My Rocking Summer of Music
These days, when I look outside the window into my mother’s Japanese-themed garden and see the yellow and red leaves on the ground and the almost naked tree branches swaying in the heavy winds, or glance at the sky only to find a sea of clouds determined not to let the sun show its face, I heavy-heartedly remember this summer.
It was extremely hot – unbearable at times, as some say, but I enjoyed every second of it. The warm and sunny days eased my settling in period profoundly – only when it started to get chillier and gray outside, my homesickness for Jakarta tugged at my heartstrings more forceful than usual.
Still, as much as I dislike the cold, I am grateful for this year’s tropical summer, which allowed me to indulge in lots of gelato, take excessive walks both with and without my dog Milo, hang out in parks and go on boat tours. More than that, I had the chance to attend three concerts over a span of two months – and not just any concerts, but concerts by three of my all-time favorite bands and musicians: Lenny Kravitz, Pearl Jam and Incubus. Join me as I walk down memory lane leading me to days filled with warmth, incredible energy and the sound of my youth.
June 12, 2018 at Spandau Citadel
When it comes to music, Lenny Kravitz was my first love. His album “Mama Said” was one of the first CDs I ever bought, and I often danced through our living room, playing air guitar to his rock song “Are You Gonna Go My Way” and falling in love with his continuing heartfelt plea for love, peace and understanding in our broken world.
In 1995, I saw him live in Tokyo when he visited Japan as part of his “Circus” tour (an album that has been grossly underrated, by the way), and had another chance to attend one of his shows in Berlin in 2005. He was supposed to come to Jakarta in 2015, and I was really psyched when I heard the news back then, because it would have been a nice way to round off my Lenny Kravitz fandom: by going to his concerts every ten years in the three cities closest to my hearts. Unfortunately, he canceled his visit to Indonesia and left me inconsolable.
It was all the more reason for me to buy a ticket for his Berlin concert in June this year. Granted, his recent albums don’t hold the same place in my heart as his earlier work, but that would never stop me from missing an opportunity to see Lenny Kravitz live. This time, he played at the Citadel, a renaissance fortress and lovely open air venue in Berlin-Spandau.
When Lenny Kravitz came on stage and opened the show with “Fly Away”, I looked up to the sky and saw an airplane beginning its final descent to the nearby airport - what a perfect way to make an entrance! As it is often the way with music stars who had their heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s, they aim to please the crowd by belting out their greatest hits rather than playing material from their new, less popular albums. I was grateful that Lenny Kravitz did exactly that, although he also performed two songs of the upcoming “Raise Vibration”.
He may be 54 already, but this man still knows how to rock a stage! By the time he had played songs like “Dig In” and “Always on the Run” as well as the slower “Again”, “It Ain’t Over Til It’s Over” and “Can’t Get You Off My Mind”, the crowd (mostly my age, which I found quite pleasant) was already ecstatic. He finished off with his anthem “Let Love Rule” and his arguably best known song “Are You Gonna Go My Way” before releasing us again into a warm and fuzzy Berlin night; and I know for sure that my love for this man and his music will never fade.
July 5, 2018 at Waldbühne
Ah, Pearl Jam - forever my favorite of all Seattle bands, and the soundtrack to my youth unlike any other band. As soon as I hear any of the songs on Pearl Jam’s debut album Ten, my head is filled with images of Tokyo, my favorite bar in Roppongi and my bedroom plastered with postcards and posters of Eddie Vedder (right next to Lenny Kravitz).
Pearl Jam managed to survive the eventful 1990s and is the last of Seattle’s “Big Four” that remains “intact”. Ever since I saw them live in Tokyo in 1995, I had desperately wanted to do so again but never had the chance - Southeast Asia doesn’t seem to be high on the list of the band’s go-to places. Imagine my delight when I found out earlier this year that they would come to Berlin in the summer!
But instead of immediately buying the tickets, I waited for a few weeks or so, only to find that the concert was already sold out. I was devastated; I even tried to bid on tickets on eBay but wasn’t lucky in the end. As the date of the concert came closer, I had already lost hope but still regularly visited the organizer’s website because they have a section with additional tickets, often returned by people who can’t make it to the show after all. One week before the concert, I was able to buy one of those tickets - I’m telling you, perseverance is an important trait!
Pearl Jam played at Waldbühne, one of the most beautiful open-air venues in the city. Add to that the fact that Pearl Jam is a live band like no other, and I was in for a night of pure joy and fabulous music. There are many reasons why Pearl Jam’s concerts are highly sought after: for one, they never play the same set and often only decide which songs to perform on the day of the concert. They are also very generous with their time: while other musicians call it quits after one and a half hours, Pearl Jam simply keeps rocking the stage; sometimes their shows last three hours. Eddie Vedder, who comes across as such a down-to-earth guy, always drinks a bottle of red wine during Pearl Jam’s performances, and the band’s interaction with the audience is frequent and authentic, while at the same time they remain outspoken about their (political) activism.
In Berlin, I truly enjoyed Eddie Vedder’s snide remarks about Donald Trump, but one of my favorite moments of the concert came when he dedicated a song to Cliff Poncier, “this guy who was once very big in Europe”. I started laughing out loud but realized that the joke was lost on many in the crowd: Cliff Poncier is a fictional character from one of my all-time favorite movies “Singles”, which was released in 1992. Set in Seattle, it features a lot of the bands and music that would shortly thereafter become known around the world as “grunge”, and Pearl Jam made a cameo in the film as well as the band members of Citizen Dick whose frontman was Cliff Poncier, played by Matt Dillon. The fact that I immediately recognized Eddie Vedder’s reference somehow made me feel giddy and proud - as if this was a secret only known by the most loyal Pearl Jam fans.
It is rare to experience a night this perfect. But Pearl Jam continues to keep the magic alive, and I surely hope that I won’t have to wait another 23 years for their next concert.
August 20, 2018 at Columbiahalle
Unlike Lenny Kravitz and Pearl Jam, I was introduced to the music of Incubus during my years at university. Admittedly, I was first lured in by handsome frontman Brandon Boyd as Incubus’ music videos received regular airplay on MTV, but I quickly fell in love with the band’s unique sound and penchant to dabble in different genres.
Incubus has visited Southeast Asia regularly, thus I had the chance to watch them three times in Indonesia (in fact, I went to their concert in Jakarta in February this year) and once in Singapore, where I even had the chance to interview bassist Ben Kenney for the Jakarta Globe (you can read it here). Incubus is a band that delivers a raw energy during their concerts, and Brandon Boyd’s vocals are simply impeccable.
Therefore, it didn’t need much convincing for me to witness yet another Incubus show here in Berlin. A few days before the concert was scheduled to take place, I read on the band’s Instagram account that their show in the Netherlands had to be canceled because Brandon Boyd was sick. Berliners were lucky enough though that by the time Incubus reached Berlin, the singer had already recovered. Almost, at least.
During the concert, it became clear pretty fast that Brandon Boyd’s voice was still strained and a times downright thin, which obviously was a downer. At the same time though, the Incubus show in Berlin was the first time for me to ever end up in a mosh pit - at 38 years of age, mind you! When I go to music concerts, I usually don’t feel the need to get as close to the stage as possible due to my fear of being squashed and squeezed. But since the Columbiahalle was a relatively small venue and due to a rather unfortunate series of events, I found myself up front this time.
At the beginning, I thought I’d be just fine, but when Incubus played songs like “Anna Molly” and “Megalomaniac”, the crowd went wild, and there was no escaping: the mosh pit including full body slamming, head banging and jumping around. It was sweaty and scary but after a while I realized that in order to remain unscathed, I must join in - and so I did, “moshing” with the other Incubus fans who seemed to be at least one generation younger than me. After two songs, however, I decided to retreat and found myself a spot close to the bar from where I watched the rest of the show.
Despite Brandon Boyd’s vocal troubles, Incubus never seizes to amaze and surprise: this time, it was the aforementioned mosh pit that left me on an inexplicable high, and the band’s interesting choice of cover songs, from Chris Isaak’s sentimental “Wicked Game” and the wonderful “Need You Tonight” by INXS to Snoop Dogg’s iconic “Gin and Juice” - the very fact that Incubus could pull off covers from such different artists and music genres is yet another testament to the band’s versatility, and perhaps also the secret of their longevity.