Saturday, August 31, 2019

Choriner Straßenfest 2019

I happen to live on a street with an annual Straßenfest (street party). It's pretty awesome. I've been to a number of Straßenfeste, Volksfeste, Dorffeste, and so on over the years, and they usually feature music, but I rarely pay enough attention or feel inspired enough to write anything up. At last year's Choriner Straßenfest, I was mostly focused on hanging out with my fellow attendees. This year, I paid a bit more attention to the music.

Event: Choriner Straßenfest 2019
Artists: Koueme / Bando Berlin / Bolschewistische Kurkapelle Schwarz-Rot
Venue: Various stages on Choriner Straße
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 24 August 2019

I still didn't see every act of the day, and there was karaoke on the corner with Oderberger Straße for most of the evening. I'm only going to cover what I saw. First was Koueme, an African singer-songwriter with just a guitar, set up under the awning of Buchhandlung Mundo Azul. He switched between English, German, and at least one African language. His songs were pleasant but plain. One of his final numbers was a cover of "Let It Be", which he was able to do justice to, but I preferred his own songs. Unfortunately, his last number was a bit overshadowed by the soundcheck from the main stage.

After taking a break, I went back out later to eat an awesome saffron rice dish from a Persian food truck and listen to Bando Berlin. Their tagline was "Hardcore Percussion / Industrial bis Worldmusic", and that's a pretty accurate description. Their only instruments were large barrels, or what are called "drums" in the business world, and they were loud. They were tight, though, and they varied their rhythms and style just enough to keep it interesting. If they had played any longer, I probably would have been over it. The rest of audience (or at least those for whom it wasn't too loud) seemed to be loving it. I guess all you need really is just a good beat.

After another break, I went back out and saw most of the set from the Bolschewistische Kurkapelle Schwarz-Rot. I recalled that they also played last year, and they are apparently an institution. They formed in 1986 in East Berlin, when playing songs as socially and politically critical as they did probably wasn't looked too fondly upon. Their members mostly played traditional brass instruments (as one would expect from a proper Kurkapelle) but mixed in guitar, bass, and drums. Similarly, their material was a balance of traditional folk, light classical, jazz, and modern alternative music. Their strangest song was a cover of "Der Fuehrer's Face", which I only later realized was an anti-Nazi song from the Donald Duck propaganda short film. The highlight was a high-charged cover of Ideal's "Rote Liebe".

Not bad for a party right outside my window!

[Bolschewistische Kurkapelle Schwarz-Rot.]

P.S. Thanks to Alyssa, Isabelle, Silly, Uwe, Rachel, and Kamyon!

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Tame Impala / Blood Orange / Yeasayer - Live 2019.08.13 Max-Schmeling-Halle, Berlin, Germany

I'm still only marginally aware of the connection between this concert and the Musikexpress magazine, but whatever, they threw a birthday party and invited three strong acts to perform on one stage. Calling it a festival is probably a bit ambitious, but whatever.

Event: 50 Jahre Musikexpress – Das Festival
Artists: Tame Impala / Blood Orange / Yeasayer
Venue: Max-Schmeling-Halle
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 13 August 2019

Yeasayer immediately gave me a Devo vibe, although it might've just been their focused stage presence and the bassist's red tracksuit. There was something mechanical, bizarre, entrancing, absurd, and precise about them as well, and the way they took R&B and funk grooves and mutated them into something danceable but unexpected also reminded me of Devo's famous streak of successful reinterpretations. None of it would have worked if the songwriting and performance hadn't been solid, though, and I was quite impressed.

The high points were the fretless bass, which was fluid, expressive, all over the place, and yet still always perfectly tight, and the vocals, which were almost always sung in harmony. All three core members sang, and they consistently nailed their parts, even when some segments featured minimal instrumental accompaniment. Before their last song, "Ambling Alp", they claimed that the lyrics mentioned the namesake of the venue, Max Schmeling, and I thought they might be joking, but it really does. That song also featured a heavy synth-like effect on the bass that rendered it completely unrecognizable, and it even featured a wild but superb solo! Meanwhile, they had psychedelic and frequently creepy projections mostly using images of the members' heads while presumably screaming.

[Yeasayer. I unfortunately didn't get a good picture of the projections.]

Yeasayer's setlist (thanks to!):
01. 2080
02. People I Loved
03. 24-Hour Hateful Live!
04. Fluttering in the Floodlights
05. O.N.E.
06. Ecstatic Baby
07. Ambling Alp

Devonté Hynes' Blood Orange continued the trend of vocal prowess and harmonies, and took the R&B to another level, but otherwise was quite the opposite of Yeasayer. His sound was sparse and wispy despite the sizeable backing band (guitar/keyboards, bass, drums, sax, and two backing vocalists), and the mood was decidedly chill, casual, and thoroughly non-aggressive. The music was always danceable but still textured and nuanced enough for several of the performers to take brief solos. Hynes played a lot of keyboards but also frequently picked up a guitar and even busted out some decent lead bits. Most of his video projections were just people grooving, hanging out, and being stylish, although several inexplicably featured amateur drag racing footage. I appreciated the vulnerability and queerness that was otherwise present.

[Blood Orange.]

Blood Orange's setlist (thanks to!):
01. Champagne Coast
02. Dark & Handsome
03. Saint
04. Augustine
05. Jewellery
06. It Is What It Is
07. Hope
08. Holy Will
09. Losing You [Solange cover]
10. You're Not Good Enough
11. Negro Swan
12. Happiness
13. Today

And then finally came Tame Impala, obviously the biggest draw for me. After being blown away by their thoroughly psychedelic set at Levitation in 2015, I was a bit let down by their lighter, more dance-oriented set later in the same year at Austin City Limits Festival. Currents (also 2015) hasn't really grown on me in the meantime, and their only other releases since then have been the deliberately pop-oriented singles "Patience" and "Borderline" earlier this year (okay, and a cover of "Confide in Me" on a Triple J compilation). The trend here is clear, and it doesn't really speak to me. But knowing that the band are supposedly working on a fourth record, and still holding out hope that they'll move in a more interesting direction, I had to take the chance.

[Tame Impala.]

Unfortunately, my hopes were unfounded. Most of the set consisted of Currents songs, and along with the two new singles, the overwhelming sound was dance-heavy and poppy. There's absolutely nothing wrong with making dance-friendly music, but it came at the cost of the complexity of their arrangements and their free, improvisational jams. There was still a taste of psychedelia, even in the pop, but the guitar jam bliss was restricted. Other than "Sestri Levante", which is at least six years old and mostly a fixed part of "Mind Mischief" at this point, the only other real jam or improvisation was at the end of "Apocalypse Dreams". That was wisely chosen as a set closer, and it was probably the highlight of the night, but it was the only moment like that. (By comparison, at that 2015 Levitation set, at least half the songs had improvisational sections or extended instrumental surprises.)

It's not like their newer work is bad, though, and they thankfully skipped "'Cause I'm a Man", but I felt like the band were playing something static and pre-programmed, even though it appeared to be almost entirely live. There was a rigidity to it, like they no longer had the flexibility to throw in surprises. Again, a few songs like "Elephant" had brief moments of a diversion from the recorded version, but they were the same tricks as four years ago, and infrequent and brief enough to be easily overlooked. The presence of two drumsets and a separate percussion rig with congas led me to hope there might be some rhythm section workouts, but oddly the same drummer just switched from one set to the other for no apparent reason, and I only saw a guest percussionist at the other rig for one song ("Patience" if I recall correctly).

The worst crime was that the low end was overwhelmingly over-biased. I never thought I'd complain about the bass being too loud, but if this is what Kevin Parker meant when he's talked about trying to get his music played in clubs, then count me out. All texture and subtlety was lost in favor of earth-shaking low end vibrations. This was particularly apparent on the pre-recorded tapes played as the band walked out at the start and again for the encore. In both cases, the recordings were deafeningly and headache-inducingly loud in the low end.

On one hand, I appreciated that the band brought out "Led Zeppelin", a b-side from Lonerism (2012), but on the other, it was the only curveball from their back catalog in the whole set. Otherwise, all five other pre-Currents tracks were also played at both shows I saw in 2015. What happened to the rest of their songs?

If there was one particularly fun element, it was probably that for once I was down in the middle of the pit, and the laser light show was a delight from that perspective. Mixed with the heavy smoke machines, it made for an oil-on-water type of effect above our heads. At three points in the show, they released confetti cannons upon us, and combined with the lights, it made for some cool visual effects. I'll ignore the wastefulness and the cost of cleanup for the present, and I'm well aware that none of these tricks are new or unique to Tame Impala, but it was my first time experiencing them from such a central location, and that was admittedly enjoyable.

[The smoke and light effects.]

I'm still curious to hear where Tame Impala goes next, and I'm not sure I'll be so quick to jump on concert tickets next time around, but we'll see what happens!

Tame Impala's setlist (thanks for for the taped track names):
01. List of People (To Try and Forget About) [Tape]
02. Let It Happen
03. Patience
04. Led Zeppelin
05. The Moment
06. Mind Mischief → Sestri Levante
07. Nangs
08. Elephant
09. Feels Like We Only Go Backwards
10. Borderline
11. Love/Paranoia
12. Yes I'm Changing
13. Why Won't You Make Up Your Mind?
14. Eventually
15. Apocalypse Dreams

16. Mutant Gossip [Tape]
17. The Less I Know the Better
18. New Person, Same Old Mistakes

Yeasayer: A-
Blood Orange: B
Tame Impala: B-

P.S. This show was originally scheduled to take place in Parkbühne Wuhlheide, a large open-air amphitheater in the former East side. I've never been and was looking forward to it, but it was moved due to the demands of Tame Impala's light show. Oh well. Hard to complain about a venue that's walking distance from my apartment, though.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Reconstructing the Velvet Underground's Lost Album (Again)

Nine years ago, I did one of those silly things where I tried to revise history to make my own convenient compilation of a large, disorganized body of work that is hard to track down in full. In this case, it was the "lost album" by The Velvet Underground from circa 1969. Since that time, a few new reissues and archival releases have been released, and I've tracked down a few other stray versions I hadn't been able to find before. I finally took the time to re-evaluate all of the available versions, and as a result, I've expanded my original commentary and updated the playlist to account for my new preferences. See what you think!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Boogarins / Carnivore Club - Live 2019.07.30 Kantine am Berghain, Berlin, Germany

Amazingly, Boogarins were back in Berlin after playing here just last November!

Artist: Boogarins
Venue: Kantine am Berghain
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 30 July 2019
Opening Act: Carnivore Club

01. [Unknown]
02. As Chances
03. Lá Vem a Morte [Instrumental]
04. Foimal
05. Tempo [Extended]
06. Tardança
07. Invenção
08. Te Quero Longe
09. Passeio
10. LVCO 4
11. Polução Noturna
12. Lucifernandis
13. Auchma [Extended] →
14. Sombra ou Dúvida

15. Dislexia ou Transe
16. Onda Negra

Carnivore Club appeared unassuming at first: just two musicians, one on guitar and one behind a keyboard. I got a heavy 80s synthpop vibe, but they had a slight extra edge in that the keyboardist hit a drum pad for the snare. The rest of the percussion and some of the rhythm parts appeared to be programmed, but that one bit of live percussion made a difference. They reminded me of the early, darker side of New Order. However, their penultimate song was notably more pop, and I think they were on to something with that one. It featured sampled vocal harmonies, which was a bit awkward in that it felt like karaoke, but it helped give the impression that the song was even bigger than it was. Their final song was built around a metal riff, but unfortunately they didn't do much with it. I liked their willingness to play around with their sound, though, and I think they have some real promise.

[Carnivore Club.]

Since their last show in Berlin, Boogarins released their fourth album, Sombrou Dúvida. It continues the electronic experimentation of Lá Vem a Morte (2017) but is a bit less chaotic and more diverse in sound and rhythm. They played most of the new album as well as about half of Lá Vem a Morte. Despite the new material, the concert felt fairly similar to the previous one, but considering how good that show was, that's not at all a bad thing.

In fact, this show may have been even better. The more expansive sonic palette of the new material broadened the horizon of the live show. Benke Ferraz sang lead on more songs, and even bassist Raphael Vaz took the lead on "Polução Noturna". Vaz spent even more time playing keyboards than before, again widening the spectrum of the band. The band didn't try to reproduce the sample-heavy cacophony of songs like "Lá Vem a Morte", which was performed as a brief, guitar-oriented instrumental that merely linked other songs together. Instead, they relied on the individual virtuosity of each member and an appreciation for basic guitar and synthesizer effects to drive their sound.

In fact, that method of merging songs and subtly segueing from one to the next was a hallmark of the show. If you weren't keeping track, it was easy to overlook these transitions and assume the band were playing long, continuous jams. And in a sense, they were. The pacing of the slower, sparser songs between the heavy workouts was such that when one joined to the next it often felt natural enough that it could've been written and recorded that way in the first place.

That said, while most of their songs featured some improvisation, it was the three older songs that were most drastically rearranged into extended jams. "Tempo" began especially quiet and open with long pauses between Dinho Almeida's individual lines. He was clearly just having fun and teasing us. The song still inevitably broke into the bigger choruses, and at some point it finally launched into a wild jam. "Lucifernandis", again the only song they played from their debut album, As Plantas Que Curam (2013), was another starting point for an extended jam sequence that was mostly based around "Auchma", originally the brief closing number from Manual (2015), but regularly rearranged into a much longer and heavier exercise.


Even if the new songs weren't quite as jam-oriented, the guitarwork from Boogarins is always solid, and there was even more room for Vaz and drummer Ynaiã Benthroldo to contribute to the sound. The newer songs are more fully-formed and rounded out; instead of just two guitarists exploring their instruments, the collaboration of all four members is more readily apparent. As a result, they sound big, pulsing, groovy, and always full of surprises.

Carnivore Club: B
Boogarins: A

P.S. Thanks to Jochen!