Maloe Melo is a club famous for showcasing Blues acts in Amsterdam. In fact, it’s known as a hard core Blues joint for blues fans, and regular readers of my blog know how much I love the blues. So there was no way for me to miss Maloe Melo while I was in town!
Finding the club was a challenge. It is tucked in a residential neighborhood, alongside a canal called “Lijnbaans gracht” – the word “gracht” means canal in Dutch. This area gets kinda spooky at night. It’s not a bustling neighborhood; the streets are empty after midnight. It might not be a great idea to go alone, or if you do, have a transportation plan mapped out beforehand.
But, I was so excited to hear blues, and having learned my lesson at Alto Jazz Cafe (where I showed up at 9pm and sat for an hour before the music started…) I found my way to the front door of Maloe Melo at 10pm.
In front of the door, or should I say, blocking the doorway, was a bruiser of a Dutch guy, with mini-mutton chop sideburns, chomping an unlit black cigar. (It turns out this bruiser is a sweetheart…and…the bartender. His name is Patrick. Still, I wouldn’t want to piss him off. )
“Are you open?” I said.
He looked at me and stepped aside, letting me see that the bar behind him was empty.
“Oh! What time does the music start?” I asked.
“Eleven o’clock,” he said in a thick Dutch accent.
“Damn it!” I slipped, I was so surprised. He laughed at that.
I just couldn’t believe I’d been stumped again by showing up an hour early – and on a Tuesday night no less. Amsterdamers must be party animals to start that late during the week, I thought.
“Well, I guess I’m here to keep you company,” I said and flashed him my most charming American tourist smile. He smiled back.
We went inside together.
“Tonight’s my birthday…” I added, “and I really want to hear some blues!” I said, feeling happy at the thought.
“Happy Birthday,” he said, and stepped behind the bar.
I ordered a “Coca Light” (Euro-speak for Diet Coke) and he produced a tiny bottle with about six ounces of soda, like the ones I’d been given at all the cafes.
(Travel Tip: These midget bottles cost between $2-3 euros, typically… somewhere between $2.50-4 US dollars. In all the music clubs I went to there was no drink minimum. No one will bother you if you want to hang out and listen to the music while you nurse a drink.)
I took a moment to look around the bar, which I noticed smelled kind of smoky. Posters for European and American blues festivals and guitar legends plastered the walls and ceiling. An Aunt Jemima bust sat perched behind the teensy “stage” where barely two people could stand, with nowhere to put a drum kit.
The postage stamp sized “stage” in the front bar at Maloe Melo
Hmm, I thought.
“What kind of blues will they play tonight?” I asked the bartender. “Chicago style, country style, something else?”
“The band tonight is really good,” he said, “but they don’t play blues.”
“What?!” I said. “Oh no!”
“They are really good, you’ll like them,” he said.
I nodded, but sighed heavily. No blues at the blues club. I put on the best face I could, and said quietly, “I guess it’s too much to want to hear some Buddy Guy on my birthday…”
He gave me a Cheshire cat smile, a big wide grin, and popped a tape into the bar’s audio system. Buddy Guy belted out “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues” over the loudspeakers.
I laughed and thanked him; I figured recorded blues on my birthday is better than no blues at all.
And then… the guitar player showed up. He was a petite fellow, very thin, with the worn lines of a rocker who has seen a lot in his years etched on his face. He introduced himself as “Kevin, but I prefer Kev…” with a pronounced British accent, although he told me he’d been living in Amsterdam for decades.
We began to chat, and the bartender mentioned to Kev that it was my birthday… and that I had come to hear blues. Kev told me that he and his two band-mates were going to do some low-key original stuff, no microphones, no drums.
Soon the other two band mates showed up, looking similarly well-worn from the lives they’ve led as experienced musicians. The second guitarist (who was the lead vocalist) was a Dutch guy, who reminded me a lot of Ronny Wood; he wore a black vest with white skulls all over it and beat up sneakers. Then the bassist showed up, and he reminded me of Gene Simmons, with dyed jet black hair in a ponytail, thick lips and olive colored skin. Kev was something of a Mick Jagger type, I’d say.
Unfortunately, as the band began their set-up for the evening, “Ronny Wood” and “Gene Simmons” decided to roll their own cigarettes (big, fat ones) and to smoke (tobacco).
When I asked about it, Kev told me that yes, it’s technically not legal to smoke in bars in Amsterdam, but that some bars have a lenient policy towards smoking (of both cigarettes and pot) and that in Maloe Melo, smoking was tolerated. I wasn’t happy about this development, because I knew my clothes and hair would reek after a few minutes of being in that cloud, but I was there to listen to the band… so I stayed.
At about 11:15pm, the trio began their first set… even though it was still just me and the bartender in the place. They played a personal performance for me for about a half hour. Kev kept saying it was fate that brought me there to hear them on my birthday. Maybe so.
I clapped appreciatively after each song and chatted with the band in between, mostly with Kev, who I think took a liking to me. I say that because when Kev went to the bathroom during one of the breaks, “Ronny Wood” came over to tell me, ‘Kev may look like crap, but he’s a really nice guy.’ That made me laugh, but I knew I wasn’t there to be a groupie for the evening! In any case, all three guys were amiable, but I could tell “Gene Simmons” wasn’t too happy about having an audience of one. I can’t blame him.
I didn’t know any of the tunes they played because they were all originals. The lead singer (“Ronny”), who was also the lyricist, liked to sing about love and romance, chasing girls, good friends, and hanging out with the boys in Amsterdam. All the songs were variations on those themes. “Ronny” and Kev did decent two-part harmonies; it was enjoyable but a bit mellow for me, especially considering I was looking for foot stomping blues.
Eventually other people came in, several who were good friends of the band, and they sat at the table nearest the ‘stage.’ A highlight for me was when one of their friends took out a pair of drum sticks, got up and stood next to me and used the vinyl covered bar stool as a drum and played along with the band on one of their songs. It was a fantastic impromtu performance.
The bar didn’t wind up with more than 20 people in it, but the heavy cloud of smoke hovering below the low ceiling was starting to get to me from both the band and many of the patrons, so I decided to leave after two sets (I heard one song twice, not sure if that was an accident)… around 12:40. I figured I would have to walk back to my hotel because of the time.
I did the proper thing and waited until the end of the set to go, and Kev came over and gave me a big hug and kissed my hand. He wished me a happy birthday again. “Ronny” also shook my hand, as did “Gene.” I was starting to feel like family in there, but it was time to go.
When I got out to the street, I ran into a couple on bicycles chatting under a street light. They were the only people around.
“Which way do I have to walk to get back to Central Station,” I asked them, dreading the long walk back in the dark and too-quiet neighborhood.
“That way,” the guy said, pointing.
The girl looked at me, “But if you hurry, you can probably catch the last tram. It doesn’t leave until 12:45…”
“I thought the last tram was midnight?” I said.
“Yes, the last trams leave Central Station at midnight,” she said, “but they get out here later before they circle back.”
Amsterdam: full of its own mysterious ways.
I quickly thanked them and started running toward the corner. I kept running, hoping that if the tram came down the track, that I would be on it.
When I was three quarters of the way toward the corner, the tram pulled up. I pushed myself to run faster before the tram doors slammed shut.
I flew into the open front door of the tram, breathing hard, but in just enough time to swipe my card, and take a comfy seat back to Central Station.
Filed under: Blog post, Blues, Music, Travel, Travel Tip | Tagged: Amsterdam, blues, Maloe Melo, music | 2 Comments »