Welcome to the Good Times

Day 2


18th July 2011

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We stirred about 9am. I rolled over and sunk into the mattress. "Oh my God; what a comfortable bed!"

Last night's shock as to how small the room was had gone and we were now appreciating our compact cabinette. It even had tea making facilities discreetly tucked away.

Breakfast was a cup of English Breakfast tea and a Ballisto chocolate bar which we had bought on the flight over. It did say that it had a muesli filling so we justified eating chocolate for breakfast.

The Black Crowes weren't due on stage for another ten hours. We couldn't spend the whole day in bed, could we? Well we gave it a good try; for two of those hours we watched TV which was up on the wall, which was also the foot of the bed.

It was with some reluctance that we finally got up and headed out into Amsterdam. As soon as we stepped outside we wished we were back in bed. It was raining hats and clogs. Help was at hand from a nearby souvenir shop where we bought a very flimsy €5 umbrella.

Whilst we were inside we had a quick look around at what else they had for sale and almost bought a salt and pepper set. Decoratively painted in the blue style of Delft and shaped like a penis they would grace the most discerning pervert's table.

The brolly was doing its job admirably (and it didn’t have a picture of a penis on it which was a bonus) but we decided to pop inside a coffeeshop in the hope that it would have stopped raining by the time we re-emerged. It was called Stone's Cafe - Rock The Planet.

Despite their attempts to get us to smoke something we only ordered some coffee and a breakfast bap each. The coffee was good, the music was good and the fried egg bap smothered in HP brown sauce was giving me a wonderful breakfast high.

When we left the plan had worked, the rain had calmed down.

Re-tracing our steps last night, we walked past the Oude Kerk, where the red lights were still glowing, some still open for business. In the broad day light their effect was less beguiling to the point you hardly noticed them.

In fact the whole area looked a lot less appealing this morning.

We avoided the main strip of Oudezijde Achterburgwal walking instead down the slightly more respectable parallel Voorsburgwal canal cutting across only when we met the street called Damstraat.

Oude Kerk, Amsterdam

In another "only in Amsterdam" experience we had reached our first attraction of the day, the Museum of Hash, Marijuana and Hemp.

The original location was apparently undergoing renovations so we were redirected a little further up Achteburgwal to a smaller temporary gallery. The reduced €5 entrance fee wasn't too extortionate.

It had plenty of interesting stuff on display in glass cabinets. The most interesting items had nothing to do with smoking the weed but everyday items made from hemp flax. I knew that hemp was a versatile plant whose fibres could be made into clothing, even a pair of Adidas trainers and the oil used in soap, but hemp plastic was new on me.

They had a frisbee, horrible jelly shoes and even a guitar made from a hemp plastic.

Other cabinets focused on cannabis cultivation and the cultural and religious importance it has played over 8000 years of human history.

A 17th century oil painting of an unruly group of Dutch smokers (painted on hemp canvas and using hemp oil paint) and a late 19th century photograph of Algerian nomads smoking Kif were absolutely fascinating.

Another colourful display was a wall of posters from a Hashish Centre in Katmandu bringing eastern mysticism into the mix.

There was a section covering government information campaigns, black and white leaflets warning about the evils of smoking grass.

There was also a movie poster from 1936 for a film called Reefer Madness where marijuana was the catalyst for a slippery slope descending into attempted rape, manslaughter, madness and suicide. Let that be a warning to you all!

It hardly took us 15 minutes to walk around all the exhibits in the small room but it had been quite interesting.

Back outside and the pissing down rain had returned.

After sheltering in another coffee shop, a real coffee shop this time (it was more starbucks than smokehouse); we ventured back out again with our little pop up map in hand and walked the short distance to the Rembrandthuis.

We couldn’t go the whole trip without at least a little bit of culture.

The red brick house in which 17th century painter Remdrandt lived and worked in is now a museum. We walked up to the green front door only to find that the entrance was through the thoroughly modern concrete and steel structure next door.

It cost us 10 each to get in which also included the hire of an audio guide.

We switched it on and were led through the basement into the old house by a rather posh English voice, as if Alan Whitaker himself was our guide.

Starting in the kitchen we followed numbers from one room to the next listening intently to what he had to say. Rembrandt moved here with his wife Saskia in 1639. She sadly died from tuberculosis a few years later in 1642 , aged 29 leaving behind a one year old son, Titus.

We walked up a tight spiral wooden staircase to the ground floor and into the salon. With a wealth of drawings and detailed inventory all the rooms have been reconstructed as faithful as possible to how it looked during Rembrandt's time.

The salon was both the living room and bedroom. In the corner near to the imposing fire place was a fantastic wooden "box bed". It looked no bigger than a wardrobe.

It was far too short for anyone to sleep fully horizontally. Our terribly British gentleman in our ears explained that during the 17th century people, driven by the fear of dying with too much blood in the head, actually slept sitting upright propped by a pile of pillows.

Also on the ground floor was a large entrance hall into which the green front door would have opened if we had persisted in trying to get in that way.

To the side there was an anteroom, a small sitting room where he would entertain guests and customers as not only was he a renowned artist but also a busy art dealer.

Another room, in the middle of the house near the staircase, was where Rembrandt had set up a large oak press to print etchings he had carved into copper plates. We popped our heads inside. It looked more like a photo lab with damp printed paper drying on a line.

We ascended the narrow stairs up to the next level where we stepped inside his studio, a large room flooded with natural light. I thought I recognised the room in a painting I'd seen on a previous visit to Amsterdam

but I was thinking about The Kitchen Maid by Vermeer who was stood by a window pouring water. I was getting my Dutch masters mixed up.

On the first floor there was a very peculiar room they called the cabinet.

It was filled literally to the rafters with all sorts of curious objects, from busts of Roman Emperors to a dried out blown out blow fish! There were a few spears on the walls as well as several antlers but what caught the eye more than anything else was a small skull with large tusks.

What was it? It looked like a sabre tooth tiger but it can't have been?! Could it? It was probably a walrus skull.

Yet again we climbed the small spiral staircase to the upper floor into rooms where Rembrandt would have taught his students.

Despite being the custodian of a trust set up for his son Titian (which being his wife's inheritance Rembrandt remained in control on the condition that he would never re-marry) and despite subsidising his income by teaching and dealing in art he struggled financially and eventually had to leave this house in 1660 and move to a more modest place.

Browsing a collection of etchings we traversed properties through the roof space and ended up next door back in the glass, concrete and steel building.

Thankfully we didn't have to return down the spiral staircase. There was even a modern elevator for our convenience.

It wasn't raining when we left the Rembrandthuis but within minutes it all changed and down it came again.

With our brolly offering hardly any protection we didn't walk far before deciding to take shelter again. It was conveniently time for lunch so we stopped at the first cafe we came across .

It was called Tisfris and was on the corner just after we had crossed the Zwanenburgwal canal.

Neither of us was particularly hungry so we shared a cheese and mustard roll. The flavours were amazing. I would never had combined cheese with mustard before but it worked so well. Also the bread roll was a dense brown almost like a rye bread. It was so tasty we both wish we didn't have to share.

We sat here for a while drinking our mint tea (which literally was a bunch of mint leaves and hot water) watching the weather get progressively worse.

We were actually sat outside on the pavement but were very well sheltered and warmed beneath a heated lamp so we were quite happy to sit there and people watch.

The rain was now coming down in sheets, or like steel pipes as the Dutch say, soaking everyone in its path.

In a downpour like this I don't know why we bother with umbrellas. It may keep the hair dry but offers no protection for the rest of you.

People were actually cycling whilst holding an umbrella. We had never seen that before! Surely that was utterly pointless and slightly dangerous. But everyone was doing it.

This is when we decided to write off the rest of the day and revert to plan A which was to stay in bed all day!

We headed back towards our hotel down Antoniesbreestraat. Our feeble brolly was struggling to keep any part of us dry against the rain. It was lashing down blown along by a wicked whistling wind. We were getting very wet and very cold.

This was not pleasant. It was like an endurance test.

By the time we reached the open space of Nieuwmarkt it seemed to calm down a little, enough for us to stop marching and raise our heads from the pavements.

The classic Dutch square was filled with a few stalls selling tulips and lined by a few cheese makers but it was dominated by the Waag, a wonderful turreted weigh house.

Originally one of the city gates it then became a place where produce was weighed and tax levied before they were sold in the new market.

It did house a museum once but is now a restaurant.

We continued along the familiar alleys through the red light district, too soggy wet and miserable to even consider having a look around the Erotic Museum.

We just made a b-line to the hotel. We didn’t even stop for a drink or another cheese & mustard sandwich, we just needed to get back to the room, warm up, dry off and get back into bed.

Back in our shoebox we slipped under the covers for a few hours siesta.

Just before we fell asleep Julie said "Your face is getting old, it matches your hair now"

I took it as a compliment, even if it wasn't one.

A few hours of good sleep later we got up ready to rock and roll.

A ten minute walk to Nieuwezijds Voorburgwal street and then a ten minute tram ride brought us the lively bar filled Leidseplein square.

Just off the square we came to The Hard Rock Cafe which couldn't have been better placed for the Paradisio. It was pretty much next door to the venue.

There was a 45 minute wait for a table which usually would have sent us straight back out the door but we decided to wait. We're too old to be bopping at the front so we weren't bothered about getting to the gig early.

After half an hour waiting downstairs in the bar our plastic pager vibrated and our table was ready.

I ordered a Veggie Leggie burger and Julie had a BBQ chicken. We also ordered the lovely sounding cheddar mash but when it arrived there was a bubbling crater lake of meaty gravy in its middle. Julie was happy. I wasn't. It didn't matter much as my huge soya patty topped with a pile of mushrooms, courgettes and roasted peppers felt at the time like the tastiest HRC burger ever.

We left the Hard Rock just in time to make it to the Paradisio by 8pm. I didn't realise it was a members only club because before we could cross its threshold we had to pay €3.75 each to join. At the time I couldn't help but feel a little robbed but it was soon forgotten when we walked inside the hall.

It was a lovely converted church with three stained glass windows above the stage area and two rings of balconies for the gathered congregation.

We chose to get into the thick of it and after grabbing a drink from the bar at the back of the hall we made our way towards the front as far as it was possible.

At 8:30pm The Black Crowes walked on stage. The crowd erupted and so did I; it was so good to see them again.

The format for this evening was to be the same as in San Francisco, three hours split into two sets, an acoustic one followed by an electric set.

They opened with a song I recognised instantly as the harmonica howled and the guitars slid into the first note. It was Good Friday, from their fourth album, Three Snakes and One Charm. Chris Robinson sang with such heartfelt emotion and we all joined in.

It was followed by Appaloosa, not a song about the spotted horse but a charming song about longing, from their last album Before the Frost .... Until the Freeze.

From their last album to their first as next Sister Luck came "screaming out somebody else's name". An all time classic that got us shouting along to the chorus and our hips shaking for the first time this evening.

Moving on they performed Wiser Time a song that completely encapsulates them in music more than any other. Every one had their moment to shine, the chugging shuffling rhythm, the slide guitars, the keys, the vocal harmonies. It was a beautiful thing.

They moved seamlessly into a cover of a Rolling Stones song called No Expectations. We first heard them perform this live at their final San Francisco gig and as I mentioned then, it fitted right in, as if it were a Crowes original.

Next up were two wonderfully hippy trippy songs perfectly suited to the broad-minded city we found ourselves in. Both from the Three Snakes album, How Much For Your Wings? and Bring On, Bring On took us on a dreamy musical journey floating away from reality to an alternative consciousness. We all appreciate the ride.

The Black Crowes famed for never repeating the same set list make full use of their extensive back catalogue and the next song was only ever released as a B-side. Darling of the Underground Press swaggers like the rest of the amazing Southern Harmony and Musical Companion album. It certainly was no second rate ditty. Its slide guitar riff and intriguing lyrics could have easily been included on their second LP without being the weakest link.

Nonfiction was next. It's one of those songs I know word for word from beginning to end. In fact it's not only the words but each intonation, each modulation, each breath and sigh. Most of the Amorica album I know off-by-heart having played it so relentlessly.

It wasn't exactly love at first play either. The transition from Southern Harmony to Amorica was to shift down a gear and at first listen I was disappointed. Amorica was a classic "grower" with every subsequent play. The more often I played it the deeper I fell in love.

It would be my desert island disc. If I had to listen to any album back to back for the rest of my life I would choose The Black Crowes - Amorica.

That said, my favourite Crowes song of all time isn't even on that album! It's My Morning Song an incredible unyielding emotional tune that drives forward with force. It gets me going every time. Live it's always been used as a vehicle to jam out even inserting a whole different song in its middle.

In it Chris Robinson sings "If your rhythm ever falls out of time you can bring it to me and I will make it alright ". It's one of my favourite lines.

On their recent "greatest hits" Croweology album they have re-recorded it acoustically introducing a novel hand clap rhythm change to refresh a song they've probably sung a thousand times.

They played My Morning Song when we saw them at the Fillmore. Once the song came to an end that signalled the close of their acoustic set and an opportunity for us to head to the bar for a drink.

That was our greatest mistake. Trying to return to the same spot proved impossible as we found ourselves several feet further back and stood behind a ruddy giant!

The Black Crowes returned to the stage and launched into their electric set with a great version of Good Morning Captain, a song that was more acoustic at heart than much of what they had already sung. It was the second song they had sung from their last studio album Before The Frost ...

Unfortunately with our view more than a little obscured it took away some of the shine from the experience. I should say "my view" was obscured, being 5ft 2in this was all that Julie had experienced all night!

Once I let go of my angst and accepted my place I was able to enjoy the music again. They sang next another favourite of mine, High Head Blues from the Amorica album.

On the album version and live on the High As The Moon tour it was a song bursting at the seams with the full repertoire of percussion instruments including a guiro, maracas, xylophone, bongos, even the triangle and cowbell get an airing! Tonight with only Steve Gorman bashing away at the skins he did an admirable job in recreating the multi-faceted rhythm.

The limelight then shifted to brother Rich Robinson as he took the lead vocals for the next song.

It's an opportunity he rarely gets and not without good reason. He's not the most expressive of singers but his voice was well suited to the Rolling Stones song Just Want to See His Face.

Perhaps I'm being a bit too harsh.

He has certainly improved his range over the years. In fact one of my favourite "recent" Black Crowes song is a live recording of them covering The Velvet Underground's Oh! Sweet Nuthin', which he sings to perfection.

The fourth song this evening from their fourth album Three Snakes & One Charm followed with the beautiful Girl From A Pawnshop. As Chris Robinson sang "There's a passion in being alone, a grace in a loveless time" I held Julie in my arms and swayed to the music reflecting on how fortunate we were to have found love.

Thorn In My Pride was next. A song that in the past when performed live would roll on for well over quarter of an hour filled with wonderful jam and even a drum solo.

I often joke to Julie that now's a good time to pop to the toilet when they play Thorn In My Pride! Instead we decided to take advantage of their musical holding pattern to try and get a better view but we found ourselves drifting further and further back unable to find any better vantage point.

We entered a nomadic phase. It seemed that no matter where we stood we were in the way of the flow to the bar or to the toilets. We ended up stood at the very back of the hall behind some 7tf Russian skinhead freak. It was quite disheartening.

The balconies were looking more inviting by the minute and as Thorn In My Pride was still steaming along we made our way upstairs. The first level was full and no better so up we went again. Thankfully the upper level had spaces where we could stand and look over those who were seated.

The view from up here wasn't too bad at all although the sound was poor. It was very echoey.

It didn't spoil the fun though as we settled into our new position to hear them sing Poor Elijah - Tribute to Johnson, a song originally performed by little known (to me at least) Delaney & Bonnie on an album "D&B & Friends On Tour with Eric Clapton".

Like a game of Name That Tune and after just the second note of the next song everyone leapt to their feet, cheered, applauded at the most recognisable Black Crowes hit the Otis Redding cover Hard To Handle. Everybody started dancing, which on the second tier balcony was quite vertigo inducing.

Julie made use of the extra space behind us and sat down on the floor against the wall for a break whilst I leant even more forward to see them perform another from their first album, Seeing Things. With glorious use of the organ it had an amazing gospel-esque feel to it. The free congregation all joined in praise to the Crowes.

Keeping up the faith we all joined in some Soul Singing, a wonderful life affirming song from their Lions album. It was all hand clapping hip shaking devotion.

The hits were coming thick and fast now with Jealous Again lifting the roof with joy. This took us right back to when it all began.


Back to 1990 when Shake Your Moneymaker was released. I was twenty three and hooked from the first moment I heard Twice As Hard on the radio. I've lost count how many times I've seen them live and I can't even tell which one's my favourite but none of that matters. I was here now, at their last last (for a while) gig.

They walked off stage for the customary break before the encore.(Why do bands do that?)

It's now so written into official set list etiquette that it would be rude not too. If you don't walk off to give the crowd the opportunity to scream "more, more!" then you risk leaving them feeling cheated of something extra. Despite having been on stage (including the breaks) for almost three an a half hours!

The first song they performed was Torn and Frayed, a superb slice of classic American music written by the very British Rolling Stones.

They ended the evening with an understated song called Willin', originally sung by Little Feat. It was such a Black Crowes way to end the night, not with a bang but with a hug.

When it all came to an end they gathered at the front and waved their goodbyes as we applauded back. They seemed reluctant to leave, we were all reluctant to stop clapping.

Eventually they left and we stopped. It was all over.

We shuffled slowly out of the Paradisio and made our way back to the Liedseplein.

Before catching a tram out of there we sat outside Cafe Mokum on the square and had a drink. Julie was on the water having abstained from alcohol all day today. I wasn't as virtuous and had a large cold beer.

"When's the last tram out of here?" asked Julie.

I didn't the foggiest idea so we thought it would be sensible to catch the next number 1, 2 or 5 tram that rolled through. It was fortunate that we did as we later discovered that the last tram was around 12:30am.

I can't remember exactly what time we left but we didn't reach our hotel until gone 1am.

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