Saturday, February 29, 2020

Hans-Joachim Roedelius & Arnold Kasar - Live 2020.02.27 Roter Salon, Berlin, Germany

Thirteen months ago, I saw Hans-Joachim Roedelius play a small, intimate show in which he told stories, read from his book, and DJed CDs more than he actually played anything live. I loved his wit and outlook, so I enjoyed it despite that it was hardly a “concert” in the traditional sense. Hence, this concert was an easy sell to me: Roedelius had teamed up with pianist Arnold Kasar, which presumably meant they’d be playing “real” live music, which is exactly what I wanted more of. Plus, the show was at the Roter Salon, a side wing of the Volksbühne (which I’d visited and admired last year at the Torstraßen Festival). The Volksbühne is a great venue for plenty of reasons (beautiful, reasonably priced tickets, close to my apartment), and the Roter Salon packs all of that into a smaller, more intimate, cozier experience.

The show was scheduled a bit late, and started later than that, but there was no opener. In the meantime, I watched both Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Arnold Kasar wander through the crowd and chat with their friends. Eventually they got on stage, and to my surprise, Roedelius sat at the grand piano while Kasar stood at a table with a keyboard and various electronics. I’d rather expected the opposite, considering that Roedelius was the aging synthesizer pioneer and Kasar the younger, classically trained pianist!

They started into a peaceful piece that continually evolved through phases as the two musicians changed instruments and techniques. Roedelius mostly played piano but also worked a laptop to control samples and possibly a synthesizer. Kasar played keyboards, synthesizers, some effects boards, and electric piano. The piece was meditative and contemplative yet fluid and expressive. The highlight was something of a piano duel accompanied by a rather screechy violin sample. It was completely non-competitive and non-aggressive, yet fascinating to watch the two musicians complement each other’s parts and build around them. Despite the calming effect it all had on me, though, the crowd seemed a bit restless as the work carried on for about 45 minutes.

Kasar gave a brief address to thank us for coming despite any adversities or viruses, and then him and Roedelius sat back down to perform a shorter, more energetic piece with both musicians on pianos. Roedelius played rapidly rolling appeggios while Kasar added textures. The blend of the traditional piano with the electronic added some nice harmonic variation. I was hoping for another extended work, but it had a more conventional pop song length.

Roedelius spoke up and implied that that was the end, but of course he agreed to an encore. First, Kasar sat down at the grand piano while Roedelius leaned on it adoringly. Kasar’s piece was sprightly, intricate, fanciful, and more in the traditional style of a solo piano performance. Then they swapped places and Roedelius began playing a soft, sparse piece that I quickly recognized. It was Brian Eno’s “By This River”, which Roedelius and his former Cluster colleague Dieter Moebius had cowritten and performed on. Roedelius sang the vocals in his simple, frail, direct, unadorned voice, but hit the notes right on and carried the melody beautifully. It was quite a pleasure, and he claimed it was the first time he’d tried singing it live!

And that was that. They only played for about an hour. It was a pleasant set, it ended on a great highlight, and I know that Roedelius is quite old, but still: I was expecting a bit more. I was a bit disappointed and surprised that it was over so soon. That said, I’d also expected that Roedelius would sit back and let Kasar take the more complicated piano parts, but that wasn’t the case at all. Roedelius still had enough strength and precision to take the lead. Kasar was an excellent foil for him, as his textures, harmony, and traded-off piano parts were a great match. I just wish there had been more.

Score: C+

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Tour of Tours - Live 2020.02.13 Lido, Berlin, Germany

Just about two years ago in the same venue, I saw the Tour of Tours for the first time. Since then, the individual band members have continued their separate projects as usual, but they also recently released their first proper album, A Road Record. It’s mostly a live album from the 2017 tour, but it also includes elements from rehearsals and the backstage. It shows off the breadth of the project and includes something from everyone in involved, including Honig, Jonas David, Tim Neuhaus, Ian Fisher, Town of Saints, Florian Holoubek, Martin Hannaford, Ryan Thomas Carpenter, and Davide Iacono (of VeiveCura). The spoken bits can be a bit distracting for repeated regular listening, but the album as a whole is an immersive, complete experience that captures many of their collective strengths. The production is great and substantially more cohesive than their prior Song of Songs, which felt more like a simple compilation assembled around the title track.

This concert picked up the same threads. The collective naturally performed many of the same songs from the album and from the last concert, but over the course of over two and a half hours, they also threw in some new songs and others that I hadn’t heard before. Every one of the ten members took the lead at some point, including even the quiet percussionists Florian and Davide and guitarist Martin. They also invited their merch seller and the producer of their new album to the stage to play along for a song each. Best of all, they continually traded instruments and even vocal parts. They were already doing that in the past, but this time around, they took it to another level. On several songs, almost every verse would be sung by someone other than the original songwriter/vocalist, which gave the songs a new dimension to grow in. Furthermore, the constant rotation of instruments meant that there were always plenty of little surprises. Most members took a turn on the bass, at one of the keyboards, and on the drums and percussion instruments. Tim Neuhaus sat in on the drums for an extended enthusiastic spell, Jonas brought a brass horn and a vocal effects board, Heta Salkolahti’s violin had a prominent role, and Ian fleshed out the sound with banjo and 12-string acoustic guitar.

For most of the show, all ten members of the collective shared the stage, but for a few songs in the middle, they brought the energy down a bit and let some smaller subsets of the group play with more reduced arrangements. Most dramatically, Heta and Harmen Ridderbos of Town of Saints played a Finnish folk song without accompaniment. It worked beautifully and helped to broaden the mood. With the full band back on stage, another highlight was a bizarre, theatrical interlude led by Ryan Thomas Carpenter in which he spoke-sang an extended take on Sun Ra Arkestra’s “Nuclear War”. For the encore, the band came back for one last round of rousing numbers from each of the main contributing projects. At the end, they again jumped down from the stage and went to the center of the crowd to play a rousing version of “Up in Smoke” and their one collaborative number, “Song of Songs”.

I was again impressed by the collective’s ability to switch things up and keep such a long show interesting. Their various separate projects share plenty of common ground, and there is some risk of building a solid, unified sound, but they fought the urge to blend too much and managed to keep their own unique elements. Their willingness to switch up the songs, arrangements, and individual parts goes a long way to keeping the show fun and engaging.

[Edit 2020.02.17:] Here’s (most of) the setlist:
01. Song of Songs [Partial] →
02. Short Circuit Breakdown [Town of Saints song]
02. Forest Fire [Tim Neuhaus song]
03. Trains [Jonas David song]
05. In My Drunken Head [Honig song]
06. Idle Hands [Ian Fisher song]
07. Stay For [Jonas David song]
08. Miner’s Song [Town of Saints song]
09. Hello [Florian Holoubek song]
10. Star [Hannaford song]
11. [Unknown Finnish Folk Song] [performed by Town of Saints]
12. Climb [Jonas David song]
13. [Unknown] [Davide Iacono song]
14. [New Song] [Ian Fisher song]
15. Crashing Through Roofs [Tim Neuhaus song]
16. Nuclear War [Sun Ra Arkestra cover, led by Ryan Thomas Carpenter]
17. Euphrates [Town of Saints song]
18. For Those Lost at Sea [Honig song]

19. Almost Darlin’ [Ian Fisher song]
20. Weak Bones [Jonas David song]
21. As Life Found You [Tim Neuhaus song]
22. Golden Circle [Honig song]
23. Up in Smoke [Town of Saints song]
24. Song of Songs