Monday, November 21, 2022

Synästhesie 2022 Day 2

Venue: Kulturbrauerei
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 19 November 2022

Unlike the first day, on Saturday I came right on time. I wanted to catch The Asteroid #4, who were announced as a surprise guest shortly before the festival. They’d just played a show at Urban Spree four days before that I skipped due to my already-busy concert schedule, so I was happy to get a second chance. I was a big fan of their 2020 album Northern Songs and their latest, Tones of the Sparrow (2022), is just about as good. The Kesselhaus stage wasn’t quite ready on time, and the band ended up starting a half-hour late for unclear reasons, but the wait was worth it. Their set was energetic and a warm mesh of psychedelic guitar effects. I was entranced by the drummer, who had more complicated rhythms than I expected. The vocals were mixed too low, but I could still hear the lovely harmonies.

I then tried to see Avishag Cohen Rodrigues at the Local Stage, which turned out to be a rather cramped bar, PANDA platforma, accessible via an inner courtyard. It was full and they were monitoring capacity, so I had to wait in the snow to get in, but thankfully not for long. I couldn’t see anything on the stage, but it sounded like the sort of bedroom electro-industrial music that Merchandise used to make. I was just beginning to make sense of it all when they left the stage.

I returned to the Kesselhaus to see Tess Parks. Her dusky voice and the haunted grooves of her band reminded me of Low and Mazzy Star. I again struggled to understand the vocals and I wasn’t quite able to get into the mood, but I enjoyed it anyway. The music was just a bit too languid and mellow. Normally I’d expect that to work for me, but I found it hard to find a good spot in the crowd and I ended up fairly distracted.

After her set, I tried to go up to the Maschinenhaus to see The Vacant Lots, but I literally could not get in the door. Apparently, no one was monitoring capacity at that time, but they had been at other times and should’ve been then. It was unbelievably packed. Once I realized I couldn’t get in, I tried to turn around, but got stuck against the rest of the crowd still trying to squeeze in. That was deeply uncomfortable. I eventually made it out and again settled in the Kesselhaus to wait for Tempers. I’ve enjoyed the darkwave synthpop of their recordings, but they couldn’t replicate the same energy on stage. They appeared as just a vocalist and a guitarist playing over multiple layers of backing tracks. For a moment I thought they might go in a more early Beach House direction, but they had none of the grace or melody, and they relied too much on their tapes. The sound was good, but they had no energy on stage and didn’t really engage with the audience.

I eventually admitted to myself that I was disappointed and bored, so I left and attempted to see Roomer at the Local Stage. It was again full, and there was a large crowd that wasn’t exactly forming a neat queue, so I didn’t stick around. Instead I went to the Maschinenhaus to see Roller Derby. They played a rather straightforward form of new wave pop. Compared to their recordings, the synth seemed downplayed while the two guitars came to the fore and set the mood. The lyrics and music were a bit too light and soft for my tastes, but they sounded good and they were generally upbeat, which helped me feel better after the series of frustrations I’d been running into.

Then there was Slowdive. Finally! They opened with “Slowdive” from their debut release, the Slowdive EP, and followed with “Avalyn”, the second (and third) track from the same EP. I wondered if this was going to be a gimmick, but they branched out from there. (I wouldn’t’ve minded if they’d played their early EPs straight through!) Their setlists haven’t seemed to vary too much since they reunited in 2014; they didn’t play a single song they hadn’t played when I last saw them in 2017, and there’s quite a bit of overlap with the strange show I saw at Levitation in 2016. But as before, I can’t really complain. Every single one of the songs was great, and the sound was huge and enveloping. The interplay of the shimmering guitars was beautiful, even if it’s quite a challenge to distinguish which performer was actually producing which sound. But that doesn’t bother me: it’s the sum total that matters, and when they reached full swing in “Souvlaki Space Station” and “When the Sun Hits”, it was pure bliss. “Catch the Breeze” was once again far superior on stage than the originally recorded version, and “Golden Hair” was extended as usual into a massive, soaring jam. I had my strongest earbuds in and it was right on the line of being uncomfortably loud, which made for a pleasant full-body experience, but I pitied anyone without hearing protection. The only weak links were again a few times when the drums seemed to stumble and the fact that the vocals, especially Rachel Goswell’s, were too low. I’m aware that that’s rather standard for a shoegaze band, but it does lessen the experience.

Slowdive’s setlist:
01. Slowdive
02. Avalyn
03. Catch the Breeze
04. Crazy for You
05. Souvlaki Space Station
06. Star Roving
07. Blue Skied an’ Clear
08. Sugar for the Pill
09. Alison
10. When the Sun Hits
11. 40 Days
12. Golden Hair [Syd Barrett/James Joyce cover]

Final Thoughts: I’m glad Synästhesie survived the pandemic, that they’re still going strong, and that they pull in a good mix of psychedelic bands from across the spectrum. I think it’s great to stretch their bounds and bring in a somewhat wider range of artists. That said, it’s hard for me to compare my experience this year with the loaded lineup I saw in 2019. There were also four stages that year compared to three this year. Of course personal taste and prioritization make a difference, but even that year, I complained that the second day didn’t live up to the first. This year I had more problems around overcrowding and simply not being able to get into the smaller stages. I might simply be more sensitive than I was three years ago, but I don’t think that’s the whole story. Even taking all that into consideration, I was less impressed than I wish I was. I was bored by too many bands relying too much on backing tracks and not really using the stage to its full effect. And again, the mixing could’ve been better, especially with the vocals. That’s a common complaint for me, especially at festivals, but it really makes a difference for me. I had a good time, but it really could’ve been better for the money.

Scores:
Asteroid #4: A-
Tess Parks: B-
Tempers: C-
Roller Derby: B
Slowdive: A

P.S. Thanks to Luisa!

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Synästhesie 2022 Day 1

Venue: Kulturbrauerei
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 18 November 2022

Synästhesie was the first (and so far, only) large-scale music festival I’ve attended in Germany, and despite the flaws, I had a great time and intended to return. It didn’t happen in 2020, and I ended up returning my ticket in 2021 (due to covid anxiety, not a refusal to get vaccinated!). This time, despite some continued but milder covid anxiety as well as social anxiety and stress, I decided to push myself and give it a try.

I showed up a bit later than intended and found a long line waiting to get their wristbands. Lesson learned: always show up early on the first day when there’s a one-time check-in. And then I had to contend with the coat check being by the Maschinenhaus and Kesselhaus, but half the bands I wanted to see being in Frannz. All the venues are in the Kulturbrauerei complex, but it’s about a five-minute walk between the two main areas, and in temperatures below zero, that was not a fun journey to make four times, especially with the roving hordes of drunken revelers taking advantage of the half-prepared booths for the impending Christmas market that takes place in the same space.

I missed the first act I wanted to see, Emerson Snowe, by a longshot, but was still able to catch Gloria de Oliveira at Frannz. She sang, played keyboards, and triggered the samples, while her rather timid-seeming band played steady bass, minimalist drums, and ethereal guitar. I was reminded of the softer, lighter moments of The Cocteau Twins, particularly in Oliveira’s strong and idiosyncratic voice. I was enjoying the set until they played a couple songs that were so slow and sparse that the crowd got bored and started talking over the music. Admittedly, they were losing my attention as well. They seemed to leave the stage early after apparently misunderstanding the festival staff telling them to play their last song.

I trekked back to the main venue and tried to find a spot in the Kesselhaus to see Tricky. He took his time getting on stage and was accompanied by a highly rhythmic guitarist, a very funky and active drummer, and a vocalist that he let take more parts than he sang himself. In fact, it might’ve been a full ten minutes before he sang or said anything. I loved their grooves but found the set confusing. When Tricky sang, I could barely make out a single word, and he spent so much time simply moving around without apparently doing anything that I felt like I was missing something. On top of that, he seemed not to be having the best night. He cut one song off after just about a minute, and not long later demanded the stage lights to be turned off, leaving him and the band to play in near darkness. It was a weird vibe. I’ve never quite been able to get into Massive Attack or any other trip-hop band, and this didn’t help me get any closer.

I left early and went back to Frannz to see Sonic Boom, AKA Peter Kember, onetime member of Spacemen 3. Despite having just released an album with Panda Bear of Animal Collective, he said he would be playing his 2020 album All Things Being Equal straight through with no encore. I thought he might be joking, but as he started into the third song, I realized he wasn’t. He appeared with just his electronics and a laser light show, so there wasn’t exactly much happening, and I hadn’t found the album particularly captivating, anyway. It was rather crowded and I was bored, so I bailed.

I took a chance and went up to the Maschinenhaus to see Suns of Thyme. It was also quite crowded, but I found myself thoroughly enjoying the music. The band have been on hiatus for six years and this was their first show back together. By no means would that have been apparent from the performance: they were tight and full of energy. They played psychedelic hard rock with great driving grooves. Each of the instrumentalists played solidly and the balance among them was good. I was impressed.

When they finished, I came back downstairs to the Kesselhaus to see Die Nerven. I’d expected them to already be well into their set, but they were at least 20 minutes late. They eventually appeared while Beethoven’s “Ode an die Freude” played over the PA. They launched into “Europa” from their recent self-titled album, and appeared to be playing the album straight through. They were loud, forceful, and taut, which I intially found intimidating. I found myself enjoying the instrumental work more than I’d expected, and the heavy and dark energy about them made more sense when I realized their lyrics were all piercing socio-political critiques. The songs rocked hard and I let myself get into it. It’s been ages since I’ve seen a noise punk band like that!

The band cajoled the audience for being tame and sleepy, but I quickly realized that I was also quite tired, perhaps in part from seeing Stereolab the night before. The intensity took a toll on me, too. So I left early.

Scores:
Gloria de Oliveira: B-
Tricky: C
Suns of Thyme: A-
Die Nerven: B+

Friday, November 18, 2022

Stereolab / Julien Gasc - Live 2022.11.17 Huxleys Neue Welt, Berlin, Germany

On the same night I saw Michael Rother at Synästhesie in 2019, I also saw Stereolab. Around that time, they’d reissued most of their back catalog. Since then, they still haven’t made any new music, but they’ve released two new double-disc editions of the Switched On series – Electrically Possessed last year, mostly covering latter-day obscurities (which I thoroughly enjoyed), and Pulse of the Early Brain this year, which is more of a mixed bag, but still quite good.

I couldn’t figure out if there was an opener, but unfortunately, there was. Now, I’ve seen some great opening bands in my time (I mean, Chicks on Speed opening for Rother just last month was awesome!), so I usually like to take the chance if I haven’t done my research. But just in case, I usually do a bit of research so I can skip things I’m reasonably confident I won’t enjoy (e.g. The Smashing Pumpkins’ 2012 tour opener, whose name I don’t recall and I didn’t even mention in the review!). And in this case, I think the less I say about Julien Gasc, the better. He appeared alone, without even an instrument, and sang lounge pop songs without much movement. I guess he had a decent voice. That’s probably the only positive thing I can say, so I’ll stop there.

Thankfully Stereolab was another matter. They started with the bouncy but somewhat unexciting “Neon Beanbag”, but then picked things up with “Low Fi” from the 1992 EP of the same name, recently reissued (finally!) on the aforementioned Switched On Volume 5: Pulse of the Early Brain. The rendition was relatively tame, but had the classic cozy groove and familiar needling guitar and crunchy keyboard sounds. This set the mold for the night: intermittent album cuts interspersed among a wealth of relative obscurities, most of which can be found on the various Switched On releases. It’s almost like they were trying to do the opposite of their 2019 tour, where their choices formed a bell curve over their discography and mostly focused on the core albums. This time, they overwhelmingly picked from the first few and last few years of their original career. Given the recent releases, that makes sense, although they still haven’t reissued their last few albums. And since every single one of the early tracks that they played was a jam, I’m certainly not gonna complain.

That said, some songs worked better than others. “Harmonium” was already a strong, upbeat rocker, and then Tim Gane tapped a pedal that activated a loud, swirling overdrive that shook the building, reaching levels of intensity that weren’t even present on the recorded version. But while I liked the idea of trying to bring the looping vocal layers of “I Feel the Air (of Another Planet)” to the stage, it didn’t quite fulfill the vision. Bassist Xavier Muñoz Guimera and keyboardist Joe Watson each added vocal parts, but neither of their voices hits the same way Mary Hansen’s did, and both were just a bit too low and dull in the mix. (The mix overall, including the backing vocals, was quite a bit better than the 2019 Synästhesie show, but still not perfect.) Performing the full four-part suite of “Refractions in the Plastic Pulse” was another bold choice, and while I like the twists and turns in the recording, on stage it felt a bit jarring and even tiring by the end. But “U.H.F. - MFP” and “Mountain” were both great rockers in their early style, and “Super-Electric” was another absolute peak performance. The perfect, locked-in groove of all the instruments was a delight to bathe in while Lætitia Sadier charmingly sang about nuclear apocalypse. They extended the song into an improvised jam, then brought it down to almost nothing before tearing into another round of the chorus.

The encore was also well-chosen: the strangely sweet b-side “Allures”, followed by another raucous rocker extolling anarchism (“French Disko”), and then an extended space jam. Ironically, “Simple Headphone Mind” was originally Nurse with Wound’s cut-up reworking of “The Long Hair of Death”. But they didn’t play “Long Hair”. They played “Simple Headphone Mind”, including the slightly disturbing, time-stretched vocal samples repeating the title. It started as a kosmische jam based around Watson’s synth noodling and guitar riffing from Gane and Sadier, but increasingly got wilder and weirder, eventually culminating in a heavy, driving version of the final section of “Excursions into ‘Oh, A-Oh’”. That was an excellent way to end the show!

I wouldn’t could call Stereolab’s performance incredible, but it was impressive and a lot of fun to watch them dance through the many sides of their career, even if I wish they’d’ve played literally anything from Mars Audiac Quintet (1994), still my favorite of their albums. The musicianship was great, and the balance of styles was well-managed. They gave time to their more formalistic and precise pop experimentation as well as their rawer bursts of energy and protest, although I wish they’d been a bit noisier and less shy with the distortion pedals. I imagine that a casual fan might have been a bit confused by the scattershot approach to their discography and sound, but for a dedicated listener, this was quite a treat.

Setlist:
01. Neon Beanbag
02. Low Fi
03. Eye of the Volcano
04. Refractions in the Plastic Pulse
05. U.H.F. - MFP
06. Miss Modular
07. Mountain
08. Delugeoisie
09. Harmonium
10. I Feel the Air (of Another Planet)
11. Pack Yr Romantic Mind
12. Super-Electric

Encore:
13. Allures
14. French Disko
15. Simple Headphone Mind → Excursions into “Oh, A-Oh” [second half]

Scores:
Stereolab: B+
Julien Gasc: F

P.S. Thanks to Alyssa and Uwe!

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Michael Rother / Chicks on Speed - Live 2022.10.26 Betonhalle, Silent Green, Berlin, Germany

I saw Michael Rother shortly before the pandemic at Synästhesie and thoroughly enjoyed his set, so I didn’t hesitate to buy a ticket to this show, especially since it was billed as “Michael Rother & Friends Celebrate 50 Years Of NEU!”, and it took place in a relatively new venue I’d been curious about since it opened. Silent Green is a cultural space in a former crematorium, one of the first to be opened in former Prussia. Well, it turns out the show was actually in the Betonhalle, which is a new construction next to the crematorium. Still, for being a concrete hall (that’s the translation, and it’s literal), the space was fairly cool.

I’d been busy and hadn’t paid close attention to who the guests might be until the day of the show. I only really knew Stephen Morris (of Joy Division and New Order) but I was intrigued by the rest and looking forward to some interesting collaborations. Well, my first surprise was that Chicks on Speed appeared as the opening act. Well, actually, the real first surprise was that they had a member of their entourage, Jeremiah Day, come out and instruct the audience on some qigong and contact improvisation to help us rid ourselves of anxieties. He said normally he did these exercises with the band to get them in the right mood, but they asked him to do it for the crowd. That was actually kind of fun.

And then Chicks on Speed came out. These days they are nominally Melissa Logan and Alex Murray-Leslie, but another person I read as a woman stood behind a laptop and some other gadgets, and Jeremiah also came out to add vocals on one song. Melissa and Alex sang and spoke their way through several songs in fairly fast succession, and the breaks weren’t always so clear. Their music seemed almost entirely pre-recorded, although it was unclear to me what the third person may have contributed. At first I found their vibe chaotic and bizarre. Then I suddenly found myself entranced by their politics, wit, and unconventional grooves. They were loose, but they were incredibly fun to behold. They played two then-unreleased songs, including one titled “Two Songs” to support to release of Julian Assange from prison, which was released two days after the show. I thoroughly enjoyed their a capella version of Delta 5’s classic “Mind Your Own Business”, with words humorously adapted for the contemporary era. Their final number was a version of their biggest “hit”, “We Don’t Play Guitars”, which included Alex playing a high heel shoe outfitted with guitar strings to create a mess of noise.

[Chicks on Speed. Note the high-heel “guitar” by the amp on the left.]

Michael Rother got right down to business and had little to say, preferring as usual to let the music convey his messages. He was again accompanied by Franz Bargmann on rhythm guitar and Hans Lampe on drums, and they kicked off a setlist that seemed rather familiar to what I’d seen three years ago. The mix was a bit muddy, though, and the crowd got very pushy. Nonetheless, the music was stellar. Rother’s signature shimmering guitar blaze and the insistent motorik beats kept me floating. The first real highlight was Yann Tiersen coming out to play synth on “Sonderangebot” and “Weissensee”, which were medleyed just like on Neu! (1972). Tiersen’s contributions were great; he added tasteful touches that added flavor and detail but didn’t obscure the core vibe. I was disappointed to see him leave.

The next surprise was Vittoria Maccabruni coming out to sing on “Negativland”, a song that I’ve only ever heard performed in instrumental arrangements. Unfortunately, she was practically inaudible. I liked the idea, and it sounded like it would’ve worked, but I just could not hear her! I caught just a few words here and there and that was it. I could barely even catch the melody. She stayed out after that and switched the synthesizer for three songs, but again, I could barely hear her contributions! I don’t know what the deal was, especially since Tierson hadn’t had any problems. I could just barely make out some bits of her synth, but they were incoherent. The songs in question were a bit too monotonous and static, so without her parts, I found myself mildly bored and increasingly distracted by the pushy crowd. I wondered if they would play something from their collaborative album, As Long as the Light (2022), but it didn't seem that they did. Besides, most of the album is minimal downbeat techno, with Rother’s parts relegated to texture and soundscape rather than showcasing his signature sound like the live set did.

And that was about it. I never actually saw Stephen Morris until I checked the website again and saw he was listed as a DJ! Sure enough, he was still over at the turntables. Admittedly I had been enjoying the house music more than I usually do, but it hadn’t really occurred to me that he wouldn’t be performing with Rother on stage. I also found it odd that Chicks on Speed had vocally expressed a desire to perform with Rother, but they did not come back out. That would’ve been awesome, although I have no idea what they would’ve done together.

I came away feeling rather disappointed. I’d enjoyed most of Rother’s set, and yet my expectations had been set high, both by the last show I saw and by the marketing as a Neu! tribute. He did a slightly higher concentration of Neu! songs than last time, but it was overall quite similar, and he again didn’t play any of the songs that more obviously bear the mark of his erstwhile bandmate Klaus Dinger. I mean, he recently appeared on stage with Iggy Pop to do a truly inspired take on “Hero”, and I would’ve loved to see something like that. Alas. I’m surprised to report that I think I enjoyed the Chicks on Speed set more than Rother’s. I think my experience was all about expectations: I was hyped up by the marketing, and I don’t think I quite got what I was sold. Meanwhile, I didn’t even know Chicks on Speed would be performing, and their set was entrancing and jubilant.

[Michael Rother with Vittoria Maccabruni.]

Michael Rother’s setlist (approximate):
01. Neuschnee
02. Isi
03. Seeland
04. Veteranissimo [Harmonia song]
05. Deluxe (Immer wieder) [Harmonia song]
06. Sonderangebot → Weissensee [with Yann Tiersen on synth]
07. Zyklodrom
08. Hallogallo
09. Negativland [with Vittoria Maccabruni on vocals]
10. Groove 139 [with Vittoria on synth]
11. Dino [Harmonia song, with Vittoria on synth]
12. E-Musik [with Vittoria on synth]
13. Im Glück

Note that I might’ve mixed up a few things, and the trio near the end with Vittoria on synth kind of blurred together, so I might’ve gotten them wrong. I also didn’t label the Neu! songs since most of them were!

Chicks on Speed’s setlist (incomplete):
1. Shooting from the Hip
2. Two Songs
3. Mind Your Own Business [Delta 5 cover]
4. Utopia
5. We Don’t Play Guitars

Scores:
Michael Rother: B-
Chicks on Speed: A-

Thursday, October 6, 2022

Godspeed You! Black Emperor / Tashi Dorji - Live 2022.09.28 Astra Kulturhaus, Berlin, Germany

When Godspeed first scheduled this show for February, I passed on it. I wasn’t feeling safe enough to go. But then they rescheduled it, and with not much else on my concert calendar, I decided to give it a go. Thankfully it wasn’t sold out, but it was quite full.

I was a big fan of their latest album, G_d’s Pee at State’s End! (2021) as well as the one before it, Luciferian Towers (2017). I mean, they really don’t have a bad album (or EP), and somehow they just keep coming. The last time I saw them was in 2015 (in Austin) when they were touring for Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress, although they played most of what would become Luciferian Towers as well. They don’t seem to have continued the trend anymore of previewing new work in concert years before it appears on record, but that’s okay. No one’s gonna complain with anything from their back catalog!

First, though, the opener: Tashi Dorji. He appeared alone with just his electric guitar. He played one extended piece (a little over a half-hour) that sounded mostly improvised, although it may have contained elements or motifs from more solidified works. At first, I thought he might move in a metal-leaning, riff-heavy direction, but he got increasingly experimental and unconventional as he progressed. His sound and style were familiar to me from the noise scene that I was once interested in and loosely involved with in St. Louis. I heard and saw bits of Sonic Youth in the prepared instrument manipulations and unusual techniques. A few sections used loops to build a soundbed or occasionally a hint of rhythm over which Tashi continued to improvise. Rarely was there something approaching melodic content, and when there was, it seemed to appear almost as if by accident. It was a rather dissonant performance, which made it more than a bit challenging. It certainly wasn’t boring, but it wasn’t entirely captivating, either. It felt a bit aimless or directionless despite the dynamics, and I have no idea what, if anything, was intended to be conveyed.

Thankfully Godspeed You! Black Emperor didn’t make us wait too long before they emerged, although at first it was just Thierry Amar on double bass and Sophie Trudeau on violin, playing a rather minimal piece. The projectionist (presumably either Karl Lemieux or Philippe Leonard, but I’m not sure which) started the scratchy imagery that occasionally yielded the word “Hope”, cluing us in that this was an iteration of their apparently now standard introductory “Hope Drone”. The rest of the band slowly shuffled out and picked up instruments. They kept it fairly restrained and didn’t quite let it build like most of their larger works.

As the drone wound down, they slid into the opening guitar riff of “Job’s Lament / First of the Last Glaciers” from their latest album. They played it fairly faithfully to the album, as they also did with “Cliffs Gaze”. Both nonetheless sounded huge and especially dramatic in the live rendition. The projections for both showed scenes of winter snow in the city (presumably Montreal?). The scenes were sparse and quiet without much human activity. During “Glaciers”, the imagery gradually shifted to springtime and more shots of nature, but in “Cliffs Gaze”, the imagery concentrated around the juxtaposition of graves and shots of of piles from a crumbling pier. Both seemed to presage environmental catastrophe.

The rest of the songs were scattered from their back catalog, and they played with the textures more and allowed them to deviate from the recorded versions. “Anthem for No State” (from Luciferian Towers) is already a classic, and its political urgency felt stronger than ever. It was accompanied by imagery of stock exchanges and buildings, which I believe had been used to accompany the other major piece from its album, “Bosses Hang”, when I saw them perform it in 2015.

“World Police and Friendly Fire” (from Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven, 2000) and “The Sad Mafioso” (from their debut, F♯ A♯ ∞, 1997) were both powerful and perhaps even further expanded and more adventurous than their studio versions. The latter’s video accompaniment included updated international protest footage, including Black Lives Matter protestors as well as shots with banners in German. As it drew to a close, the band seemed to seque into “Drugs in Tokyo” (which also followed it on the 1998 CD reissue). After the band slowly left the stage one by one, they left behind them a series of looped drones. (Even the projectionist left a slide loop running.) After a while, bassist Mauro Pezzente and drummer/percussionist/glockspielist Timothy Herzog came back out and manipulated the various amplifiers and pedal boards for a while. They slowly turned off each board and amp as they moved around, eventually reducing the layers down to silence. As per usual, there was no encore in the traditional sense, unless you count the loop manipulation.

This show was great. Unlike the last time I saw them, the mix was superb. I could usually distinctly hear all eight instrumentalists, although it was easy to let their sounds intermingle into an awesome whole. The ups and downs and subtle curves of their songs carried me along and conveyed the heaviness of their concerns. I was surprised to realize how much of the melody was carried by Trudeau’s violin, and also that she occasionally used guitar effects on her instrument, such as light phasing on “Anthem for No State”. Efrim Menuck’s bulldozer guitar may introduce and lead several songs, but it’s the interplay with the other guitarists (Mike Moya and David Bryant) that make it cohere and blossom. Similarly, the dynamics between the two bassists (Amar and Pezzente) and the two drummer/percussionists (Aidan Girt and Herzog) yielded a harmonic and rhythmic complexity that isn’t necessarily obvious at first glance, but unfolds with careful listening (and a good sound system). I suppose that’s the appeal of the band: they sound huge and epic, but the subtlety and finesse in their compositions is what keeps me listening again and again.

Setlist:
1. Hope Drone
2. Job’s Lament → First of the Last Glaciers
3. Anthem for No State
4. Cliffs Gaze
5. World Police and Friendly Fire
6. The Sad Mafioso → Drugs in Tokyo

Scores:
Godspeed You! Black Emperor: A
Tashi Dorji: C

[The best shot I could get with their anti-theatrical lighting and my old phone.]

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Anfängerfehler - Anfängerfehler (EP, 2022)


Check out this new EP from Anfängerfehler! This is Tim Howard of Soltero’s German-language project. The name translates to “beginner’s mistake(s)”, alluding to Tim’s journey of learning German. The EP features three lovely, carefully produced songs full of wistful atmosphere and subtle wit. It’s a pleasant listen even if you can’t understand the words, but all the better if you do. I can’t claim any credit for the recordings, but I played these three songs live with Tim at the Soltero show back in March. Sooner or later we’ll get another chance to present them to you in person, but until then, enjoy the EP!

Tracklist:
1. Ich atme zum ersten Mal
2. Weihnachten ist vorbei
3. Strohwitwer

Sunday, September 4, 2022

Bauhaus / Hope - Live 2022.08.22 Zitadelle Spandau, Berlin, Germany

[Bauhaus.]

Finally. I finally saw Bauhaus. They are one of the first bands I got into as a young person that I still enjoy today; I bought Gotham in 2002. And 20 years later, I finally got to see them live. Apparently, I got really lucky, because they’ve canceled their North American tour dates due to Peter Murphy entering rehab.

But first was Hope, a local Berlin band. They played a very sparse and minimal take on darkwave. Maybe I could even call it goth rock, but it didn’t really rock. The guitarist’s tone was very much in the spirit of Daniel Ash, albeit even more reliant on heavy effects and atmosphere over riffs or chords. I don’t think there was a single song that had something I’d label a “solo”. The musicianship was good, but it was so vague that I found it rather unexciting. The last song finally broke out of the mold and really picked up some steam as the vocalist repeated “don’t touch me”. That was powerful. But of the rest I can hardly remember anything.

[Hope.]

Bauhaus took their time coming out to the stage, and I hadn’t expected an opening band, so I (and seemingly most of the crowd) were a bit impatient. The lights eventually dropped and a loud drone could be heard, akin to Ash’s guitar buzz at the start of “Dark Entries”, but alas, that was just a tape, and it went on for something like 15 minutes. It seemed like some sort of endurance test!

When they finally did come out, the used their typically stark and theatrical white lighting and thick fog machines to play with the shadows. David J wore his typical attire of a suit and sunglasses. Ash had a sort of wild mohawk and flamboyant boas over sparkling clothes. Peter Murphy looked like royalty, with a bald head, a sparkling polka dot shirt, and a freaking scepter. Kevin Haskins was the only one who seemed remarkably conventional, and he quietly took his spot behind the kit. Murphy immediately owned the stage and exuded a commanding presence. Ash tried to showboat some, but it didn’t work the same, and his somewhat more macho energy didn’t quite match the vibe. (Nor did it distract.)

Their choice of opener, “Rosegarden Funeral of Sores”, was perhaps unexpected, but from there they ran through the superb opening triple salvo from In the Flat Field (1980). I wondered if they were going to do the whole album, much as Murphy and J did on their joint 2018 tour, which I caught in Berlin. Thankfully, they diverged, although they still did “Spy in the Cab”, one of their weakest songs, for reasons I cannot fathom. In fact, the setlists were quite similar, just rearranged. The duo actually played more songs in 2018, although mostly just the rest of the album. Only “Dark Entries” (which ironically was the set closer) and “Sister Midnight” were unique to this. Apparently “All We Ever Wanted Was Everything” was on the setlist as second encore, and I even saw a stagehand bring out an acoustic guitar, but the band did not return to play it. That would’ve been such a delight!

Other than the new cover, they really didn’t take any risks. The vibe was familiar, the songs were the same, and the staging was unchanged. I don’t blame them for not playing their one new recording, “Drink the New Wine”, since it was an exquisite corpse-style studio creation, but their catalog is quite varied. They had a few extra instruments and tricks (mostly just things for Murphy to jam on during instrumentals like the dubby outro of “She’s in Parties”), but they also relied on a few samples. That wasn’t particularly distracting, but it occurred to me that the noise running through “Adrenalin” is one of its defining features. It’s an unusually static song for the band. There’s just one sound the whole way through with hardly any dynamics. Considering that it was the only song from their last album (Go Away White, 2008) that they played, it felt like an incongruous choice.

But what can I say? They’re still really powerful on stage. You can hardly tell their age. Murphy’s voice has gotten better over time, if anything. They weren’t as tight as they could’ve been, but they certainly weren’t loose, and I’d still say they nailed the songs across the board. They’ve got their shtick figured out. Even if it is predictable, it’s thoroughly enjoyable.

Setlist:
01. Rosegarden Funeral of Sores [John Cale cover]
02. Double Dare
03. In the Flat Field
04. A God in an Alcove
05. In Fear of Fear
06. Spy in the Cab
07. She’s in Parties
08. Kick in the Eye
09. Bela Lugosi’s Dead
10. Silent Hedges
11. The Passion of Lovers
12. Stigmata Martyr
13. Dark Entries

Encore:
14. Sister Midnight [Iggy Pop cover]
15. Adrenalin
16. Telegram Sam [T. Rex cover] →
17. Ziggy Stardust [David Bowie cover]

Scores:
Bauhaus: B+
Hope: C+

P.S. In my last post, I griped about my recent concertgoing experiences and openly wondered if seeing live music was going to continue to be a pleasurable hobby for me. I’m happy to say this concert was a refreshing return to something akin to “normal”. I still got pushed around and smoked upon more than I’d like, but generally people were much more chill and respectful. It probably helped that it was at an awesome venue (It’s a medieval fortress! With bats at sunset! I still can’t get over that!) and it wasn’t nearly as crowded as the Patti Smith show in June at the same venue. I wonder if the overwhelming countercultural orientation of the crowd had an impact. At any rate, it’s always fun to admire the goth fashions!

[Bauhaus again.]