The soup is burned?!
When people ask me where I’m from, I tell them Minneapolis (because it’s the easiest of all the possible answers) and they often reply “oh, like Prince.” I suppose there are worse associations that one could make with my not-really-hometown. And, if an association has to be made, at least it’s one of the most influential musicians of our time?
I miss the Twin Cities music scene. In the eleven years I lived there as an adult, I didn’t take nearly enough advantage of all the amazing venues or the acts that were homegrown or came through town. Sure, I saw some GREAT concerts as a youngster —Violent Femmes at First Ave with my very cool first boss? Yeah, that happened. — but life got life-y and I somehow only saw a handful of shows in my late twenties and early thirties.
Once I knew there was an expiry date to my time in Minnesota, I felt like that had to change. Luckily, I didn’t have to look far to find a partner-in-crime. My concert-loving friend Amy made sure I always knew who was coming to town and convinced me more than once that staying out late on a school night was a brilliant idea if it meant we’d be dancing like nobody was watching. Before she got really sick, we went to more concerts together than I had been to in the previous few years combined.
I hadn’t been to a show — in Minneapolis or in Brussels — since the last one with her.
It seemed only fitting that the first concert I really wanted to go to in Brussels was a band from home. St. Paul’s Hippo Campus is a minor big deal Stateside but here they were just another band coming through on the European leg of their tour. They were booked at a smallish venue and the tickets were only €15. Not bad for a band that’s played SXSW and is opening for The Head and the Heart at Denver’s Red Rocks in a few months… Between the super steal ticket prices and a couple kickin’ singles on their latest album, it didn’t take much arm-twisting to convince Joe that a school night field trip was called for.
I knew The Rotunde at The Botanique would be intimate with a 250 person capacity, but I wasn’t expecting a round hall that made it feel like we were walking into a high school gym for a pep rally. Wooden risers along the sides gave us old folks a seat while the youngsters, more tragically hip than I ever could have been at 18, mostly filled the dance floor. I’m not good at guessing crowd numbers but I’m convinced there were less than 200 there that night. Hippo Campus and their opening act Lauran Hibberd put on a great show even if both bands kept saying merci after each song to an audience that was at least 10% Minnesotan and 85% Dutch-speaking by my eavesdropping estimation. I didn’t even have to be out late on a school night! The Botanique tries to wrap up concerts by 10:30pm so that audiences can still get home on public transport.
Concert going always seems to go in streaks for me, so I guess it wasn’t a surprise that I found another show to check out the same week. Spotify threw a single by Júníus Meyvant into my “you might like” playlist a few weeks ago and I started digging the soulful folk pop sound. When I saw that the Icelandic singer was coming to play the Club at Ancienne Belgique, I convinced Joe we needed to snag tickets for last Saturday night’s show even if we didn’t really know the music that well — €18 seemed reasonable for a date night to check out a new venue and a new-to-us artist.
A couple of days later, I’m still tapping my toes to “Hailslide” and “Color Decay” on repeat. (Click those links to check out the videos. Your ears will thank me.) I was glad we decided to stand by the soundboard when we made our way into the small venue — it’s always the best spot in the house. Plus, I had sprained my ankle on the cobblestones yet again that morning and a middle-aged lady came over from near the booth and offered me a stool to sit on. I didn’t understand her Dutch as well as Joe did, but I was told she said something about me looking like I needed it. I don’t suppose it really matters if I understood her completely because random acts of kindness seem to transcend language. As the opening act wrapped up, I grabbed my just-for-me seat, popped in some earplugs, and got ready to rock out. (As much as one can rock out on a stool, that is.) The show was phenomenal with great acoustics and a great set that even had Joe sorta-but-not-really dancing along.
But your probably wondering what all of this has to do with burned soup…
In the process of getting us tickets to the Júníus Meyvant show, Joe discovered that there are free monthly Learn Dutch sing-a-long sessions held in the AB Salon and subsidized by the Flemish government. I’m not sure he expected such an enthusiastic “Sure!” when he suggested we check it out but he’s also never seen me with a karaoke mic in my hand.
Neither of us were quite sure what to expect when we headed to the gelukkig zijn sessie a couple of weeks ago. I figured it’d be a bit like some of the Hebrew sing-a-longs I’ve attended where language is taught through folk song. I wasn’t entirely off the mark. The small room held a screen to project lyrics onto and a piano. We were given printed song sheets and invited to grab a Coke and a seat. As 8pm approached, I was shocked to discover that we weren’t the only “young” ones in the room — it was pretty evenly split between silver-haired French speakers and University students. Plus us, of course.
Our enthusiastic leaders lead us through a repertoire of classic songs following the month’s theme, “Women Singers.” I understood exactly three words of the entirely Dutch explanation of idioms and phrases but Joe understood quite a bit more and was nice enough to translate at least the gist. We watched a video of each song and then set to singing accompanied by the piano. I have to say that I get it — singing did indeed seem to help me get the hang of pronouncing a language that still sounds a bit like drunken German to me. I even know one of the choruses now! (We’ll just ignore the fact that “Ik doe wat ik doe” is a rather famous song from the point of view of a prostitute…)
Despite my language barrier, it was a fun hour and I was almost sad when it was time to sing our last tune. “De soep is aangebrand” is one of those songs that doesn’t need too much explanation if you watch the video. But you’ve been warned: its rather catchy chorus will have you singing about burned soup for the next day or two, Dutch skills or no. Maybe that’s why it became a bit of a cult classic back in the ‘90s… Like I said, you’ve been warned!
If you go: The Botanique
* The venue’s in the city’s old botanical garden site. Take the 92 or 93 tram or the 2 or 6 metro to the Botanique stop. (Just don’t head towards Meise where you’ll find the botanic gardens these days…)
* Bring small change. Like most places in Europe, you’ll have to pay to play (50 cents) when it comes to the restrooms. And double check that there’s TP before you commit to a stall!
* The bar takes tokens only for beverages. You can buy them from the vending machine nearby.
If you go: Ancienne Belgique
* Thanks to their environmental policy, each AB ticket comes with a metro pass! You’ll need to redeem your event code at a MIVB/STIB ticket machine.
* The bar takes tokens only for beverages. You can buy them from the vending machine. If you’d like your 10 cent cup deposit back, don’t forget to turn it in to the bartender. Otherwise, they’ll donate the deposit to charity if you just toss your cup in one of the bins on the bar.
* The AB hands out free disposable earplugs and you don’t have to pay to use the toilets.
If you go: Gelukkig Zijn Sessions
* The sessions are free, but you do need to register ahead of time.
* You’ll probably enjoy yourself the most if you already know some Dutch. Former choir members may enjoy themselves regardless.
Photo: Júníus Meyvant at Ancienne Belgique. March 2, 2019.