38. Amsterdam, RAI Parkhall, Tibet Freedom Concert, 13 June 1999


The venue for today’s Tibet Freedom Concert is a big exhibition hall. Keiko photographs everything and is gutted when they don’t let her take her camera inside. She and her friend Myoko are on the guestlist and I have my ticket. I buy a T shirt with the line up on the back on the way in. We set up camp about three rows from the front. It’s a bit of a scrum. The faithful are here in force. In front of me is a very small girl with a tattoo of the ‘hex’ star symbol from the OK Computer art work.

Despite the crush, it’s all very civilised with everyone holding their places. We are surrounded by the Dutch wing of the fan club, The Panic Button, who have their own T-shirts and a photographer ready down at the front. We watch Luscious Jackson, some dancing Tibetan monks and Dutch hardcore band NRA, whose fans mosh like crazy, a weird juxtaposition with the images of non-violent protest being shown between the acts. They do a dance which consists of running around in a small space at high speed whilst punching and kicking each other at random. They’re just behind us and I reciprocate a few elbows, but they’re too funny to get annoyed about.

Joe Strummer and The Mescaleros are next on. They play several Clash songs and some new stuff. I admire Scott their bass player, with his strategically placed tattoos. They play I Fought The Law. It’s your actual Joe Strummer and he’s on the same bill as Thom!

Ben Harper, who follows with a sit down blues set, is rather boring by comparison. He even manages to make Voodoo Chile sound dull. I’m fainting with hunger but there’s no time to get out of this crowd now. As a Tibetan artist plays a one stringed harp-like instrument, Keiko and I try not to get too excited about the sound of an acoustic guitar being tuned just behind the scenes. We exchange good luck hand shakes and brace ourselves. I have my camera and my crappy tape recorder but they are just a distraction. I focus on staying upright. Thankfully there is not too much of a surge in the crowd when the catsuit-wearing Dutch VJ woman announces the next act.

Thom saunters on and sits behind an upright piano. Jonny is here but he’s not playing yet. It’s just Thom at the piano playing a quiet new tune. Something about a little row boat and nothing to fear… He pulls some faces and then exchanges instruments with Jonny to play Street Spirit. There are some distracting noises off stage and as usual he doesn’t look happy when people talk during the quiet bits. He’s nervous but just about in control. He doesn’t talk much, but when he does it’s about why they are here, playing at the Tibet Freedom show.

“There’s a lot of issues going on at the moment, so it’s understandable that Tibet is not getting the attention it deserves but there’s an underlying issue. The issue is where world powers choose to exceed their authority and where they don’t, the selective amnesia that keeps going on around us and the media keeps just portraying it as the truth. So erm that’s why we chose to do this gig.”

He strums a few chords and starts “I hate these.. curtains..” He’s trying to play I’ll Wear It Proudly, Elvis Costello’s song he’s previously cited as a favourite, but he can’t remember the words. He turns to Jonny in bewilderment and swears and laughs. I call out what I can remember of the words, something about “the colour of your hair”, there is a whoop from somewhere in the audience and he pulls it back together, and introduces the song properly. (it’s ‘flaming curtains’ he can’t remember)

With Jonny on the Hammond organ, they get through it. The words come through clearly “if you don’t know what is wrong with me you don’t know what you’ve missed.” Beautiful.

They go straight into Lucky and we get a smile when everyone sings along. A girl behind me with an Alannis Morrisette placard uses it to poke a photographer out of the way so we get a better view. There are no cameras on the stage. No posing for the big screen. In spite of the size of the venue, this feels like an intimate gig. Thom moves to the piano for Karma Police and is saved by the audience when he gets the chorus ravelled up.  They’re not on stage for long, we get Exit Music, and he takes a little bow centre stage at the end.

Fake Plastic Trees is the soundtrack to the next bit of video footage when the curtains close. Keiko and I escape to the toilet. We want to find Thom and say hello. We spotted the VIP rooms but there is no way to get in, we get pass outs and go for a look outside. Without passes we’ve not got a hope, but it feels like we ought to try.  Keiko knows enough crew members to ask for and she’s very determined. We go back to the arena, we don’t want to watch Garbage. Keiko leans on a fire exit door and it opens out onto an area where the buses are parked. No one is stopping us so we go for a look around.

Keiko and Myoko are convinced that there’s nothing more to see and decide to go back to town. I promise that the next time we see each other will be in Tokyo. I find a spot to sit down, and let the sub Led Zep dirge of Alannis wash over me. I don’t understand why she’s so popular. Blur come on late. They look chunkier than they used to. Alex is playing a stand up bass. They play most of their album 13, which I’ve been listening to a lot lately. This new weariness kind of suits them. They encore with the never played live before Blue Jeans and the rousing Song 2. It gives me the required lift from my exhaustion to get out and back to town.