someone at the side of the stage. But she came back. At first, she intended to ask us something, only to add that one of her backing vocalists is very handsome. She ignored the opening lines of whatever was the next song to be played and they decided to do the fantastic Back to Black from the album with the same name instead. This song was probably the best of the night until sometime after the second chorus, when Amy threw the microphone on the ground and took one from the backing vocalists. Then she solely stared at us and the patient singer took his mic back.
This was followed by Love Is A Losing Game, also ending abruptly with the question "What the fuck up?" and blank stares after a couple more comments made to band members to the British singer's left. At this point, one would wonder about the nerves of these men and probably wish to be as stoic as they were.
The hit You Know When I'm No Good was mostly instrumental. At some point, Amy was fixing her own hairdo, then speaking to the guitarist and appearing as if she was about to wander off the stage again.
Perhaps because Ivana, the girl next to me, yelled out its name a couple of times, perhaps not, the next song was Valerie, which would've been played at the very end of the show in other circumstances. As the matter of a fact, the singer was pretty sure of it. "But I want to sing Valerie!" This was probably the only song with more singing than talking.
After this, we got a duet, You're Wondering Now...actually, it was supposed to be a duet, but the backing vocalist mostly sung it on his own, while Amy was nervously starring to both left and right, grabbing her cleveage, picking her nose, expecting someone to tell her the next line of the song. After all of this, she demonstratively left the stage. Someone noted that the lines of this song were more than symbolic, especially the last line of the chorus: you will pay for the way you misbehaved.
And where was Rehab? On the liquid shampoo shelf in the Lush store, where else? That was probably the only Rehab we could get our hands on, as we were not getting the song.
Here are the photos. There would be more of them, but I was mostly taking them when Amy wasn't singing. You can also see the images in a bigger size on Flickr.
After Amy Winehouse's staff started removing the equipment with no explanation (they almost forgot to take away the four candles that were likely put there to prevent mosquitos from biting), we all sat down on the floor again and many people, disappointed by what they've seen, left without any interest to see Moby. And they missed on A LOT. The girl who was now standing to my right and sleeping almost all the time through the American musician's performance also missed a lot, which her friend sarcastically commented on.
I don't even want to know what amount of pressure was on Moby at this point. He was due to come on stage after a fiasco that would be talked about all around the world within a matter of hours and he was probably well-aware that, no matter how much heart he puts into this and no matter how hard he tries, it will remain in the shadow of Amy Winehouse's onstage antics. However, it turned out that this was not an issue for him. Experience, sobriety and self-esteem combined with a perfect backing band made the audience forget the shock they just experienced, even if it was for just a while.
"Thankyouthankyouthankyou" after each song, soon later also "Hvalahvalahvala", a charismatic onstage persona and incredible energy of a man who jumps around the stage like a hyperactive toddler at the age of 46 combined with the fantastic vocal range of the female vocalist Joy Malcolm were more than worth the ticket price and remaining in the front row after almost seven hours after having arrived to Kalemegdan. Leg cramps? Not feeling my own numb fingers on the camera anymore? Never mind!
At the very beginning, Joy sung a part of the song Amy Winehouse did not - Rehab, and later on, one of the Brit's backing vocalists turned up and danced with her. He was having a good time enjoying the concert sidestage, wearing an everyday outfit instead of the orange suit. This was a wonderful tribute, assuming that it's what it was. If not, I stand corrected.
Moby knew exactly what we needed - after a performance where we were citizens of Athens, New York, unknown people, hallucinations and random nobodies, we needed a little love. We needed him to dedicate us the melancholy Porcelain and the upbeat Lift Me Up on, as he said himself, "on this beautiful night, under this beautiful castle". We needed the voluptuous Joy add "Serbia" after the almost bass-voice suitable vocals on Why Does My Heart Feel So Bad? We needed that one single song we got for the encore - according to the author's words, it was the fastest song in music history. We needed this man and his band - Joy, the female bassist, keyboardist and a stunning violion player, and the male drummer. We needed it and we got it!
From rocking out to guitar numbers, over fooling around with repetitive melodies such as Honey and Bodyrock, to raving ourselves out to Go and Feeling So Real, this was something we should've been prescribed age ago, as suitable group therapy. The trouble is that this particular doctor doesn't come around as often as we would need.
One day later..
After Moby finished, it was time to go home. I looked at my watch, it was 2.35 AM. By the time I arrived to my home in the north of Belgrade's centre, cursing two particular streets for being way too long, it was 3.30 AM. A tropical quiet night after a particularly loud, burning evening that Belgrade will surely remember forever.
And trust me, I'll be remembering it forever, too. For some more reasons. My viral video of Just Friends has had 500 000 views at the time I was translating this write-up, I've been getting mails from various media outlets worldwide; to which I'm scratching my head, wondering if I have drunk from some strange water bottle, perhaps one that was backstage before the show.
From what was reported and seen on Twitter, Moby was very concerned about Amy Winehouse while she was still on stage, despite not knowing her in person. And Amy's management cancelled the shows in Athens (the real one) and Istanbul, thus the next show being the one in Spain in July. Let's hope she'll be in a much, much better place at that point and delivering performances that live up to her quality.
A concert buddy I met seeing RHCP in Vienna in 2006 asked me if I could give a more personal view on this. So?
I don't know what exactly happened to Amy Winehouse. I'm, in fact, a bit uncomfortable with other people giving sensational titles to their rips of my videos, such as "DRUNK Amy" and "Amy Winehouse on drugs". I tried to keep both this review and the comments on my video clips as tasteful as they could possibly be. That woman is six months younger than me, and she's already done so much damage to herself that, as a straight-edge person who never did drugs and never got drunk, I would have to live for a couple of centuries to measure up to that.
I am, by no-means, trying to appear holier-than-thou. I am a fan of John Frusciante, a musician with a troubled past that almost costed him life and I have been maintaining a website about him for seven years now. During this period of time I learnt many valuable lessons, changed my ethics and I know for fact that the words you say might get where you least expect them to get to, so if anything was up to me at this point, I would ask people to have a little more taste when they're commenting on Amy Winehouse. The concert was an obvious disaster, but you absolutely have no right to wish her death, make sick assumptions about what she actually need back-up singers for and enjoy her misery. If, and only if, it's opiates, have you ever had someone struggling with addiction near you? Was it, as you put it, fun? I doubt that. Four people on my father's side of family died from liver cirrhosis and my half-paralysed first cousin, a 49-year-old father of two, spends all of his small invalid pension on alcohol, comes home and thrashes the place, getting his 74-year-old mother worried sick. Funny? I don't think so? Helplessness and misery are equally experienced by both rich and poor.
And Moby? Anything else I could add would be a repeat of the praises I already sung, so this is where my review is done. Get well, Amy! Please.