Saturday, April 6, 2019

Palais Schaumburg - Live 2019.04.05 Volksbühne, Berlin, Germany

Palais Schaumburg came to my attention thanks to the excellent Verschwende deine Jugend oral history and compilation. Their two songs on the album, "Telephon" and "Wir bauen eine neue Stadt", are both unconventional, lyrically confusing, melodically simple, rhythmically creative, and full of weird sound effects and synthesizers. I bought their second album, Lupa (1982), while living in Frankfurt almost ten years ago, and I love its playful, funky, exploratory variety. Once I finally found a copy of their self-titled debut (1981), I was actually quite disappointed. The two tracks I already knew were as good as ever, but the rest felt like it was just second-rate material that was weird for the sake of being weird. Their third and final album, Parlez-Vous Schaumburg? (1984), is a third-rate excuse for dated synthpop. Despite the mixed track record, I thought it would be worth giving their show a chance.

Artist: Palais Schaumburg
Venue: Volksbühne
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 05 April 2019

The current incarnation of Palais Schaumburg is the same as the quartet that recorded their debut album: vocalist/guitarist/synthesist Holger Hiller (who left shortly after the first album), synthesist/trumpeter Thomas Fehlmann (the only constant member), bassist/vocalist Timo Blunck, and drummer Ralf Hertwig. Despite their marketing language, this is not actually the original lineup; that would include drummer FM Einheit (who ultimately spent more time with Abwärts and Einstürzende Neubauten in particular).

For whatever reason, the band only played songs from the first album, the preceding singles, and a few new compositions that sounded a lot like the old ones. This restricted their palette substantially, and other than the two aforementioned "hits", few of the songs lived up to that standard. Most were in the same vein of dada bizarreness, but lacked any compelling elements of substance. Some were played with an aggressive rhythm that worked up the energy of the crowd, but the primary musical content was just repetitive bass and drum parts. The only other highlights were some sparser, spookier elements and of course the delightful array of synthesizer noises. Oddly, for the second encore, they just repeated "Wir bauen eine neue Stadt" in the same arrangement.

I suppose I should've known that if I didn't like half of the band's recorded material, I might not like the live show. I'd hoped for something more in the style of their second album, but they steered completely clear of that. The charm of their obtuseness has a limit and they reached it quickly. It might've helped if I could've understood the vocals better, but the mix was subpar. It also didn't help that a photographer spent half the show wandering around the stage taking pictures with a bright flash. All that said, I'm curious to see what comes of their new material. If they do release a new album, I'd still give it a chance!

Score: C

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