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Release your inner Manic Pixie Dream Girl

April 2, 2012

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl has many guises. She’s found in a variety of media, like films, literature, TV, and even real life. Zooey Deschanel is perhaps the most well-known real-life MPDG. She flounces about in flowered dresses, is photographed posing with cupcakes, and is oh-so-quirky! She (that is, the MPDG, not necessarily Zooey Deschanel) shouts her quirkiness off the rooftops. She’d rather drink beer than juice. She’d rather eat chocolate than diet. She’d rather follow her bliss than pay her bills. She’d rather die than use a port-a-potty. So. Darn. Quirky. I’m sure you know the type – and if you don’t, lucky you!

Still, despite the MPDG’s many negative qualities, it can be nice to – at very select times – engage in some flower-print flouncing. I did so  several times over the course of last weekend, which was a weekend I’d been looking forward to for months. On Friday I went to see Greg Holden in Bitterzoet (Amsterdam) and on Sunday I was lucky enough to go to the sold-out Florence and the Machine gig in Paradiso (Amsterdam). Both were excellent in their own way and both gigs allowed me to get out of my teacher-lady grad student comfort zone and act a little Manic Pixie Hipster.

Greg Holden became famous in The Netherlands (which, granted, is a very limited kind of famous) pretty much overnight when his song “The Lost Boy” was played during a week-long radio fundraiser for the International Red Cross. I listened to some of his other songs, decided I liked them, and bought a couple of tickets for his Amsterdam gig in the spring. I’m not usually one to go for indie singer-songwriters because my taste is quite mainstream and I suffer from a dislike of the kind of crowd such bands and singers often draw (the “I’m only here because this person isn’t famous” crowd), but I took a leap of faith and I’m very happy I did, because Greg Holden turned out to be not just 100% adorable, but a great artist to see live as well. Most people at the concert didn’t know the lyrics to his songs, but that didn’t stop him from getting them to participate and sing along as much as possible. In-between songs, he chatted about the price of parking in Amsterdam, bicycles, and mainly how he’d been looking forward to that particular night so much and had thought of so many things he wanted to say which sadly he could no longer remember. He explained it was the biggest crowd he’d ever headlined for (about 400 people) and that when he was in Amsterdam last year, he played for 30 people. A big change indeed. Even though I, too, did not know most of his songs, I mumbled and hummed and swayed and clapped while stuck in the front-part of a mostly flannel-clad crowd. My friend and I felt distinctly out of place in our dress and skirt, but we didn’t have any less fun for it. After the show ended, we bought two albums which the artist himself then signed for us.

Florence Welch is no longer at that point in her career where she’ll sign albums and take pictures with fans for an hour after the show, but that didn’t stop us from worshiping at her altar. In our best flower-print dresses, we stood in awe for the first few songs, after which we did our best to keep up with the energy and excitement which was beaming off the stage. If anyone else would walk onto a stage wearing a black muumuu with bat-like sleeves and a sequin collar, I would probably win the world championship eye-rolling, but when it’s Florence, all bets are off. That woman knows how to put on a show. I had expected her to be a great vocalist and I was certainly not disappointed there, but what really floored me was how well she connected with the audience and how very commanding her stage presence was. The first thing may also be due to our proximity to the stage, but it really felt like she saw every single person in the audience. And as for her stage presence, I’m pretty certain I have never seen any performer more aware of his or her movements on the stage. Now, I know that all good performers are completely aware of where they are, how they move, and what they do on stage, but it’s been a while since I last saw a female performer be so entirely self-possessed, natural, graceful and – dare I say it – authentic. The music and vocals were spectacular (and one really shouldn’t forget the rest of the Machine here, who were straight-up amazing), but it was Florence Welch’s presence which was enthralling and kept all of us staring up in wonder (and those on the balcony staring down with looks of awe on their face). I’ve had my issues with Florence + the Machine and those have not disappeared, but since my flowered dress and I flailed about to “Rabbit Heart” and “Shake it Out” and gaped in awe at the crowd’s reverence during “Between Two Lungs” I feel just a little better. And when “No Light, No Light” turned out to be the last song of the evening, you can bet your ass I sang along as loudly as I could, for one night forgetting my teacherly, grad studenty woes and instead losing myself in a world of harps, sheer fabrics, ethereal singing, loud drums, theatrical poses, and fantastic flowered dresses.

(Apologies for the crummy Samsung Galaxy S pictures).

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