Met Riddle of the Sphinx Absynthe Minded just released his pleasantly listening seventh LP. Since the group’s passage in the Rivierenhof served as a release concert, this could also be followed online. It was already a happy reunion for the public.
You are now aware that the corona crisis has wreaked havoc in musicians. A lot of bands that released a new record just before or during the lockdown suddenly found themselves unable to perform that new material for an audience. Frustrating, because music really comes to life on stage. In the meantime, small-scale performances for a limited number of spectators and with respect for social distancing have been allowed again. Alone, try to approach the atmosphere of a real rock concert with a seated audience hidden behind mouth masks and widely spaced. No easy task, as was also apparent during the performance of Absynthe Minded, because an artist hardly gets any energy back from the audience in those circumstances. The chance that this will ever become the new normal is therefore very small. The man is the linchpin of the Zwevegem quintet Mooneye, which last year, together with Tessa Dixson and David Ngyah, was bombarded by Studio Brussel into the Nieuwe Lichting and was requested as a warm-up in Antwerp. Libberecht had to go up on his own with an acoustic guitar and that was not an undivided success.Good, his voice sounds a bit like that of Beirut’s Zach Condon and the well-known Thinking About Leaving is not a bad song. Nevertheless, his set was burdened by uniform melodies and adolescent ‘woe me’ lyrics, which we would label as simplistic rather than simple. With songs built up from caramel verses like Part of Me, Are You Lonely Too? or My Routine Mooneye does not immediately compete with the Dylans or Cohens of this world. Libberecht jokingly announced that his group has just finished its first full-length. If you have a heart, you can hold it. The contrast with Ghent’s Absynthe Minded could hardly be greater. The company has been active for more than twenty years and you can feel that, even though only the original line-up remains today, singer-guitarist Bert Ostyn and bassist Sergej Van Bouwel. Since the quintet started a second life in 2017, the troops have already been rearranged: drummer Isolde Lasoen recently took over from Simon Segers and keyboardist Laurens Dierickx, who follows in the footsteps of Wouter Vlaeminck, even experienced his baptism of fire in Antwerp. As already shown in Jungle Eyes, Absynthe Minded sounds slightly different today than it used to. The flowy gypsy jazz influences of yesteryear have given way to a more poppy sound, which on Riddle of the Sphinx sounds more transparent and pure than ever. Where Ostyn mainly gave up social observations on the previous record, in the new songs he pays attention to the small things in life, without there being an explicit break in style. The band still makes songs that can be played acoustically without any problem, but now and then are flavored here and there with a pinch of electronics. the dark and burly Hellhole Bert Ostyn and his friends licked the Orange Man from the White House. In Masterpiece – distorted voice, gradually swelling synth – we thought we could see the ‘shhh’ from Come Together, but the jazzy Surrender, announced by the singer as a ‘one note song’, was too sketchy to take us out in full. The nostalgic Cherry Picking, in which Isolde Lasoen contributed a summery second voice and Toon Vlerick put down a twangy guitar solo, was beautiful and Found No Friend, What in the World, Pass It On and the eight-year-old Space sounded far from bad. Still, Absynthe Minded threatened to babble a bit here. It didn’t crackle, so you waited in vain for the flame to really hit the pan. That eventually happened when the group started browsing its catalog, resulting in a rocking End of the Line, a bouncy Kingpin and a dynamically bouncy The Execution. Audience favorites such as the measured My Heroics, Part One or Envoi would of course not be missing, but the highlight of the set for us was Echo Chamber, an almost perfect pop song that would not have been out of place on Abbey Road at the time. Closer Clickbait Mermaid, about the raunchy reader comments on popular newspaper websites, also exploded. The guitars moved to the cutting edge, as if Absynthe Minded’s batteries were only fully charged. A beautiful Moodswing Baby, a frivolous Beam! and the pharmaceutically inspired Mixing the Medicine, in which a stray smurf gnawed at our earlobes. All in all a nice concert that sometimes lacked a bit of energy, but with a group that still got the right tone towards the end. Well, pop in corona times, it takes some getting used to for everyone.