Travel Report: Live Music in Amsterdam.
Whether you’re an Amsterdam expat or just visiting, checking out the city’s fantastic music scene is a must during your time in the Dutch capital. There’s a host of amazing music venues here and most of them have been converted from historical buildings with rich histories. I got to visit a bunch of these sites during my time here. Furthermore, I was often able to get behind the scenes with the bands themselves. So let’s take a look at your many options for live music in Amsterdam!
It certainly doesn’t look like a music venue from the outside, but actually Paradiso Amsterdam stands as one of Europe’s most historical concert halls. It started out as a nineteenth century church, before reopening as a youth centre in 1968. That same year Pink Floyd played here, performing songs that would appear on their debut album Piper at The Gates of Dawn. Subsequently, more up and coming bands came to Paradiso and it soon blossomed into one of the places for live music in Amsterdam.
Glancing through the list of artists who’ve performed here is nothing short of exhilarating! I’m talking David Bowie, The Rolling Stones, The Sex Pistols, Prince, U2, Nirvana and Amy Winehouse to name just a few. I came to Paradiso a handful of times to see bands such as I Am Kloot, The Vaccines and dEUS. I always enjoyed the intimacy of Paradiso, with its stained glass windows and small capacity (just under 2000). For the latest scheduling, head to the official website.
Melkweg is a larger music venue located near Leidseplein, Amsterdam’s main clubbing district. Its name translates as Milky Way, a reference to the building’s history as a milk factory. Today it’s a massive cultural centre with no less than six performance halls.
I came to Melkweg in May 2013 for an interview with the British rock band Kaiser Chiefs. In the end only the singer Ricky Wilson and bassist Simon Rox showed up. However, they more than made up for it with a surprisingly informal chat about the ups and downs of the music business. We talked about the huge success of their debut album Employment and the recent departure of founding member Nick Hodgson. We also touched on the unique promotion campaign behind their album The Future Is Medieval. “That album won awards you know” quipped Ricky. “Yeah,” continued Simon, “Unfortunately they were the wrong kind of awards”.
That night in The Max Hall at Melkweg, Kaiser Chiefs smashed out a fifteen-song set. It’s a modern venue with a raw, industrial feel, which seemed to suit the band’s punky, power pop hit singles. For more on Melkweg, along with the latest scheduled gigs, here’s their online home.
If there were a prize for the most beautiful venue to catch live music in Amsterdam, it would almost certainly go to Concertgebouw. Opened in 1886, this impressive, neo-classical structure has been hailed as one of the finest concert halls in the world! Actually it’s mostly classical music on offer here, although from time to time they do extend special invitations to musicians from the rock and pop worlds.
My one and only visit here was in June 2011 to see the amazing Ryan Adams. They say that Concertgebouw has truly world class acoustics. Adams certainly took advantage of this, performing a totally stripped back acoustic set from across his 20 plus albums.
Just a quick word on the venue’s gigantic organ. It was built in 1890 by one of the world’s most famed organ builders, Michael Maarschalkerweerd. Moreover, it has sixty registers on three divisions. Concertgebouw hosts around seven hundred performances a year. If you’re interested in catching one, take a look at their website here.
The smallest and cosiest Amsterdam venue I’ve been to is the 350-capacity Bitterzoet.This two-story club holds regular nostalgia nights and is a leading light for local, unsigned bands. However, every now and then it pulls in some big names. I came here to see the award winning singer-songwriter Kate Nash play in November 2012.
Before the gig, Kate and I sat down for an hour-long chat that ranged from her early days as a struggling songwriter to the giddy highs of winning Best British Female Artist at the 2008 Brit Awards. Genuinely friendly, candid and highly playful, this was one of my most memorable Amsterdam interviews.
Lastly, if you’ve got your heart set on catching a monster act in a fittingly huge setting, there’s really only one venue for you. Back in my Amsterdam days this place was called The Heineken Music Hall. However, in keeping with its very corporate atmosphere, it’s since been renamed AFAS Live. AFAS is the software company that sponsors the place… which is depressing. I’ve been here a couple of times, once to see Franz Ferdinand, on the other occasion it was Jack Johnson. Both performances were in the main Black Box Hall, which holds up to six thousand people. To see who’s coming up here, make your way to their website.
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