Somewhere in the red light district of Amsterdam, just down the road a bit from the Hotel Croydon, is a little rock 'n' roll bar called Winston Kingdom. Nope, I don't know where they got that name from, either (nor do I know what was in the minds of the proprietors of the Hotel Croydon, come to that). But I do know this: over the last three years the venue has hosted a fine variety of rock 'n' roll shindigs under the auspices of the Living In Oblivion club.
Tonight three curiously diverse rackets are scheduled to break out in this Amsterdam bar under just that banner. So, let's get a beer and say hello...to oblivion.
Although I suspect she would probably laugh at this description, it's not too far fetched to call Bettina Koster a doyenne of the new wave. In the 80s, as part of all-girl innovators Malaria!, she helped to define the outer limits of post-punk. Now performing as an (almost) solo artist - with just Ines Perschy on drums, and an unnamed laptop on everything else - she's a surrealist cabaret turn, stomping it up with a wink and a grin and just the right amount of attitude.
She's obviously in her element, carrying the crowd with her - but it occurs to me that Bettina Koster be really unstoppable if she had a full band around her. As it turns out, the nearest we get is when Living In Oblivion proprietress Esther joins in on bass for one song. But even in her present minimalist guise, Bettina Koster brings a heady blast of bold, impulsive, Berlin-flavoured performance to Amsterdam tonight.
Since I last saw Joy Disaster at the Drop Dead festival in Prague a while back, the band have added an occasional female vocalist and subtracted some of their deathrockness. Then, they were very much on the darker side of the fence: now, it seems, they've discovered their inner indie-rockers. Visually, it's T-shirts, jeans, and sneakers all the way tonight, and while that may not be the most arresting image the band makes up for it by churning out a selection of tough, no-messing indie-punky anthems. The female vocalist gives it plenty of bug-eyed freaking, the guitarist totes his axe and his sideburns with equal aplomb.
It's good stuff, for sure, but Joy Disaster do rather lose the audience's attention by playing such a lengthy set that eventually, with no end in sight, most people simply abandon the band for the bar. Presumably the extra-long set is possible because The Last Days Of Jesus, who were originally billed to play tonight, don't actually appear, but whatever the reason Joy Disaster just don't stop.
Undaunted, despite the wide expanse of empty floor that opens up in front of them as the crowd dwindles, they carry on...and on...and on. 'These are our last few songs,' the be-waistcoated frontman finally announces, after the band have already played what seems like a three-hour marathon - whereupon they go on to play a 'last few' songs that seem to last until next week. Much as I like Joy Disaster's brawny noise, they stretch their welcome to breaking point tonight.
It's up to the Koffin Kats to bring some short, sharp, bursts of energy back to the evening. Fortunately, short, sharp, bursts of energy are what the Koffin Kats are all about. This US-based psychobilly-punk trio are on a European tour right now, and you can certainly tell: their show is brash, slick, and fast-moving, honed by night after night of gigs on the road.
They pitch into a set of no-shit rockers, the plunk and thump of the stand-up bass fighting it out with honest-to-goodness punk rock gutar, kicking their songs around with such intensity that the bassist brains himself with his instrument, and ends up playing the gig with streams of blood running down his face.
Now that's commitment to the cause, I'd say. A bunch of psychobillies, who've obviously been waiting at a discreet distance for their heroes to arrive, materialise in the mosh, and all of a sudden we've got a party.
Amid the riffs and the thunking 'billy rhythms, there's plenty of showboating on stage - the bassist leaps upon his instrument, the guitarist strikes attitudes. But the best bit of the show comes when, mid-song and without warning, the guitarist unstraps his instrument and hurls it across to the bassist, who simultaneously shoves his bass in the opposite direction. The two instruments cross in mid-air, and the band plays on - with the roles of guitarist and bassist instantly reversed. I'm left standing there thinking, 'Did I just see that?' It's a great stunt, worth the price of admission in itself.
But the Koffin Kats also have all the right musical chops to keep the party rockin'. They even manage to make Adam Ant's sleazoid anthem 'Beat My Guest' sound like a backyard hoedown - it fits surprisingly well with their own rumbustious punks-in-the-barnyard rumbles. Oblivion is an exhilaratingly noisy place to be.
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.