Although the band had existed for almost 25 years, this was another tour in which they had to prove themselves. After more than half the band left, including the musically very influential Robert Jan Stips, the remaining two members joined up with two new musicians to begin a new adventure. The first concert was in early January, with the regular tour starting from the end of that month and it would last all the way up to the last few days of December. They visited all the usual countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and Finland, but they also played in Greece. Since the Alankomaat album was not released before March during the first concerts the audience not only had to get used to the new line-up, also most of the songs were unknown to them! I am glad that I was able to visit one of those early concerts, since it was definitely a special atmosphere. I was already familiar with several of the new songs from tapes of the pre-natal Alankomaat concerts, but they were often played differently and there were plenty of songs that were also new to me. In those early concerts it showed that the band didn't take a lot of time for rehearsals before the tour started. The musicians were often playing very concentrated, especially the new members. Up to around April I noticed during several concerts that each time they sounded much more confident and the songs really started to shine. From about the end of April the band definitely had found their way with the material and the interaction between the band members and the audience had become much more loose, without sacrificing the music. During the tour several arrangements of songs evolved or were simply changed and new songs were added to the setlists.
I know this tour has received some criticism for several reasons, but with most I disagree wholeheartedly. Some criticism concerned the choice of songs, I'll come back to that in the Songs section. Another criticism concerned the new musicians, but I think that's not fair. Not only did they do a fantastic job, they definitely brought something new to the band. Nobody can replace someone so important to the Nits sound as Robert Jan Stips of course, but I'm glad that Laetitia didn't try to copy Robert Jan's style. I think she would have gotten a lot more flack if she would have done that! Laetitia is much more a supporting player and less to the front as Robert Jan and Arwen can hold up to any bass player the Nits ever had. And don't forget the vocal richness this tour introduced. The harmonies were better than ever, often all 4 band members were singing and their voices fit together like it was always meant to be!
Oh, and for those few who are reading this and don't know what 'Alankomaat' means: It's the Finnish word for 'the Netherlands'!
As mentioned above this tour was the first one with another new line-up. In the history of the band several very important band members had left, but the band always survived and adapted to new sound. In a way it's a loss to that people like Robert Jan Stips left. But I don't think it's a healthy situation if someone doesn't really feel happy anymore in a band. It will always reflect in the music. And it's a great chance for the remaining members to explore new directions of the Nits style.
Robert Jan Stips left the band to embark on solo projects and to work extensively with Freek de Jonge. Martin Bakker initially stayed with Robert Jan, but in 1997 he went on to join the Dutch band 'Het Groot Niet Te Vermijden'. Peter Meuris went on as producer and musician for several Dutch artists, including his (then) wife Astrid Serise.
Those members had to be replaced of course, but Henk and Rob first recorded the entire Alankomaat album mainly as a duo, with a few guests on some songs. They played with the idea to tour as a duo as well, but decided against this and they went on to find new band members in late 1997.Henk had a preference for female band members, because as he told in several interviews, he liked to have female backing vocals and the specific approach to music, that's often different from a man's perspective.
Through friends and contacts they found Arwen Linneman and Laetitia van Krieken to fill the positions. Arwen became the new electric and standing bass player. She had played in small bands before, but nothing like the Nits of course. The hard task to replace Robert Jan Stips as keyboards player fell on Laetitia. She came from a jazz background. She played and arranged on a few albums before joining the Nits.
Both new members brought with them their very own style, resulting in an interesting new sound.
Henk Hofstede: vocals, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards,
bull-bull, turning rattle
Rob Kloet: drums, percussion, backing vocals
Arwen Linneman: electric and standing bass, backing vocals
Laetitia van Krieken: keyboards, backing vocals
Wimme: joiking at the Paris concert
Luka Bloom: guest vocals and guitar at the Twee Meter Sessies radio show.
Seppo Pietikaanen: Finnish reciting at the Amsterdam Paradiso and Purmerend concerts
Kimmo Kajasto: complicated looking little keyboard thing at the Amsterdam Paradiso and Purmerend concerts
The stage design was once again a spectacular affair, as can be expected from the Nits. This time however, instead of stage sets, the band used video screens to project very diverse movies to visualize the songs. Using video screens during pop concerts has been done a million times of course, but the Nits found a way to make it into their own unique style, mainly through he choice of movies and subjects. Often they were images of cities or animals at the Amsterdam Zoo, Artis. At the song section I'll note with every song entry what was happening on the screens. Tom Telman helped me out a lot with remembering which video went with which song and often also where the videos were filmed.
the stage during Hold Me Geneva
The band was lined up as follows: on the left with her side to the audience was Laetitia and her keyboards. Directly opposite of her was Henk's keyboard setup, so they were facing each other when they played. Henk was most of the time at the middle and front of the stage singing and playing guitar. His bull-bull instrument was lying on a table next to the keyboards. Rob's drum kit was also positioned sideways to the audience. He also had a small drum set, with various percussion instruments set up right in front of his drum kit, so he would face the audience when he came down to play those. Arwen was the most to right with her electric and standing bass.
As could be expected, almost all the songs came from the most recent Alankomaat album. Mixed in with this were the band's biggest hits and concert favorites. There were some lesser known things among the set lists often though, like 'Wall in China', the b-side to the first Alankomaat single (Three Sisters), 'Fire in my Head' from the Ting album and a full-blown version of the Beatles song 'Girl'.
After about two months into the tour the popular request section returned to Nits concerts, this time it was brought as 'The Tower of Song', in which the audience could shout out their favorite artists and the band would then attempt to play a song from that artist. More info about this at the 'Tower of Song' entry below. Several of the entries feature the image of the original album it came from.
The tour got some criticism from fans that all the concerts were so much alike. While this is certainly true to some extent, I wouldn't say it's a reason to discount this tour too easily. The rather strict set lists probably were the result of a few factors including the newness of the material and the two new band members and the video projections needed a fixed order to a large extent I guess. But it shouldn't be forgotten that in previous tours the Nits often had similar set lists throughout the tour, examples are most of the tours between 1980 and 1985, the Henk Tour, the Ting Tour and the Giant Normal Dwarf Tour. Most of the other tours featured versions of the band that had been playing together for at least two or three years and had build up a repertoire big enough to allow lots of variation. And if you have seen or heard the live version of songs like 'the Changing Room', 'Hold Me Geneva' and 'Rainfallagain' and still complain about the musical qualities of this band then I really doubt if you were paying attention very well. These and several others are among the finest things the band in any configuration has ever done.
The only problem with the Alankomaat songs is that most of them are slow or mid-tempo songs (except for Robinson and Sister Rosa) and it's harder to entertain an audience with subtle songs than with party songs. For me personally it doesn't matter, but I saw around me that people reacted much more enthusiastic to the up tempo stuff and the hits then the softer and more unknown songs.
Later on in the tour several songs were added and of various songs the arrangements evolved throughout the tour and there was the 'Tower of Song' to keep it interesting for most of the fans. I enjoyed this tour a lot, but that was probably also because I find the Alankomaat album one of the very best the band ever did. If someone is less keen on this album, than the enjoyment of this tour is probably also less.
Even though a lot of concerts sound alike, every Nits tape collector should definitely own a tape of at least one of the concerts, because almost all the songs have unique (and often very inventive) arrangements and the Tower of Song section is almost always hilarious.
Adieu, Sweet Bahnhof
This classic Nits song entered the setlists at the end of the pre-summer part of the tour. The version at the first Amsterdam concert is still somewhat hesitant and its clearly not been rehearsed very extensively. After the summer this song appeared as a regular encore. It was only played every 2 or 3 shows, so its often missing from the setlists.
Although after the summer the song was clearly better rehearsed, it still sounded very basic and loose, almost demo-like. This made this version rather charming. The instrumentation consisted for the main part of acoustic guitar, standing bass, drums and piano. After the first chorus Laetitia also started to play an accordion sound on the keyboards. In the instrumental section Henk put down the guitar and went to his keyboard, where he played the main melody, using a bright synth sound. He returned to the guitar for the end of the song.
The song was added late into the tour and there was initially no video for it, so they showed whatever video they had left. One that often returned was a clip from a Bollywood (Indian movies) musical, with a hip dancing Indian girl.
All I want
Except for the first few shows, this song was not played during this tour. There were some setlists on the mailing list indicating it was played during the first weeks of the tour, but I can confirm that by the time they reached Kampen (February 6th) it wasn't played anymore, if it was played at all, while in a setlist of the Leiden concert of February 1st it was mentioned as an encore.
The band actually kept trying to play this song in the tour though. At the soundcheck in Deventer, where I was present, they were rehearsing this song extensively. It actually sounded very cool. They played it in a sort of reggae style with Henk on keyboards and Laetitia playing piano in it. The main problem was that they couldn't find a way to end the song. At the Deventer soundcheck they tried various endings, but they didn't find a way that pleased them. At a later concert I asked Henk if they had resolved the ending problem and from his answer I could tell they had given up on it..
Tom Telman explains why it was removed from the setlists:
'All I want was indeed played about twice. I believe the problem was a weird break about two-thirds into the song. I always found it a shame that there wasn't done more work on it, because it's one of the more special songs on Alankomaat.'
Are You Lonesome Tonight?
This Elvis Presley song was played very dramatically at the Tower of Song section in Zoetermeer.
This Pink Floyd song from the Syd Barrett days in the 1960s was played at the Delft concert in the Tower of Song section. After it Arwen remarked that there's definitely a generation gap in the band...
To my knowledge this wasn't played at any concert, but at the Amsterdam - Paradiso soundcheck, where many fans where present for the Nits Mega Meeting, Henk started to play this classic song on his guitar, coming after of a version of 'Sister Rosa'. There was some singing along, but it remained very short.
Big Yellow Taxi
This was played as a Tower of Song in the first Amsterdam concert and as part of the 'Folk Medley' in Turku. The song was originally written and performed by joni Mitchell and some lines were re-used by Janet Jackson in the mid '90s.
It was played with guitar, bass, vocals and drums at first, but some funny, high backing vocals livened up the short fragment. The Amsterdam version was rather messy, but very enjoyable.
The first version on this tour was also played during the Turku Folk Medley.
Joni Mitchell - Ladies of the Canyon, 1970
Blowin' In the Wind
This Bob Dylan song was a part of the Turku Folk Medley.
Bob Dylan - Freewheelin', 1963
This classic Queen song was played as a Tower of Song entry in Basel. I don't know how long and what section(s) they played, but this must have been something special!
Queen - A night at the opera, 1975
Cars and Cars
This beautiful song always seemed to me to rely on Robert Jan Stips unique and brilliant style of piano playing. The new version of the Nits realized this as well, so they wisely decided to completely change the arrangement of this song, so it would fit their new style better.
Accompanied by images filmed from the dashboard of a car which was riding through snowy, Finnish landscapes (sometimes sped up or slowed down), this subdued version of this song started with Henk playing a slow keyboard theme on his synth, together with cymbals and standing bass. Laetitia entered with piano melodies a little bit later, followed by Henks vocals. After the first verse Rob introduced some more percussion, but it definitely never got as busy as the original Ting version and it remained far from the almost wild musicality of the live versions between 1992 and 1996.
In the first instrumental part Laetitias piano variations picked up in tempo and she was very much to the front. It sounded very cool to hear her excellent interpretations of Stips playing, but the fastest parts sounded a bit awkward though. After this section the music returned to the quieter style of before for some more verses. A second instrumental part featured Henks synth playing the theme a bit more, while singing the who-ho-ho-ho parts. A big hit ended the song.
Definitely a very interesting and for the most part successful reinterpretation of this classic.
the Changing Room
This song appeals a lot to me, its almost cubist style packaged in a lush percussion-heavy arrangement truly is an example how the Nits still sound like nobody else, even after the big influence of Robert Jan Stips is not present any more. The live version was to me often one of the highlights of the concerts, keeping me on the edge of my chair from the first second to the last. I always wanted to absorb as much of its intricate rhythms and square melodies as possible.
The video screens very appropriately showed a still image of a wall in a room of a house in the Elzas (in France) on which a computer moved around some of the images on the still in a very blocky style. As with most Alankomaat songs its often hard to understand what it is about, but it seems to join other songs on that album that are about images of memories and the passing of time. To me, these lyrics sound a bit dark and sinister with some glimmers of light, although I cant really explain why.
The song started with Rob playing ticking percussion over which Laetitia played some didgeridoo-like sounding sounds. Henk would mumble some stuff through his microphone as well. Arwen and Laetitia sang the hey hey vocals during the song. In the chorus a nice whistle-like, sweeping synth sound was used. After quite some time Henk started to play the electric guitar.
Throughout the song it progressed through various mood and tempo changes, making it an exciting listen. This song very well might have been the best musical performance of this tour. Robs drumming led the band in all the changes and especially near the end of the tour would often go into very fast versions of the song, with the rest of the band keeping up with him. After the concert in Delft I spoke to Henk, who was proud about that nights very speedy performance of this song.
The album version ends with some musical themes from the Alankomaat outtake 'Lock' (which was released as a b-side on the Robinson 4-track CD-single), but the live version omitted these parts in favor of the fast percussion-led breaks that were played instead.
'Clean Shirt In Paris'
This wasn't actually played, but at the Amsterdam Paradiso soundcheck Henk suddenly played the guitar theme to this beautiful song for about three seconds.
Close To You
The Tower of Song section in Köln featured some nice selections and this one probably was the most surprising. It's a song by the Carpenters and Henk played one verse of it solo with acoustic guitar. He played it very slow and soft and had some trouble with the lyrics halfway through, but it definitely was very nice.
This Kinks song by Ray Davies was played at the Tower of Song section in Hamburg. The Nits had played it before in the past (e.g. Giant Normal Dwarf tour).
This cover of the song by Belgian nun Soeur Sourir always was part of the introductionary monologue before Sister Rosa by Henk. He often went on to play a bit of this song on guitar and vocals, with the audience and/or band members sometimes joining in. It always was very short and funny, especially if Henk told some more about the tragic life of Soeur Sourir or made other remarks about it.
In Paris Henk reprised the song a little bit later in the concert and had some more to say about it.
Danny Merckx did a internet search on Soeur Sourir and reported his finds on the Nits Mailing List. I will mention some of the most important highlights.
Soeur Sourir means the 'Sister Smile'. Her real name was Jeanine Deckers and her convent name was Soeur Luc-Gabrielle. She wrote a few songs, including 'Dominque', which is an ode to the founder of the Domincan order. She wanted to release her songs and a record company eventually did. The song became an unexpected hit, even reaching number one in the U.S.A. The church however did not approve of Soeur Sourir's singing career and soon after the success she left the order (or was excommunicated, I'm not sure) and she became a secular missionary. In 1985 she comitted suicide together with a friend.
As Henk explained to me after one of the concerts, the video that was projected during this song of a man walking on a white landscape was filmed at a lake near Helsinki. He was filming the lake and saw this man walking on the frozen water and he didnt seem to have a destination or walk in a circle, but he walked in a square! Henk filmed this for a while and the images this produced form a nice contrast with the rather loose and almost sunny version of the song.
The music was actually more like the song the Concrete Brothers, which is an early version of the Dream with different lyrics, but similar music. It can be found on the Quest rarities album. The main difference with the released version of the Dream is that the music is much more informal and has the guitar more to the front.
The whole band started to play the song and the ladies were the first to sing, a repeated, ethereal ooh-ooh part, which returned often later on in the song. Henk began to sing the main lyrics after this. Laetitia didnt play all the synth parts Robert Jan did, she chose to just do the whistle-like part, which was a shame, since it always left the feeling that something was missing. The band went through all the lyrics and after they came near the end of the song Henk would always put in some lyrics by Lou Reed songs. During the pre-natal Alankomaat concerts in Switzerland Henk had played the Concrete Brothers and added some very well fitting sections of Lou Reeds Walk on the Wild Side to it and now they the same with the dream, especially the doob-doob-doob part by the girls was cool. Henk then almost always shifted into speaking several lines from another Lou Reed song Perfect Day, in which he improvised some of his own lyrics, especially the lines we went to see a movie were often followed by Henk naming a movie, e.g. Titanic. The song ended after this, but in Paris the audience was singing along with the ooh-ooh part and they kept on singing it after the band had stopped. This sounded very cool.
The version at the Uitmarkt in Amsterdam was very strange. Henk started singing the lyrics too early. The girl's were supposed to sing that 'ooh-ooh-ooh' part, but they had too stop after one 'ooh'... This really cracked thenk up and he stopped singing himself after the first chorus. The music continued and Henk decided to introduce the band over this instrumental backing. Then they continued the song, finishing it with a strange kind of ending.
Fire and Rain
This song by James Taylor opened the Turku Folk Medley.
Fire In My Head
When the tour came to Switzerland the band debuted this 'Swiss' song from the Ting album. After the Swiss concerts the song stuck around, occasionally popping up in the encores and near the end of the tour it got an almost permanent and very welcome position in the setlists. The video showed sea anemones (or 'happende zeeplantjes' (gobbling sea plants)) as Tom Telman calls them) in the Artis Aquarium.
The song started out with Laetita on piano and Henk on vocals. Rob played some sparse percussion touches throughout the song. During the first chorus Arwen started to play the standing bass played with a bow, which sounded fantastic. The song followed the same structure as the Ting album up until the percussion break, which now just consisted of Rob playing a stay cymbal beat. No rattling or other sounds were present. After a short while the rest of the band returned and finished the last bit of the song.
At the Deventer soundcheck Laetitia went off stage for a short while, Henk then went to her piano and played the song himself, until Laetitia returned.
Henk gave a lecture and a short performance at the library in Amsterdam. One of the songs he played was this one, solo at the piano. Must have been real good..
In Turku Henk suddenly started to sing a folk medley. This was a sort of precursor to the later Tower of Song section. The songs he performed were:
Fire and Rain (James Taylor)
Vincent (Don McLean)
Blowin' in the wind (Bob Dylan)
The Leaves that are green (Paul Simon)
Big yellow taxi (Joni Mitchell)
Helpless (Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young)
All songs were played very short and mostly solo by Henk on his acoustic guitar.
This Beatles song was only played at the Deventer soundcheck. It was played by Rob on drums, Henk on keyboards and vocals and another guy on electric guitar.
The Beatles - Revolver, 1966
This song was a Beatles cover. After a few months into the tour it suddenly appeared as a regular encore in the setlists. Towards the end of the tour it almost disappeared again though, although it still was played occasionally. At the Amsterdam Paradiso concert it made an appearance in the Tower of Song section, where it was only played for about a minute or so.
To a video screen backdrop of rather ugly looking lizards filmed at Artis the Nits played a faithful, full length version of this rather beautiful melancholic sounding song. The band's ability to produce great four part harmony vocals was again showcased on this song. The 'air sucking noises' that are also on the original were also done by the band in an exaggerated way, sometimes the audience even joined in on this.
The jumpy sounding bridge sounded very cool. A nice instrumental section with the guitar as main melodic instrument was played just before the song ended with one more harmony part that was 'faded out' by singing softer and softer.
The Beatles - Rubber Soul, 1965
Happy X-Mas (War Is Over)
According to Tom Telman, a very nice version of this classic Christmas song by John Lennon and Yoko Ono was part of a Tower of Song section just before Christmas.
Heart of Gold
This Neil Young song was played in the Tower of Song section in Lelystad.
Neil Young - Harvest, 1972
This Talking Heads song was already played by the Nits at the end of the Nest Tour in 1996. This tour it made at least one appearance: during the excellent Tower of Song section in Zwolle. Only the first verse was played by just Henk and Rob.
Talking Heads - Fear of Music, 1979
This song is probably one of Henk's favorites, since there are versions by the Nits going back to 1987. This tour it made a few appearances in the Tower of Song section. Also the Folk Medley in Turku featured a version of this song.
The version in Zwolle was excellent. After someone requested Neil young Henk and Rob started playing this song, there was no singing though, just a sudden harmonica burst by Henk. After some remarks they started again and played the first first and chorus with Arwen and Laetitia (on piano) joining in as well.
At the Deventer soundcheck Rob and Henk were jamming for a while with a guitar player. They played a few covers including this song.
The Folk Medley version was actually not much more than a failed attempt at singing it. The high vocals were not singable for Henk, because of his voice problems at the Turku show.
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young - Deja Vu, 1970
This was played at the second Amsterdam concert (at the Paradiso) during the introduction to Soul Man. Henk would often mention the Helsinki Blues during his story about Seppo, but this time (and maybe at a few other concerts as well) they actually played the Helsinki Blues. It was only about a minute long. It featured Henk playing an acoustic guitar solo over a standard blues backing of drums, bass and piano.
It was nothing spectacular, but very nice to hear nonetheless.
Hold Me Geneva
This was another one of the Alankomaat concerts that sounded incredibly good in a live version, it was possibly even one of the best songs from this tour. Before the song started Henk would always tell about one time before a concert in Geneva where they were invited by someone to have fondue just before a concert, which made it hard for them to perform. The videoscreens would show pictures of light that's colorfully scattered from a water surface, filmed at the Oosterpark in Amsterdam (see the Stage part of this page for a photo of the screens during this song). Henk would explain that's what the inside of their stomachs looked like after the fondue. He would often also remark that the song is about Geneva, possibly the city which has the least to do with rock and roll anywhere.. Another remark was that 'Geneva is the comma of the world', because of the shape of the Lake Geneva.
Geneva, 'the comma of the world'
It's nice to compare this song in the three versions that I've heard. First the 'pre-natal' version that was played in Switzerland in 1997. That was a very sparse and rather sinister version. The second version is the album version which has very nice percussion throughout and some incredible vocal harmonies. The live version from this tour is of course the same song, but definitely sounds different from both the others.
Henk started the song alone with a very cool sounding electric guitar theme. Percussion and synth sounds entered. Laetitia used bell-like sounds and some weird scratching noises, as well as organ. The vocals and the electric bass started almost simultaneously. All of this resulted in a very nice, warm sound. Arwen's punchy bass playing was amazing, she managed to put just the right accents at the right places and still kept surprising me. I remember sitting at the front row right in front of Arwen at the Delft concert, so the bass was nice and loud to the front and I could notice Arwen's playing very well. I was definitely very impressed during this song, I think i hardly was listening to the others playing!
During the verses Rob sang some backing vocals. During the choruses there were great 4-part harmonies by everyone in the band. Harmonies like these (and for instance in Rainfallagain) are prime examples that this version of the Nits definitely has the best vocal qualities.
The song featured some cool breaks which consisted of musical 'hits'. There were louder and softer parts alternating each other and Henk's guitar playing was much more varied than usually. Normally he mostly sticks to straightforward rhythm guitar playing, but this time he was playing varying melodies throughout the vocal and instrumental sections of the song.
This song started out with water noise and some low synth sounds. The bass and drum entered to play the intricate rhythm. Laetitia started to play piano, mainly focusing on lower notes. The atmosphere of the song was darker and more basic than the album version. Henk didn't play an instrument during the song, so while he spoke, sang and shouted the lyrics, he was free to move around the stage. He ran, jumped and danced from left to right, sometimes playing with the flashing light bulb clusters on the sides of the stage. There was no video on the screens during this song.
The vocals sounded much rawer than we're used to from the Nits, but for this song it worked. Especially the joiking parts of the song were cool. Joiking is Finnish traditional singing and the man who is the most famous joiking performer, Wimme from northern Finland, did this on the album. He also showed up at the Paris concert were he joined the band for this song, showing his great voice in an extended joiking duet with Henk.
Laetitia varied some synth sounds during the song and included a bright sound and a rather cool banjo-like sound for the chorus. Rob's drumming during several parts can be described as military, with a lot of snare action. Even though the rhythms were definitely not standard, this was one of the more basic parts of the concert. It was absolutely one of the most spectacular ones though, with Henk going all over the stage and the intense drumming by Rob.
This song's lyrics are rather melancholic and seem to be about loneliness and/or hard emotional times.
Home Before Dark
Although it never has been a hit, this song definitely qualifies as a Nits classic. It was played in every single tour since 1986 and the Alankomaat Tour was no exception. The song was started by Henk on acoustic guitar and vocals. The rest of the band entered a bit later with 'ticking' percussion, standing bass and keyboards. In the Robert Jan Stips period there were two main arrangements to this song: the synth version (similar to the album version) and the accordion version. Laetitia probably chose to combine these two and would play her keyboard with an accordion sound. One of the ladies, probably Arwen, sang backing vocals. Later into the song Rob started to use his whole drum set. During the instrumental section the Laetitia played the main theme as a solo. In the chorus she used a piano sound. The song alternated softer and more intense sections.
Although I do prefer the 'real' accordion version, this song always sounds great and this tour was no exception.
The Rotterdam version was very funny. After the first line of the song the audience started to applaud. This surprised Henk so much that he messed up the first verse, so they had to start again. When in the second attempt the audience applauded again Henk started laughing loudly, but they managed to continue the song anyway..
The video screens showed the Oosterpark in Amsterdam in the autumn. The same images were used in the video for this song (the Urk version).
Honky Tonk Blues
A little improv thing by Rob and Henk using the clapping of the audience that was repeated several times during the Zürich concert. The name of it was given by Henk himself.
House of Jacob
In the Dutch theatre concerts this song always started off the second part after the intermission was over. At festival and foreign concerts it would be played straight after Robinson. For this song had to use a capo (one of those things you can clamp over the strings at the neck) and at the theatre concerts this was probably done by a crew member during the intermission. At other concerts he had to do it himself, which often resulted in some funny remarks and at the Turku concert it even resulted in an improvised folk medley (see 'Folk Medley' entry for details).
The video screens showed trams in a busy city street in Helsinki filmed round the corner. The lyrics seem to be about a ghost named Jacob who lived in the house the main character of the song grew up in. Apparently the ghost and him became friends and he expects that Jacob will return in his life.
Henk started off the song alone with vocals and acoustic guitars, sounding a lot like Leonard Cohen. After a minute or so the rest of the band joined in with drums, standing bass and piano. Rob did the 'big brown building' backing vocals and the 'goes through my head' backing vocals were sung by Rob and Arwen. The song remained similar to the arrangement on the album, except for the ending, which sounded very strong. I prefer this new ending over the studio version.
At Henk's 'library performance' in Amsterdam he played this song solo on the piano. There he also told a story about this song. Apparently it's about Henk's grandfather, who's name was Jacob. Rob's father died just before the Alankomaat recording began and Henk's father died a few years earlier. These two fathers are the 'ghosts in my head'. This was also the reason why the two mothers played a big role in the album.
I always thought the song was about a 'real' ghost in an old house, who was a friend of a little boy, who when he's older hopes that his long lost friend will come back.
I Just Called To Say I love You
This Stevie Wonder song was played at the Tower of Song section in Deventer. It was actually a rather long version played by the whole band. When they finished the audience was asked where Stevie lives in the Tower of Song. Henk later decided he has to live close to the exit, because he's blind...
I'm On Fire
This Bruce Springsteen song was a Tower of Song entry in Alkmaar. Henk only knew the first line (hey little girl is your daddy home?' and the chorus.
Bruce Springsteen - Born in the U.S.A., 1984
In the Dutch Mountains
The Nits never have been afraid to play their songs in a completely different arrangement, but to do this with your biggest hits shows some courage! For this tour they not only radically changed their highest charting song, Nescio, but also their signature song, which is 'In the dutch Mountains'. I loved this and the audiences didn't seem to mind, so I can only encourage the band to do stuff like this more often!
The song always started off by Henk telling about his bull-bull instrument. This is a wooden box with some keys that look like they were taken off a typewriter and with several strings on it. Henk told that the instruments is used to attract cows. On the video screens a couple of cows (filmed in the Elzas in the north east of France) could be seen in a field and when Henk started to play the cows came walking to towards the camera position.
Most of the audience recognized the main melody of 'In the Dutch Mountians' that Henk was playing. Rob joined in on his small percussion set. The rather informal sound of the bull-bull and the tabla percussion created an Indian atmosphere that was maintained for a while. When Henk started to sing the lyrics (sometimes after stopping the song and continuing again) the rest of the audience also recognized the song and usually applause and laughs were the result.
Rob and Henk continued to play the song with just the two of them until the first verse was over. That was the point were Arwen and Laetitia joned them in full force. Rob's percussion playing became louder and stronger as well and except for the bull-bull the song sounded not too different from the way it was almost always played between 1987 and 1996. Arwen's bass playing proved to be the driving force and Laetitia's low sinister synth melodies filled up the arrangement.
The slow section ('I lost a button of my shirt today...') was great. It was started with a cool bass slide by Arwen. In the past Robert Jan would often used a sampled female vocal for the 'ah-aah-ah' part, but this time they were of course done by Arwen and Laetitia both singing very high. Sometimes they were not very elegantly joined by sampled cow moos...
After the slow part they song continued with the music of before. For the first half of the tour Henk would continue to pay the bull-bull for the rest of the song, but after the summer he decided to switch to the acoustic guitar, making the song sound even more than the regular arrangement. This made the song sound more powerful, but less exotic. Both versions are very nice though. For a radio performance on 'Denk aan Henk' Henk didn't use the bull-bull at all, but played acoustic guitar all the way through. It was rather clear that he hadn't played it with this song in maybe two years and the whole song sounded a bit messy. Interesting though..
The song was ended as usual with the 'mountains' and 'buildings' samples, but there was no extended use of them.
In the Dutch Mountians (Finnish Version)
Between Christmas and New Years Eve at the final two concerts of the tour (Amsterdam-Paradiso and Purmerend), the Nits were preceded by their Finnish friends Seppo Pietekaanen and Kimmo Kasjasto for a performance of about 6 minutes.
Seppo is known in the Nits fan community as the man Henk traveled to Greece with to meet Leonard Cohen (as documented in the song Night Owl) and as the man about which the song Soul Man was written. Kimmo Kajasto, from the band Rinneradio, played keyboards in the Finnish pre-natal concert in 1997 and he remixed the song Robinson for the at particular single.
Their performance consisted of a trance version of In the Dutch Mountains with the lyrics translated to Finnish. The music was performed by Kimmo on a complicated looking mini-keyboard/mixing desk thingie. The lyrics were recited by the low and dramatic voice of Seppo.
The music consisted of a slow beat with various atmospheric synth sounds playing In the Dutch Mountains melody lines over it, including those of the slow middle part of the song. Kimmo also shouted the Finnish word for mountains (vuorila?) several times throughout the song and at the end.
Seppo and Kimmo performing at the Paradiso
After the song ended Kimmo left and Seppo remained on stage to thank the audience, after which he did an enthusiastic and funny introduction of all the Nits band members.
The Nits Mega Meeting participants were lucky enough to see Seppo and Kimmo perform this at the soundcheck in Paradiso. Personally I enjoyed this version more than the one they played later in the evening. It was much longer and it even had Henk and Rob joining in after a few minutes to jam on it.
Is She Really Going Out With Him?
This Joe Jackson song made at least three appearances during Tower of Song sections, once at the first Amsterdam concert, once at the Köln concert and once at the Deventer concert. Both versions were very similar. They consisted of just one chorus, backed by the full band and some funny 'ooh-ooh' singing by the ladies over which Henk would do some low singing/speaking.
Definitely worth hearing (the Amsterdam version has much nicer sound, so go for that one!).
Joe Jackson - Look sharp, 1979
I Want To Break Free
This Queen song was played in the Tower of Song section in Winterswijk. Henk didn't know the lyrics very well, but the first rows of the audience helped him out.
Queen - The Works, 1984
Je T'Aime, Mais Non Plus
This classic song by Serge Gainsbourgh was played in the Tower of Section in Paris (where else..). Henk started it on guitar and sang the melody (da-da-da-duh-da...). The rest of the band soon joined and Laetitia seemed to know it pretty well, since she played the right chords on the piano. After a remark about how Henk liked the version with Brigit Bardot better the whole thing ended. Very nice!
Henk started this Nits classic with the harmonica and the full band soon joined him. This up tempo version featured Rob on the small drumset and Laetitia playing the main melody on the keyboards. Henk switched to the acoustic guitar soon, only to use the harmonica again near the ending. The whole band sang backing vocals. The instrumental part featured Laetita playing a little melody, using a guitar sound for her keyboard. Often, especially in the first few months of the tour, this sounded a bit shaky though
The background screens showed advertisements from an old J.O.S. club magazine, decades-old team photos and the war monument on the J.O.S. football terrain 'with the names of the men that fell on the battlefield'. It indeed had someone with the name Henk on it.
At the Köln concert the screens were suddenly tuned into a TV station broadcasting a live football match from the World Cup in France to much hilarity of the band and audience.
At the concerts in Amsterdam-Paradiso and Purmerend in the team photos the face one of the people in each photo was replaced by the face of Jerome, the stage hand that has been with the Nits for several years .
het Kleine Café Aan de Haven
This song by Dutch singer Vader Abraham was played at the Tower of Song section in Alkmaar. The title translates as 'The little cafe at the Harbor'. Vader Abraham had a huge international hit a long time ago with the Smurf Song...
Knocking On Heaven's Door
This Bob Dylan song was played at the Tower of song section in Deventer in a strange sort of hybrid way with Prince's Purple Rain..
Bob Dylan - Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, 1973
This song by Cat Stevens was played at the Tower of Song section in Hamburg. According to Henk Cat Stevens doesn't deserve a floor because of what he did with his faith (he meant the support by Cat Stevens, who is now a Muslim, for the death sentence against Salman Rushdie)
Cat Stevens - Mona Bone Jakon, 1970
the Leaves That Are Green
This song by Paul Simon was played in the Turku Folk Medley.
Letter To E
This quiet song was written for the wedding of Henks Swiss friend Eric Facon and it was performed straight after the hectic rendition of In the Dutch Mountains, creating a melancholic and relaxing mood. A few times Henk would explain the background of this song, but mostly they just started to play it. The slow, melodic groove-like song was very well accompanied by the video screens, showing the graceful movements of some seals underwater, filmed at their pool in Artis.
Laetitia started the song with slow synth sounds, which were continued throughout the song. Henk joined in on acoustic guitar and by Arwen on standing bass, sounding very fluent. Henk would speak most of the lyrics in this version that didnt deviate a lot from the album. Laetita played piano and Rob stuck to soft percussion, played on his small drum set. In the part where Henk sang there was a bit more percussion. Laetitia and Arwen both provided backing vocals.
The performance at Dutch radio program 'Twee Meter Sessies' was in first not very special, but after some talking with another guest of the program, Luka Bloom, they decided to play the song again, this time together with Bloom. The version that was the result was excellent, with the Nits playing the song they always do, but with Luka Bloom adding some moody guitar sounds and whispered girl's names (that ended with an A!). Very cool to hear.
This song always was the first one of the concerts. And it was definitely an impressive opener. This song managed to show immediately to the audience that the band, and to some extent, the music had changed, but that it still was Nits and that their new sound can be just as powerful as in their previous tours. As with most Alankomaat songs, the arrangement of this song was rather different than the album version and I must say that in this case I definitely prefer the live version over the studio version. It is much more powerful and dramatic. I actually was a bit disappointed when I first heard the album version, since its so full of little sounds it distracts from the strong core of the song, especially since I was somewhat familiar with the also impressive versions from the prenatal Alankomaat concerts in 1997.
The song started with Rob slowly rattling a percussion instrument, while Henk joined in on acoustic guitar and vocals. It remained very sparse for a while, until the ladies were introduced by suddenly entering with very warm sounding standing bass and keyboards. Laetitia used a sort of wind instrument patch as her synth sound. At the same time as the ladies joined, Rob stopped with his percussion thing and started to play the drums. Laetitia sang backing vocals and also introduced an airy synth sound to the song.
During the song Robs playing became more and more intense, the others increased in volume as well, but Rob was the driving force behind a build-up from subtle to powerful. And in the last part of the song it definitely was powerful, with Rob hitting the drums and percussion very hard, but without losing the rhythm. It always is quite a sight to see (and hear) when he really goes deep into the music!
The whole song sounded very intense and beautiful, almost majestic with its slow, but very clear build-up. The lighting (dark, with sometimes a very bright spotlight shining into the audience) worked great, as well as the videoscreens, which very interestingly showed a street in Helsinki. The images on both screens were filmed simultaneously around a corner, so you saw vehicles (like trams and cars) and people going round the corner and have them appearing from a different angle on the second screen.
Its still a mystery to me what this song actually is about. It seems to consist of images of memories of the past, combined with the feeling of passing time.
Like A Virgin
This unlikely song was played during the Tower of Song section in Brussels. Henk sang a bit of the song accompanied by Rob on drums. Afterwards he told the audience that this was the very first time ever he had to do this in his entire life.. I asked Henk about this a couple of weeks later after another show and he told me that he played the Madonna song because she's a very popular songwriter who a lot of people like and it was good that they did it.
Madonna - Like a Virgin, 1987
Louder and Louder
As introduced by Henk this song got 'softer and softer' while they played it. It started with standing bass, joined immediately by Rob on his small percussion set and Henk on guitar, playing the melody. Laetitia entered with an accordion-like synth and bright percussive synth accents. Henk did some off-mike singing at times. Laetitia and Arwen provided backing vocals. The end was indeed rather soft with voices, guitar and some effects and a short return of the bass.
This very beautiful and elegant little tune was accompanied on the video screens by some weird fish (probably murenes), filmed at the Arits Aquarium. At the Delft concert Henk remarked, while pointing at the opening and closing mouths of the murenes, that they were shouting, but that no one can hear them and so they faded away because of that.
Love of My Life
At several concerts (including Breda and Amsterdam - Paradiso) during the Tower of Song section Frank Zappa was shouted from the audience (In Breda it was me who did it!), and most of the time the band listened to this request and started to play 'Love of My Life', one of the simplest Zappa songs, but one they were familiar with from previous tours.
Usually it only consisted of just the first minute or so of the song. In Breda it was just Henk and Rob who played, but at the Paradiso concert the full band played and a Henk's voice was distorted to a high pitch, while his normal low voice also remained audible.
Frank Zappa - Cruisin' with Ruben and the Jets, 1969
This song by the Who was played in the Tower of Song section in Frankfurt.
The Who - Sings My Generation, 1965
Ne Me Quitte Pas
This Jacques Brel song was played at the Deventer Tower of Song section. It consisted of Henk repeating the title in a very dramatic way over a suitable piano backing by Laetita.
Jacques Brel - Ne Me Quitte Pas, 1972
This was one of the more flashy songs of the tour. Although it had been the biggest highest charting song in the Netherlands they never had much 'respect' for the original arrangement. During the first few years the original version was expanded into a very powerful song. The Ting tour saw a very radical re-arrangement, just to return to the orignal version for the dA dA dA and Nest Tours. For this tour it was time to completely change it around again.
Sometimes (especially early on in the tour) it was preceded by Henk telling about how Japie (the main character from de book 'de Uitvreter' by Nescio) swam back to the Netherlands and through the Amsterdam-Rijn Canal (which was shown on the video screens with boats slowly passing by). And after he came back in Amsterdam he started a techno band!
This was followed by sequenced and rather intrusively loud synth sounds started by Henk, who seemed to have a lot of fun changing the pitch of it by turning a knob on his synth. Laetitia would start to play some 'heavy' piano melodies over this. Bass and percussion (played on the small set) also entered soon. The audience usually didn't know what was going on until Henk started singing the Italian lyrics, often followed by audience applause and laughter. Before the English section Henk faded out the sequenced sounds to leave just the rest of the band playing. Laetitia's very full piano playing was a different, but excellent interpretation of Robert Jan's more sparse, but quick piano melodies.
For the English section the music became more sparse, with its punchy bass line and piano touches. In the beginning of the tour the 'phone rings' part was sung by both Henk and Laetitia, but about halfway into the tour it was sung just by Laetitia. After this the piano returned in full force and Henk had picked up his guitar and played along as well. In the second half of the tour before the song returned to the Italian vocals a climax-like instrumental part was played, led by some intense banging by Rob. This section was not played early on in the tour, but it grew longer and longer towards the end of it.
The Italian vocals returned and the small break that usually introduced the fast part ended the song. The fast part was not played this time around, but luckily the 'climax part' was a good replacement.
This song was never played in a concert, but rehearsed a lot and often played at soundchecks, for instance at the one in Deventer, where I was present, and the one in Amsterdam Paradiso, where the Nits Mega Meeters were present. Tom Telman explained the reason why it was never played during a show:
'Night-owl was never played at a concert. In the past it was always the case that Henk (later Peter) threw up a tamborine and caught it again. At the moment the tamborine was caught, the band played a chord change. This end part proved to be more difficult than expected without Robert Jan.'
The music was very basic, not as layered as the original version. The main melody was played by Laetitia on piano. Henk played acoustic guitar. It sounded very warm and very much like an Alankomaat song to my ears.
Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)
This was one of the most played songs during the Tower of Song section. Almost always when someone shouted the Beatles or John Lennon this song was the one the band chose (although in Paradsio they did 'Girl' instead of it). They usually played just one verse, featuring the whole band.
the Beatles - Rubber Soul, 1965
the One I Love
This R.E.M. song was a regular in the 1987-1989 period, but after that it only appeared occasionally. When it was requested in the first Amsterdam concert (by Jolanda shouting 'Michael Stipe!') Henk had to think hard which R.E.M. song they always played.. But luckily he remembered and the song was started on guitar, drums and bass. Unfortunately after half a verse they already thought it was enough and stopped.
R.E.M. - Document, 1987
This song was played in Zwolle after a Tower of Song request for Jackson Browne. Henk mentioned that it was very long ago that he heard this song, but he tried anyway. Unfortunately after one line of vocals and guitar he didn't know how it went further and he gave up. After consulting the audience for another Jackson Browne song they played a fantastic version of 'Stay', see that entry for details.
Jackson Browne - the Pretender, 1976
Lou Reed's 'Perfect Day', together with 'Walk On the Wild Side' always was part of 'the Dream'. He would usually do a free interpretation of a few lines of this song in a sort of Lou Reed imitation.
In Paris Lou Reed was requested in the Tower of Song section and Henk started this song on guitar and vocals. The drums entered for the complete verse of the song twice. It seemed to stop, but the band continued for half a verse in a very enthusiastic way, especially Henk's singing is pretty cool!
Lou Reed - Transformer, 1972
Que Sera Sera
This was played in the Tower of Song part in Köln. I'm not sure if it was a request, or if the band started it themselves. It was a very good Tower of Song entry though, with the whole band playing and the audience singing along. A complete verse and chorus were played.
Paint It Black
I have no confirmation that it was this song they played, but at the Bern concert there was a song played by the Rolling Stones at the Tower of Song section. I can't imagine it was another one than this song... They have played it before in the past.
The Rolling Stones - Aftermath, 1966
This Dutch song by Rein de Vries was played at the Leeuwarden Concert as a Tower of Song entry.
la Poupeé Quit Fait Non
This Michel Polnareff tune was played in the Tower of Song section at the festival concert in Paris.
At the Deventer concert in the Tower of Song section Henk played this Prince song after a request from me! It was a weird affair thoug, because first they had to decide which Prince song to play (1999 and Sexy Motherfucker were also options..). When they started Purple Rain it suddenly shifted to Bob Dylan's 'knocking on heaven's door'... Later on he returned to Purple Rain, but now he was singing with a Bob Dylan voice. Very strange...
Prince and the Revolution - Purple Rain, 1984
During the Deventer soundcheck Henk and Rob jammed together with a guitar player on a few songs. This classic Golden Erraing song was one of the tunes they did.
Golden Earring - Moontan, 1973
This song was almost a completely new one compared to the album version. The lyrics and the main melodic lines were the same, but the instrumentation, the vocal arrangements and the whole atmosphere of the song was completely changed and in my opinion became superior to the original. The Nits themselves must have thought so too, because on the 'Robinson' 4-track CD-single they released a live version, recorded for Dutch radio show 'Buzz'. This single is worth tracking down just for this song (although the other b-sides, a funny remix of 'Robinson' and the Alankomaat outtake 'Lock' are also very well worth hearing!).
The tight and poppy song on the album was transformed into a very fragile and transparent ballad. Laetitia started it on the piano. Henk added a sweeping high synth noise to this, using the pitch wheel. The vocals started together with the percussion, played by Rob behind his small set. In the beginning of the song the percussion consisted of rubbing a tied together bunch of straws (later on he shifted to other percussion instruments of his small set). Arwen's standing bass was the last instrument to enter the song.
Henk's singing often was very powerful and Laetitia's piano playing was effective and excellent. But the reason that elevated this song from 'simply' very good to excellent were the incredible four-part harmonies in the chorus (often with Henk mumbling stuff through the choruses as well). As mentioned before, this vocal power was the strongest part of this version of the Nits.
The lyrics of the song seem to be about Henk being a 'serious' child in the past and that he is not unhappy, but still rather much is this way. The videos showed smoking chimneys of factories in Helsinki, possibly the Alko (state alcohol) factory.
Of the new songs this song often got the biggest reception from the audiences, which isn't strange of course, because together with 'sister Rosa' it's the only fast song of the Alankomaat album. The energy the band put into this of course also caused this reaction. Until about three quarters into the tour this song was almost always played twice during the concert, once as the conclusion to the first half of the concert and once during the encores.
The story of this song attracted some media attention in the Netherlands in the months before the Alankomaat release. The reason was that even though this song was meant as a tribute to Paul Simon's soundtrack to the movie 'the Graduate' and used lyrical quotes from that soundcheck, Paul Simon (or more probably: his record company) didn't allow the use of these lyrics and the release of the album had to be postponed to change the words. The story of the song still remained the same: a sequel to 'the Graduate' where Benjamin (in the movie played by Dustin Hoffman) goes on a search for his one true love: Mrs. Robinson, who now must be over 80 years old. Henk always told this story before the song started, especially his attempt to do it in French at the Paris concert is worth hearing!
The song was started by Rob with a fast rhythm and when Henk strated to sing everyone else joined as well. Laetitia used a piano sound for her keyboards (later on also a low, slow synth sound), Arwen played the electric bass and Henk played loud, electric rhythm guitar throughout the song. The 'dub-dub-dub' vocals were sung in harmony by the whole band. Rob played a lot of little (and big!) varied percussion touches.
One of the highlights of the song was always Henk's short, but very cool electric rock guitar solo, a thing he hadn't done in concert for a long time. Often the audience looked surprised to actually see this happen! The end of the song was also very spectacular: the music stopped and the band kept on singing the 'dub-dub-dub' part, which sounded very cool. The combination of the loud vocals and the flashing lights was certainly impressive. A short musical break was followed by another a capella section, before the music really returned and the song was brought to an end.
The second performance of 'Robinson' was often even more wild and loose. One that remains as my favorite is the second version of this song at the Breda concert (unfortunately there's no tape of this concert..). After Henk picked up his electric guitar he proceeded to make an incredible noise on it in a Jimi Hendrix kind of way, looking very smug while he did it. After he stopped he did some body building poses and said very 'arrogantly' into the microphone: 'motherfuckers'. The audience loved this little solo thing and cheered Henk on loudly. After this the version of 'Robinson' they played was extra strong!
At the 'library performance' Henk did in Amsterdam, he played this song solo on the piano!
During both renditions of this song the video screens showed some fake plastic fish 'swimming' around in an aquarium.
She Belongs To Me
This one probably rivals 'Norwegian Wood' for the most played Tower of Song entry. Except for a few concerts near the end of the tour where another song (unknown to me) was played, this one always followed a request for a Bob Dylan song. The Nits actually had played the song before in 1990 in Switzerland. For those who don't know it will definitely recognize the first few lines that Henk always sang in a funny Bob Dylan style, accompanied by acoustic guitar:
'She got everything she needs, she's an artist, she don't look bad.'
Usually this line was sung twice, with Rob often also joining in on drums, before it ended.
Bob Dylan - Bringing It All Back Home, 1965
This was one of the more spectacular songs of the concerts. It
always started by Henk telling about meeting Sister Rosa, a Belgian nun who lives in
Quebec City, Canada. When she started to sing a song Henk expected her to sound like Soeur
Sourir, another Belgian nun who had a hit with the song 'Dominique', but when she actually
started singing she sounded more like John Lee Hooker or the singer from Sepultura! Henk
would almost always sing a piece of 'dominique', see that entry for more info.
The video screens showed alternating pictures of religious postcards with priests and nuns doing all kinds of very happy-looking activities. The cards were actually bought at Sister Rosa's shop in Quebec City.
A wintery street in Quebec City, probably similar to the street in which Sister Rosa has her shop.
The song was always started by Rob (sometimes while Henk still was explaining the song) with a tight and very cool sounding drum. Arwen's punchy electric bass and Henk's acoustic guitar joined, while Laetitia played series of whistle-y noises by sweeping over her keys, this sounded very cool. Both Laetitia and Arwen sang the 'ah-leh-leh-leh-loi-lah' vocals. During the verses Laetitia played a a piano theme and in the bridge and chorus she played more piano. In the middle there were some wind noises and a vocal part similar to joiking. The cool whistle-y sounds returned near the end. The 'how long' backing vocals were sung by Laeitita and Arwen, whose cool bass playing was very notable during this song. The band grooved the song out instrumentally with all the instruments, except the acoustic guitar, fading out. Rob pretended to continue drumming though.. Henk would most of the time sing the line 'Sometimes it's hard to be a woman' from the song 'Stand By Your Man' over the outro, some more lines were added.
Sketches of Spain
This song had the 'normal' intro it almost always had since its birth in 1983 with the very recognizable bass line, percussion, piano and Henk making noises with his guitar. After not too long Henk started singing the vocals and the song progressed mostly the way it had always done. Laetitia played excellent piano throughout the song. The main difference of this song between the different tours occurs usually in the instrumental parts and this tour was no exception. The first one was rather short, but the second one was incredible, with Henk taking an extended guitar solo that seemed to get longer and longer as the tour progressed.
The solo usually started subdued and he went through a few different guitar sounds, often with a lot of reverb, almost like surf guitar, and use of the whammy bar. Most of the sounds were also rather clear and dark sounding. Henk would insert louder and louder parts throughout the sol, with the rest of the band matching his intensity very well. It was always a treat to see and hear Henk really play his guitar this way. In the earlier, pre-Work tours he often did guitar solos, but later Michiel was most of the time the only soloist and when he left Henk virtually never played anything else than rhythm guitar. This tour saw him solo on this song and also on Robinson.
After the solo the song returned to 'normal'. Laetitia sang backing vocals in the 'I have seen the..' lyrics near the end of the song.
A notable version of the song occurred in Paris. Henk had trouble with his guitar strap, which broke and his guitar kept slipping. The first instrumental part was a bit longer because of this and later on in the song Henk even laughingly changed the lyrics of the song:
'It never stops... falling down.
I have seen the guitars falling down from my hands,
I've seen the Fender and my feet is broken.
I have seen my head,
I have seen my Pete Townsend dreams have gone'
The video screens showed people walking up and down a very broad staircase, in front of either the cathedral or parliament building in Helsinki.
Soap Bubble Box
This song was only played in the first part of the tour and then almost exclusively in the Dutch theatre part of that half. I don't know why, but somehow this song got dropped from the setlist. To me it sounded fine, but the band must have been somehow unhappy with it. Tom Telman explained the reason why it was removed:
'There was nothing really wrong with Soap Bubble Box. The number was included on the setlist, because it was one the better know songs. It was removed because the set was already pretty long and this version never really found the ideal form. The most beautiful performance was the one of the Ting Tour (with timpanis)'
The video screens showed images from the classic computer game 'Pong', one of the first ever computer games. It was developed in 1972, which is prehistoric for computers! Two little bars on each side of the screens tried to keep a ball from going through and to bounce it back to the other side. On the internet there are several sites where it's possible to play this classic game, an example can be found through this link. Rob would play some bubbly 'drop' sound effects and kick drum hits to accompany the video before the song actually started.
Early on in the tour this video was not present, Tom Telman tells how this video got into the show:
'In the beginning we didn't have a movie for this song. At some point I made the Pong-movie on the computer to accompany it. There were two versions: one with a black and one with a green field. The color of the 'tennisrackets' corresponded with the light show. All the blue light came from the left and therefore the left stick was also blue. All the red light came from the right and therefore also the right stick'
The sound effects Rob played before the song gave way to a very jumpy version of this Nits classic. Laetitia played rhyhmic piano and Henk also played keyboards. He used a sparkly synth sound for his parts. Arwen provided backing vocals. Rob's drumming was very tight and he inserted the 'drop' sound effect throughout the song. The ending had the stop-and-go character as before, only now there were no real pauses and the music actually never stopped. Henk turned his rattling thing and Rob gave one more 'drop' to end the song.
At the Amsterdam - Paradiso concert during the Tower of Song there was a request for the Police. This resulted in one of the most unusual and best Tower of Song moments of the whole tour. Rob started on the drums and the full band joined. The big surprise was that not Henk, but Arwen took the lead vocals, while still playing the bass. Henk sang backing vocals. Two verses and two choruses were played, making it last around two minutes, which was very long for a Tower of Song entry. After the first chorus Arwen didn't think they were going to play a second verse and she only started singing halfway through and after the second chorus the rest of the band looked to be continuing the song, but a 'that's enough' by Arwen ended the song. The audience showed its appreciation by a very loud cheer and applause.
It was played before at other concerts (e.g. Hamburg and Alkmaar) as well after Sting requests (who according to Henk lives on the 2nd floor - men's underwear..).
the Police - Outlandos d'Amour, 1978
The song was always preceded by Henk's story about his 'tragic' Finnish friend Seppo. The story was usually pretty much the same, but regularly there would be a few deviations from it. At the Amsterdam - Paradiso concert, and possibly also at other shows, the band actually played a Helsinki blues before the song to illustrate the story.. The video screens showed the station of Helsinki filmed from a high building. A laser pointer would point out one of the walking people, which was supposed to be Seppo (the tall man with the low voice).
Rob would start the music, sometimes while Henk was still talking. Arwen joined in on standing bass, together with Henk on acoustic guitar and Laetitia, who played some bright bubbly sound effects. As on the album, Henk half sang, half spoke the lyrics. The parts he would sing Laetitia provided backing vocals. Rob drums playing was great, he would make lots of little percussion sounds while never mising a beat.
Usually the performance of this song was pretty much the same every time, but there were some exceptions. In Paris Henk added the Finnish phrase 'Ni kaiki katoa' a few times. This comes from 'Yöpöllö' the Finnish version of 'Night Owl' and means 'Now everything vanishes'. In Rotterdam and maybe a few other concerts shortly after the Finnish concerts Henk would make remarks about losing his voice in Finland and finding it later again on a lake.. In Rotterdam he even added a new verse, sung in Dutch about this! My own report on the mailing list of this was:
'Soul man had new (Dutch) lyrics at the end. Henk told/sang about losing his voice in Finland and Seppo saying to him: 'Henk you need courage', which according to henk meant that he needed some candy which is good for the throat which was called courage in Finnish (sussi, soosssu or something like that..). Later he said he was walking on the frozen lakes near Tampere and he found a box of sisso (or whatever) and when he opened the box his voice was in there, so he found his lost voice again.. Strange story, Henk called it a modern fairytale.'
Suonna Kononen mentioned later on the Mailing List that the candy is called Sisu, which is indeed the Finnish word for courage.
The train station in Helsinki
This was played as a Tower of Song request a few times in response to David Bowie shouts. I also requested it in Delft, where they did play the song. It was a beautiful full band version, played up until the countdown part.
David Bowie - Space Oddity, 1969
Stand By Your Man
A fragment of this song ('sometimes it's hard to be a woman') made its way into the end of 'Sister Rosa' after a few months into the tour. Very occasionally Henk would sing one or two more lines.
After Henk's failed attempt to play and sing 'the Pretender' by Jackson Browne in the Tower of Song section in Zwolle he consulted the audience for another Jackson Browne song. Someone mentioned 'Stay' and although Henk remarked that it's not really a Jackson Browne song he started to sing 'Oh won't you stay, stay a little bit longer', with the whole band joining in quickly. A very cool and enthusiastic version followed. It was longer than most Tower of Song entries and even when it seemed to stop the band continued with Henk singing in a falsetto voice, just like the original. It concluded with a cool little ending. The result was very funny and the audience loved it.
Jackson Browne - Running On Empty, 1977
This was played at the last concert of the tour in Purmerend, but also at the soundcheck at the Amsterdam - Paradiso concert. I have not heard the Purmerend version, so I'll describe the one played at the soundcheck. It's a song by Joe Jackson.
It evolved out of some synth playing by Henk. He slowly went into this song with a nice bright synth sound. Laetitia joined in on the piano and shortly after her also Rob and Arwen started to play the song. A relatively long instrumental beginning was followed by one verse of lyrics. The last part was fully instrumetnal again with the music slowly breaking apart into non-structured sounds. It sounded very cool and the band definately had played this before. The whole thing lasted about two minutes.
This Leonard Cohen song was played in the Tower of Song section in Nijmegen.
Leonard Cohen - Songs of Leonard Cohen, 1968
The video screens showed an extreme close-up of an elephant's skin, filmed in Artis, which very nicely accompanied the story of the three sisters that were lost in a zoo, but were later found again by their parents at the elephants section. Henk always told this little story over the intro vamp of the song, which was played by Laetitia and Rob. It's the same little vamp that can be heard on the album, but there it's very short. The demo version of this song, which Henk played on a radio interviewed featured the longer version opf this intro..
One simple hit on a cymbal by Rob was the sign for Arwen on standing bass and Henk on acoustic guitar to join in. Very soon after this the very warm sounding' dadada' lyrics were beautifully sung in harmony by the two ladies and Henk. Laetitia played an organ-like synth sound, which she kept continuously playing in the back. She also played piano melodies throughout the song. The rest of backing vocals were split up by Arwen and Laetitia. Arwen sang the 'frightened' lyrics and Laetita did the 'Mother where are you?' lyrics.
The warm sound of this beautifully executed song always got a very good reaction from the audiences.
Tip-toe Thru' the Tulips With Me
This must have been one of the more unusual and funny Tower of Song moments. In Paris someone requested a song by Tiny Tim, a singer who had his biggest hits in the 60s. He played ukulele and often sang in a falsetto voice. He tragically died not too long ago (1996) on stage singing this particular song, his biggest hit ever... Henk seemed to like the idea of singing this song. He started by speaking in a high voice: 'I sing this song for my parents' and started to sing a bit of it, in a funny, high falsetto voice, accompanied by guitar and drums. After the song Henk remarked that Tiny Tim is living in the cellar of the Tower of Song..
If anyone's interested: there's even an internet memorial Tiny Tim website.
Tiny Tim in the 60s (left) and 90s (right).
Tombe la Neige
A short bit of this song was played at the festival concert in Paris.
a Touch of Henry Moore
The videos showed the Tinguely Fountain in Basel with its strange machine-like fountains. The strange looking mechanical structures in this fountain were a perfect accompaniment for this song.
This song is definitely a Nits classic and almost every tour they have played it, the arrangement changed. This tour's version was maybe one of the most deviating ones from the original. It started with Laetitia very nicely playing melodies using the typical 'Henry Moore' keyboard sound. Henk would then make sharp, soaring electronic noises on his keyboard over this. Rob played percussion on his small set on this song. After some time Henk would stop playing the electronic noises and the vocals started, together with Arwen's electric bass. Henk sang the 'Sometimes' parts himself, in contrast to earlier versions where various band members would sing this. While Laetitia continued playing the 'Henry Moore' sounds and melodies in a free sounding way Henk returned a few times during the song to his keyboards to trigger the electronic noises again.
Laetita sang backing vocals on the 'There is more to it' part and the 'a reclining figure' section was sung by Henk and Laetita as a duet. A long percussion section was played before the 'I know' part'. This tour, the chorus was once again sung, unlike many earlier versions of this song. First it was all four band members singing the repeating 'a touch of Henry Moore' line, but after a while only Henk and Arwen continued, while Laetitia and Henk began to sing the 'Monday in a slow train' section of the song. This resulted in very nice counter harmonies, another example of the vocal richness of this band. An echo-y 'looking' was sung, followed by the 'hesitating so afraid to touch' line.
The music then shifted to a very rhythmic section. Rob played his percussion set, while Laetitia gave rhtyhmic hits one her synth using the 'Henry Moore' sound. Arwen and Henk provided handclaps in another rhythm over it. This all sounded very cool and complex. Rob and Laetitia would continue playing for awhile, slowing down a bit, until one final hit by Rob ended this spectacular version of this song.
The Tingueley Fountain in Basel in the winter.
Tower of Song
After about three months into the tour a variation on the audience request sections of the past appeared into the concerts. In the past the audience would mainly request Nits songs, but the band always wanted to play other people's music in this part. For this tour they solved it by telling the back story of the Tower of Song, after a song with the same name by Leonard Cohen. They never play this song though.
The story is that in the Tower of Song all artists live and the better you are the higher you live. In the original song it's Hank Williams that lives at the top. Henk would ask the audience to name an artist and how high he or she lived. A great variation of artists were mentioned during the tour and if possible Henk, often also Rob and regularly also the full band would play a fragment of a song by that artist. The fragments were most of the time very short, around half a minute, but sometimes songs were extended to about two minutes. Henk would always play guitar and sometimes went for the harmonica. Arwen often played standing bass, but not always, Rob was behind his big drum kit. Laetitia would virtually always play with a piano sound.
The songs that were played and that I know of are described throughout this song list. Some of the internet reports only featured the name of the artist and not the song: Elvis Costello (living in the elevator: sometimes he's good, sometimes he's bad), Simon & Garfunkel, Paul simon (by himself..), Frank Sinatra, Stiller Has (Swiss band), Björk (they played a song of hers in Deventer with Rob on lead vocals!!), Steely Dan, Paul McCartney, Suzanne Vega, Jimi Hendrix, Wally Tax, the Cats (another Volendam band Henk wanted to sing a song from instead of Jantje Smit)
The video screens showed the top of the Torni hotel in Helsinki, torni is Finnish for tower. The Torni Hotel has a website. Interesting info: it has 152 rooms and 4 saunas!
At the Delft concert and some other late in the tour shows the Tower of Song video screens showed a live picture of the band themselves. In Delft Henk started to wave at himself and talked about feeling like he was in the Truman Show (the movie about the guy who's always followed by cameras). Arwen and Henk both commented that on the screen was a smaller picture of the screen with on it a smaller picture of the screen, etc, etc,..
The Torni Hotel
The video screens showed the top of the Torni hotel, with a flag waving on it. This was the same video as used in the Tower of Song section, because whenever 'the Train' started it signaled the end of the Tower of Song. Often Henk would even change the line 'In a room of a strange hotel' into 'In a room of the Torni hotel'. Henk would always begin on acoustic guitar and vocals, together with Arwen. The percussion entered and finally the piano. Especially in the beginning the song was played and sung much slower and more dramatic than the original. Henk would always follow the 'Hey what you're doing with your life' line with a shout of 'Nothing!'.
In the second verse the speed of the song picked up to its normal way. Rob started to play his kick drum and fast cymbals. The instrumental section's main attraction was the main 'Train' melody played on the synth with a whistle-like sound. The song slowed down again in the end before it finally stopped. There were no train noises and the song didn;t return as it had done often in the past.
In Delft the live video images from the stage were kept on during this song instead of the Torni hotel. The camera zoomed in on all the band members and also on Paul Telman, filmed from above, who later commented that he didn;t like that too much.. He said he just punched some buttons on the mixing desk to show the people in the audience he was actually working...
Henk played this song solo on the piano at his Amsterdam 'library performance'.
This song by Don McLean was one of the elements of the Turku Folk Medley.
Waiting For the Man
The Amsterdam - Paradiso concert Tower of song section featured a request for Lou Reed and this song by the Velvet underground (the band in which Lou Reed played in the '60s) was played. The musical result was a rather subdued version, played by the whole band. The drums increased in power throughout it. Only a few lines were song before it ended.
Velvet Underground & Nico, 1967
Wall In China
Almost every Nits tour since the early '80s featured a non-album track and this tour this was a b-side of the 'Three Sisters' CD-single. The fragile and subdued song fitted perfectly with the rest of the Alankomaat songs. It started with cymbals, bass drum and a low synth sound. Later also a orchestral synth sound was used by Laetitia. The bass and electric guitar entered and finally Henk began to sing the lyrics. Henk inserted electric guitar touches throughout the song and his singing was more than excellent. Further on into the song Laetitia started using a piano sound as well. As on the studio version, the last 30 seconds or so featured some nice 'soul' guitar playing by Henk.
The video screens showed nature images from the Elzas. The left screen showed close-ups of red poppy flowers, the right screen showed fields of wheat or corn.
The Great Wall of China
To my knowledge this was the only Dutch entry in a Tower of Song section and it happened at the first Amsterdam concert. It followed a request for Frank Boeijen, a very well-known Dutch singer, that foreign Nits fans might know from his vocal contribution on 'Ballroom of Romance' on 'Adieu, Sweet Bahnhof'. Henk has collaborated on Frank Boeijen's albums a few times and this was one of the songs he co-wrote.
It was performed just by Henk on guitar and vocals, singing in a very dramatic way, imitating Frank Boeijen's singing. Henk exagerated this a lot. He also changed the lyrics in the last line, which was rather funny. Especially if you know Frank Boeijen this Tower of Song entry is very funny to hear. The title translates as 'Wild Flowers'.
Frank Boeijen - Wilde Bloemen, 1991
Who'll Stop the Rain?
At the first Amsterdam concert a request for John Fogerty was shouted at the Tower of Song section. Henk decided to sing this one, probably John Fogerty's best known song. After a false start Henk and Rob played this one, resulting in a very strong sound, which sounded great. They only played one verse unfortunately. The Hamburg Tower of Song also featured this song.
This was played in Zürich as a Tower of Song request for Elton John. Part of the audience didn't want Henk to play it, but after some fooling around he did it anyway.
Several people sent me photos of this tour, for which I'd like to
thank them. Some of these photos have been used in this page.
So thanks to Wilco Barg, Wojczièch Dzieciolowski, Lutz Tacke and Erik Honig!