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.]

Saturday, June 18, 2022

On Transitioning in Public Spaces

I’ve been avoiding writing some version of this post for some time, but here we are.

Okay. I’m trans. If you’ve been reading this for a while, if you follow my Twitter, or if you know me from elsewhere, you’ve probably noticed something going on. I mean, this blog used to be named after me, or rather my birth name. It was embedded in the URL! But in 2020, during the pandemic that seemed to destroy everybody’s mental and/or physical health, I was stuck at home, slowly falling apart as I finally took the time to try to make sense out of my seemingly permanently confused gender identity. Beyond that and the fact that live music wasn’t really happening, I was also faced with a conundrum of writing for a website whose very name misrepresented me to my core.

First I had to find my own name. I went with the most obvious choice to me, the only choice that ever really made sense to me: Patti. Is it an homage to Patti Smith? Well, sorta. I mean, it is. It’s not like I can even defend every song of hers, or every thing she’s ever done. But unlike plenty of producers of mainstream media, she’s always been one to openly subvert society’s expectation of gender performance, and I have always admired that in a unique way. At a certain point, I had to just move forward and stop endlessly questioning every decision I had to make. I accepted the uncertainty, the risk, and the vulnerability. What else could I do? Delaying further became increasingly painful.

And then I had to rename the website. Now it’s Metronomic Underground, a blatant reference to one of Stereolab’s most kosmische songs. In the process, I undertook the tedious task of updating every single internal link on the blog. I also had to rename my musical pseudonym. Ironically, I had originally chosen The Nowhere Man in 2008 specifically in reference to the agender or genderfluid character in the Yellow Submarine film, which fascinated me since childhood. However, the drawbacks associated with that name had become too great. For one thing, there’s a million other people also using it. So now I’m Chromatic Apparition. I think it suits me and my music better.

Earlier this year, I’d decided I should try to write a post in commemoration of this blog’s 15th anniversary, sort of like I had for the 10th, in order to properly introduce the new blog name. I also wanted to celebrate five years in Berlin and perhaps allude to my personal changes. But life got in the way and I never found the time. It didn’t help that I didn’t really know what to say.

Well, now I do. As previously posted, I went to five concerts in the span of two weeks after a very long lull. I’ve written some about the experience of live music during a pandemic, particularly now that most people are ignoring it, downplaying it, denying it, or trying to find their peace with it and have a good time despite it. But something else struck me hard these past two weeks. In the past, despite timidly identifying as non-binary, I believe I was generally seen as a man and afforded some of the typical privileges of men. At this point, I’m about a year into hormone replacement therapy, and I seem to be generally treated as a woman, which usually brings me joy. However, people in public spaces treat me quite a bit differently now, which does not always bring me joy!

At all of the four large-scale concerts I recently attended, I experienced multiple incidents of people threatening my space in ways I’d rarely dealt with before. I was pushed and jostled constantly without any sign of concern or apology. I was hit hard with a bag without any sort of acknowledgment. People repeatedly intruded into my space without comment. When I protested, I was often completely ignored, as if I didn’t exist. I stood powerless as a man used his female partner as a battering ram to barge into my spot. He had the presence of mind to ask if he was bothering anyone, but when I responded in the affirmative, he looked right past me and pretended not to hear. The Beach House show was probably the worst experience of them all, despite that that was the one show to which I hadn’t gone alone. My partner, who is also a woman, intervened on my behalf on two occasions, but was only barely met with better success.

My life in public spaces outside of concerts hasn’t been much better. I’ve had men blatantly cut me off and push into my space on public transit. I get interrupted more often. I’ve been overlooked and ignored by service personnel at bars and in other queues. I’ve had bored men start talking to me and asking me questions despite my obvious disinterest.

It’s not like none of these things happened to me before. They did. But it was different. It was infrequent and less of a pattern. It wasn’t every time I went out. If I spoke up, I could usually get my aggressor’s attention and sometimes even argue for my space back. I mean, even the way people look at me has changed. Men used to make eye contact in order to assess how threatening I might be, and I always looked away first and presumably made it clear who was dominant. Women rarely made eye contact with me if not necessary. While earlier in transition, I was frequently looked at with confusion or open disgust or contempt, and that hasn’t completely gone away. Now, if I don’t get that treatment, men size up my body; my eyes are an afterthought. On the other hand, women do actually look at me now, and sometimes we even politely negotiate for an open seat on public transit; at least, until a man simply skips right past us and takes it for himself.

I’m aware that there are other factors at play here as well. I was never particularly fond of large crowds, and I didn’t exactly enjoy many of the physical aspects of going to concerts. I’ve probably lost some of the resistance to that discomfort that I built up over the years before the pandemic. I also know that people are restless at the moment and ready to party hard to make up for the time they feel they’ve lost. There are probably still plenty of people who still aren’t comfortable with concerts, which means the balance of people who do show up is perhaps skewed towards the rowdier, ruder, and more reckless fans.

This is all profoundly bizarre for me. Everything about transitioning is bizarre. I don’t say that to mean anything negative about transitioning in itself. It’s rather the experience of transitioning in society that is needlessly stigmatized and uniquely challenging. I’ve never been happier with my identity and my body, and yet there are countless struggles in practically every facet of my life. I just want to live my life, seek the care and community I need, and not have to worry about my safety or comfort any more than I did in the past. But if my concertgoing experiences continue in this trend, it is not likely that I will be going out as often as I did in, say, 2019. I’m not happy about that. I don’t know how else to feel right now. Maybe I’ll find some other way to spend my time and money. Or maybe I’ll build my confidence and learn to assert my needs more effectively.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Patti Smith - Live 2022.06.10 Zitadelle Spandau, Berlin, Germany

This show was both the last of a busy two-week run of five shows and the last one that I’ve been holding a ticket for since 2019. This one was at least outdoors, so I was hoping it’d be a bit less cramped and humid than the last.

Patti Smith hasn’t released a proper new album since Banga in 2012, but that hasn’t stopped her from periodic touring. She’s also 75, which doesn’t seem to be stopping her, either. She did release Live at Electric Lady last year as a Spotify exclusive, but otherwise she hasn’t released much new music. With a catalog like hers, she doesn’t need to, and besides, she’s been busy with other projects, in particular her writing. I assumed the songs from the live EP/album (it’s seven songs, so take your pick) would form the basis of her set, but otherwise I didn’t know what to expect. As it turned out, that assumption didn’t hold at all: the only song from it that she played was her low-key take on Bob Dylan’s “One Too Many Mornings”. I would’ve absolutely loved to see her do Stevie Wonder’s “Blame It On the Sun”, but that one doesn’t seem to have entered regular rotation.

That said, the songs she did choose were an excellent bunch, well-scattered from throughout her long career. I note with pleasure that there was only an overlap of five songs with her last appearance in Berlin (at the same venue), all of which are among her absolute best. At that last show, I complained a bit that some songs felt a bit slow and the overall vibe was a bit downbeat and lacking in strength and energy. Smith was playing with the same band as before, but this time was completely different. The band were tight and the set was generally quiet upbeat and energetic. Patti was full of enthusiasm and passion. Her son Jackson’s solos were generally stronger, more melodic, and more creative. There was hardly a dull moment!

Of course the old classics like “Redondo Beach” and “Free Money” went over well, but I also really enjoyed “Don’t Say Nothing”, a song with a great groove and an even better lyric about dealing with the guilt of not speaking up when someone speaks hatefully of another. Patti read the “footnote” section of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” without musical accompaniment, despite that her song “Spell” uses the same words with musical arrangement. It was nonetheless powerful and felt like a throwback to her earlier days, when she more regularly mixed poetry and song in her live performances. She stumbled at a couple points, yet never let it get away from her. The audience was completely transfixed.

As usual, Patti left the stage for a brief break and let keyboardist/bassist Tony Shanahan and guitarist Lenny Kaye each take their turn at a beloved cover. Both rocked hard, and then Patti returned and followed that up with “25th Floor”, which rocked even harder. She said she remembered the exact day she wrote it (December 10, 1976) because it was the night that Fred “Sonic” Smith (Jackson’s father) first kissed her. The one misstep of the night was the next number, “Nine”, written as a birthday present some years ago for Johnny Depp, whose birthday was the night before. Patti didn’t mention him by name, nor did she address his recent controversies, but the performance nonetheless felt like a show of support, which bothered me in some way. It doesn’t help that the song (published in 2012!) contains an appropriated slur for Romani people. She should know better! Interestingly, the audience also did not seem amused, but for different reasons. Both that song and the following (“One Too Many Mornings”) were performed in quieter, acoustic-oriented arrangements, and I heard a surprising number of demands for “rock and roll”. I don’t mind a little variety or a pause for breath during an otherwise quite vigorous performance, but apparently that was too much for some.

At any rate, the punters got what they wanted. The rest of the set returned to her most exuberant and rocking classics. I certainly wasn’t going to complain about that! Several of her songs carry an incredible transcendence, but it’s still tough to beat Patti’s gleefully gender-bending and guilt-averse take on Them’s “Gloria”. For the encore, they predictably played “People Have the Power”, but to my surprise, Smith picked up an electric guitar and delivered a wild noise solo at the end!

Several times throughout the night, both during songs and between them, Smith spoke to the crowd about topical issues, in particular gun violence, war, and political liberation. It’s the sort of thing that would probably come across as inauthentic or painfully over-earnest by most performers. But Smith has a way of commanding a space and exuding confidence that change is possible and within our reach. Honestly, it’s inspiring. I admire that she can take her already-political songs and guide them into new territory to address the present day.

If I can overlook my annoyance with “Nine”, this was close to a perfect show. The songs were great, the performances were solid, and the mix was quite good despite being outdoors. It was quite crowded, which was fairly uncomfortable at times, but again, at least it was outside. Smith claimed it was her largest show ever in Berlin. The Zitadelle holds somewhere between 5000 and 10000 people, so it’s certainly possible. Somehow Smith has avoided falling into obscurity and seems to only gain credibility and popularity with time. I’m impressed that her idiosyncratic and lyrical take on rock music translates as well as it does!

Here’s the setlist:
01. The Wicked Messenger [Bob Dylan cover]
02. Redondo Beach
03. Grateful
04. Free Money
05. Footnote to “Howl” [Allen Ginsberg reading]
06. Don’t Say Nothing
07. Dancing Barefoot
08. Beneath the Southern Cross / Within You Without You [The Beatles cover tease]
09. Stone Free [Jimi Hendrix Experience cover, lead vocals by Tony Shanahan]
10. I Wanna Be Your Dog [The Stooges cover, lead vocals by Lenny Kaye]
11. 25th Floor
12. Nine
13. One Too Many Mornings [Bob Dylan cover]
14. Because the Night
15. Pissing in a River
16. Gloria: In Excelsis Deo/Gloria [Them adaptation]

Encore:
17. People Have the Power

Score: A

Monday, June 13, 2022

Beach House / White Flowers - Live 2022.06.08 Columbiahalle, Berlin, Germany

Beach House released their latest album, Once Twice Melody, in four parts over the end of 2021 into 2022. It’s a logical successor to 7 (2018), but more varied, and with a few surprises like (gasp) acoustic guitar! It’s as beautiful as any of their albums, almost as good as their best, and full of instant classics. They’ve clearly figured out a vibe that works, and they’re not going to give that up anytime soon. They don’t need to. Anyway, if I recall correctly, this show was announced at the same time as the first part was released in November last year. Despite my intense covid anxiety at the time, I bought a ticket, hoping for a better global health situation by the time the show came around. Indeed, things are a little better, and obviously this wasn’t my first major concert of the season. Still, it was my first for which I bought the ticket during the pandemic, as opposed to merely being rescheduled from 2020. Does that matter? Probably not.

The show started with White Flowers, a duo that is ripping off Beach House so hard that I’m almost surprised that they tolerate it. I guess imitation is flattery? I tried to study them closely to discern what made them unique. Certainly the format of an ethereal, waify keyboardist/singer with a seemingly shy guitarist looked familiar. But the guitar was in a different style, more like the spacier, upper “lead” bits of the Chameleons. However, unlike them, they lacked the more grounded lower part to counterbalance that. Instead, they just relied on synthesized drums and bass, which sucked away some of their energy and left nothing to really drive the rhythm live. Their sound was pleasant and warm, but a bit too hazy and vague for me to grasp.

Beach House certainly took their time coming out, and the crowd was impatient and rowdier than I’d expected. The audience had completely ignored the opener and talked straight through their set, but thankfully settled down a notch for the headliner. Just like their last tour, or at least consistent with the show they played in Berlin in 2018, Beach House came out as a three-piece. Vocalist/keyboardist Victoria Legrand and guitarist/bassist/backing vocalist Alex Scally were joined once again by James Barone on drums, but no one else on supporting keyboards, unlike their 2016 appearances that I saw. I initially thought that they too were relying on samples to fill the missing space, but the more I watched, the more I realized that a lot of their parts were really carefully looped, and Alex was providing most of the low-end with bass pedals! I’m sure there were still some samples (a few songs are built on drum machines, and I caught Victoria singing a lower harmony in part of “Myth” while the regular melody was clearly played back from tape), but it felt quite vibrant and live. The live drumming makes a huge difference, and the bass pedals do, too. Honestly, it’s quite impressive to watch Alex play guitar while simultaneously trying to get his feet in the right spots. He did occasionally fumble or play slight variations (whether by intention or not), which only endeared the experience to me more.

They played several songs from the new album (but still less than half of it!) and a decent mix of songs from their back catalog, although nothing from the first two albums nor B-Sides and Rarities (2017). I was just slightly disappointed that they skipped some of my personal favorites, particularly “Take Care”, which has been played on most nights of the tour, but it’s hard to complain with the excellent choices that they did offer. There wasn’t a bad song in the bunch. That said, I was amused to note that they almost exclusively picked their songs with the most plays on Spotify. (I had no idea that “Space Song” was so wildly popular! What TV show or movie soundtrack did it end up on!?) I don’t blame them for giving fans what they want, but I would’ve enjoyed some more risks. Maybe 2022 just isn’t the year for that kind of risk.

“Space Song” ended up being a real highlight of the night. It was simply beautiful, and the audience seemed transfixed and unusually peaceful for the moment. I’m fairly certain that Victoria was live-looping her vocals, which was really well done. They nailed it. “Pink Funeral” was an outlier due to Alex taking a rare solo, as in, not just a lead part, but rather a big, bold guitar solo. It wasn’t exactly blazing or aggressive, but rather a touch showier and more dynamic than normal while still managing to fit the mood. “Myth” was of course a standout, but it was a bit dampened when they had to stop the song to get help for someone who had passed out. They restarted it from the top, but it was hard to jump back into the feeling. “Modern Love Stories” was another solid new song, but I was surprised that Alex didn’t have an acoustic guitar for the coda. It seemed like he used an acoustic simulator on his guitar and looped it, but it may have been sampled after all.

Musically, Beach House had an excellent night. The mix was great and they played well. Although it can be difficult to distinguish which song came from which album without a good deal of listening experience, and there’s still something special about some of the classics, the new songs fit in right alongside the old. The songs from 7 are already classics and fan favorites, so the same fate will likely be afforded to the best of this bunch. I’m surprised they didn’t play even more of the new ones, especially considering how many there are. I would’ve particularly loved to see the fully-charged electropop of “Masquerade”! Visually, the band were their usual quiet selves with anti-rockist, nocturnal lighting. They did speak to us and apologize for the oppressive humidity of the venue, but they’ve never done much posturing. The real drag of the night was the crowd. It was weirdly hyped and aggressive. I had such a rough experience that I think I’ll dedicate a separate post just to that topic.

Here is Beach House’s setlist:
01. Once Twice Melody
02. Silver Soul
03. Dark Spring
04. Pink Funeral
05. PPP
06. Superstar
07. Levitation
08. Lazuli
09. New Romance
10. Myth
11. Black Car
12. Only You Know
13. Lemon Glow
14. Space Song
15. Modern Love Stories

Encore:
16. Over and Over

Scores:
Beach House: A-
White Flowers: B-
Once Twice Melody: A-

P.S. Thanks to Alyssa!

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Einstürzende Neubauten - Live 2022.06.06 Konzerthaus, Berlin, Germany

Yes, I just saw Neubauten five days before at the Columbiahalle. As with that show, this one was also rescheduled from 2020, although this one was supposed to happen first, at the start of the tour in April. The Columbiahalle show was originally scheduled much later at the end of the tour in September. This show was initially rescheduled for the same timeframe in September, then again to September 2021, and then once more to this date. Thankfully it finally happened! You can read my hesitations around live music during a pandemic in my last review (or anything I’ve written in the last two years), but in any case, I went. I know it’s absurd to see the same band twice in the span of less than a week even during non-apocalyptic times, but I was presented with a bit of a conundrum. The nature of live music these days is accompanied by a constant worry that any show might be canceled at any minute. This literally just happened to Herbert Grönemeyer’s big tour; all three nights in Berlin were canceled because he has covid. So while I was actually more interested in seeing this show (I mean, it’s at the Konzerthaus! It’s a beautiful classical music venue!), I had to hedge my bets. So I went to both. I had tickets to both since 2019 anyway.

The show started off just like the last one. I was worried I was going to be bored by a repeat of the same experience. However, despite that the setlist was the same until the first encore, it gradually became apparent that the band were performing at a higher caliber. I complained quite a bit about the band being loose at the last show and even at the 2017 show I saw, but this time, they were tight on a level I hadn’t seen before. Even “Taschen” was better! The parts fit together just right and the songs flowed with carefully crafted grace. Even the slower songs jelled better; they were just smoother. I still think the samples were too much, and some songs were still a bit too tepid, but this time I could at least follow the intended idea and mood. They felt like they finally had some life in them. I was particularly impressed by “Alles in Allem”, which worked better than ever, even better than the album version. “Tempelhof” also excelled in this environment, and it’s position at the end of the first encore, but not the entire concert, was much better.

The best songs from Alles in Allem and all the classics were just as good as ever. On top of that came a surprise: when introducing the band before “Ten Grand Goldie”, Blixa Bargeld brought out his daughter Millicent to come out and play the trombone part from the record, which she also played on! Amusingly, she wore a blue suit much like Jochen Arbeit’s standard attire. Another surprise was “La Guillotine de Magritte”, a non-album single from 2020, in place of “Sabrina”. I love “Sabrina” but appreciated the variation. The Rampe improvisation was also quite a bit different than the one from the Columbiahalle show. The key lyrics in this one appeared to be “before I go” and “dissolved”. I could see Blixa’s lyric monitor (but not well enough to actually read it), and there were lyrics for it, but the display kept jumping around, so he was almost certainly freestyling. Rudolf Moser seemed to still be figuring out what to do with the song, as he moved around the stage to use just about every set of percussion he could get his hands on. Meanwhile, Alexander Hacke used some really weird effects on his bass to make a bizarrely fuzzed-out squeal. I liked it.

The end of the second encore was “Let’s Do It a Dada”, which was a pure delight with several members of the band using all sorts of weird toy instruments. N.U. Unruh donned a white garment and an absurdly tall hat in an apparent homage to Hugo Ball’s Magical Bishop costume and read Dada poetry, apparently written by Blixa, but obviously inspired by Ball. They’d also played the song successfully at the 2017 show, but this time it really struck me what a great showcase for their strengths the song is! It has some similarities to “Zivilisatorisches Missgeschick”, but where as that song feels random and abrasive, “Dada” is light-hearted, joyful, and full of energy. I also realized that the most driving instrument is simply Hacke’s fuzz bass. He wielded it with so much power and confidence. I want to play bass like that! (For more context on the lyrics and inspiration for the song, I recommend this mostly-English article and this German article.) And after that, the band came back for yet another encore! They just gave us one more song, “Redukt”, which was a great closing pick.

In addition to the tighter performance and slightly better setlist structure, the venue itself made a big difference. The Columbiahalle is a typical large rock venue: no decoration, no comfort, no style, just pure function. The balcony is nice and the sound is fine, but it’s not exactly a pleasant place. The Konzerthaus, on the other hand, is beautiful, ornate, and designed with some level of comfort in mind. And it sounded way better, too! I was particularly surprised since I was sitting behind the band at an angle, and yet I still was treated to superb sound quality. I heard some gripes from other people near me about the view, but I thought it was great. I had an excellent view of the percussion, which is my favorite part of the Neubauten live experience anyway. I could hear every subtle note and beat, including several things I didn’t catch or didn’t understand at previous performances, mostly from little extra touches that Unruh would add on top of the main beat typically supplied by Moser. It was a pleasure to get such a close view of all the weird bits of metal, the assorted springs, the various machinery, and the amusing household found-art objects that the band uses to create the underpinning of their songs. I mean, Moser’s jet turbine percussion solo in “Nagorny Karabach” is just so good!

[“Ten Grand Goldie” with Millicent Bargeld on trombone. Also note the large curved spring played by Hacke.]

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I bought the USB stick recording of the show afterwards. It’s still just mp3, but at least this time it’s 320kbps! (The one I got in 2017 was 256.) It sounds great; the only flaws I’ve noticed so far are some distortion in the heaviest parts of “Sonnenbarke” and Blixa’s screeched vocals in “Zivilisatorisches Missgeschick”. It still can’t beat the combined audio-visual experience, and the lack of editing certainly sets it apart from a typical commercial live recording, but considering my comfort with bootleg recordings, I think it stands fairly strong. I’m happy to have it.

Here’s the setlist:
01. Wedding
02. Möbliertes Lied
03. Nagorny Karabach
04. Die Befindlichkeit des Landes
05. Sonnenbarke
06. Seven Screws
07. Grazer Damm
08. Alles in Allem
09. Zivilisatorisches Missgeschick
10. How Did I Die?
11. Am Landwehrkanal
12. Ten Grand Goldie
13. Susej

First Encore:
14. Taschen
15. La Guillotine de Magritte
16. Tempelhof

Second Encore:
17. Rampe
18. Let’s Do It a Dada

Third Encore:
19. Redukt

Scores:
The concert: A-
The recording: B+

Monday, June 6, 2022

Einstürzende Neubauten - Live 2022.06.01 Columbiahalle, Berlin, Germany

Einstürzende Neubauten released Alles in Allem in May 2020. I briefly reviewed the album as part of my 2020 in Review post, and honestly, I wasn’t that impressed. About half the tracks are good, but the other half just leave me bored. I was disappointed. Primary Neubauten albums are usually superb. Obviously, they weren’t able to tour at the time, but I’d already bought tickets for two shows of their tour long before I’d heard anything but the lead single. This show was originally scheduled in September 2020, and it was initially rescheduled for September 2021, but ultimately postponed again. It finally happened this time.

This was my first large-scale indoor concert since early 2020. It was a strange experience. With the exception of a small minority of people wearing masks (including percussionist N.U. Unruh), you could hardly tell that there was a pandemic still going on, or that for significant parts of the last two-plus years, concerts like this weren’t happening (in Germany, at least). Large-scale indoor concerts have been generally allowed here for about a year now, but plenty of bands didn’t feel comfortable touring, or they couldn’t finance the tour because ticket sales were low. I’m clearly not the only one who’s been hesitant. I still wish case numbers were lower, I wish more people were vaccinated, I wish public sentiment mirrored health organization advice, and I wish we didn’t live in an ableist capitalist society that shamelessly throws health workers and the vulnerable under the bus in the name of profit. And yet, I too long for some sense of normalcy, even though my world has been substantially shaken up in the last two years, and not just by the pandemic. I’m finally ready to take the occasional risk, test regularly before and after, and try to enjoy one of my favorite activities in life: live music. For better or worse, I wasn’t the only one who couldn’t resist. The show was sold out and the venue was quite full.

I saw Neubauten in 2017 in the same venue. It wasn’t a perfect show, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. This show ended up being quite similar, but much more focused on the “new” album. In fact, they played the whole thing, albeit not in the same order. Interspersed were some of their greatest hits, with a particular bias for Silence Is Sexy (2000). Much to my frustration, though, not a single one of the older songs they played hadn’t also been played at that 2017 show. For a band with such an extensive discography over a 42-year period, that felt a little strange. That said, every single one of those older songs is excellent, so it’s hard to complain too much.

At any rate, the show started really strong. The first two songs, both from Alles in Allem, were meditative and trance-like, with good grooves and clever lyrics. This is a relatively new vibe for Neubauten, and they nailed it with these ones. They then played some of the classics, including one of my personal favorites, “Die Befindlichkeit des Landes”. Bargeld’s musings on the commercial-capitalist takeover of Potsdamer Platz feel more relevant than ever! He warned us that “Sonnenbarke” was written well before the pandemic but includes the word “Corona”, and I was surprised that when he actually sung it, some people in the audience cheered! I’m still not really sure how to interpret that. Were they just excited to have caught it and wanted to prove they were paying attention?

Then came “Seven Screws”, one of my favorites from the new album. It felt a bit sparse and thin, but again, the groove held it together just right. I love that Bargeld managed to throw in a reference to “Für immer” by Neu! and make a very relatable play on words about his gender identity: “non-binary: I forever (k)new”! I might be reading into it a bit much, but that’s the sort of song that feels written for someone like me.

But then from “Grazer Damm” onwards, things got really slow and tame. That song and “Alles in Allem” just kind of dragged on without any of the pulsing energy of the previous songs. “Zivilisatorisches Missgeschick” came with an amusing explanation from Bargeld that the song consisted of fourteen parts within four minutes, each with amusing names, but the song itself mostly just felt like random bits of noise and scattered lyrics. “Am Landwehrkanal” was a notable interruption, though. It’s also one of the strongest tracks on the record and serves as a lovely requiem for Rosa Luxemburg. I love the simple admiration of the line, “Wir hatten 1000 Ideen, und alle war’n gut” (“We had thousands of ideas, and all of them were good”). The percussion was particularly good, and it was a rare case of guitarist Jochen Arbeit first adding some percussion and then even playing a melodica part!

The first encore opened with “Taschen”, another song from Alles in Allem, which seemed almost intentionally offbeat. Unruh and Arbeit both struck large plastic bags for the main beat, which is almost impossible to keep in time, and indeed even the recording on the album is loose. I like the lyric, and the way it specifically plays off similar lyrics and ideas from “Grundstück” from Perpetuum Mobile (2004), but musically it didn’t quite pull together. But then “Sabrina” and “Redukt” were excellent throwbacks!

They could’ve ended then on a high note, but I wasn’t upset that they came back for more. First, they tried a out a Rampe, their name for an experimental improvisation. I didn’t recognize anything from the piece, but it sounded like a key phrase was “write to me” (or “right to me”?). I was disappointed at the lack of a Rampe at the last show I’d seen, and I was worried that that was a thing of the past, so this was a pleasant surprise. However, ending the show with “Tempelhof” was a bit disappointing. It was of course appropriate in that the former airport and current park was literally across the street from the venue, but the song itself was just too sparse and diffuse. There was no energy to it.

I came away happy to have seen the show, but overwhelmed by the crowd and uncertain if I really got what I’d come for. The new-ish songs were a really mixed bag, much like the corresponding album. A few are awesome, but several just aren’t. Many of the songs heavily rely on string parts, but most were sampled. A few were done on keyboard, which feels more like a reasonable compromise, but the whole set felt a little too reliant on samples. Considering how much pride the band has in their unusual instrumentation, it just seems like a jarring choice. The band and their crew spent so much time arranging various unusual percussion instruments, which is a joy to behold. Yet much of the structure and rhythm is nonetheless provided by samples! And despite those backing tracks, the band again seemed a bit too loose. Unruh in particular seemed to have trouble keeping the beat, but it’s probably not fair to lay blame solely upon him.

Neubauten are a rare and wondrous beast, but they aren’t quite hitting their target. I’m glad I went, but I still wished for more. I didn’t bother getting the USB stick recording of the show afterwards.

Here’s the setlist:
01. Wedding
02. Möbliertes Lied
03. Nagorny Karabach
04. Die Befindlichkeit des Landes
05. Sonnenbarke
06. Seven Screws
07. Grazer Damm
08. Alles in Allem
09. Zivilisatorisches Missgeschick
10. How Did I Die?
11. Am Landwehrkanal
12. Ten Grand Goldie
13. Susej

First Encore:
14. Taschen
15. Sabrina
16. Redukt

Second Encore:
17. Rampe
18. Tempelhof

Scores:
The concert: B-
Alles in Allem: C+

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Ian Fisher / Accidental Bird - Live 2022.05.29 Prachtwerk, Berlin, Germany

Yes, it was only about seven months ago that I saw Ian Fisher at the same venue, touring for the same album, American Standards, released in 2020 for supporters. This time, though, he was touring with a full band. He claimed this was his last chance to do a proper tour for the album before moving on to new material from a new album that’s apparently already recorded. Again, I was hesitant about Covid risks, but I felt pretty comfortable at Prachtwerk, which is a cozy environment than has never felt crowded or otherwise overwhelming to me.

First was Accidental Bird, the new band of Stefan Honig. He brought with him Martin Hannaford from Honig on lead electric guitar and Harmen Ridderbos of Town of Saints (who has also appeared on Honig and Ian Fisher albums) on keyboards and acoustic guitar, both of whom have also participated in Tour of Tours. Honig played all new songs from an as-yet unreleased album. The songs largely felt familiar to his established style of meditative, comforting singer-songwriter pop. The exception was a song titled “Climate Change”, which he claimed was his punk song. That might be an exaggeration, but it was his most upbeat and jagged affair, and the frustrated lyrics were an earnest plea for action. Ian Fisher came out and joined in on guitar and vocals to accentuate it. Musically, I enjoyed the well-honed backing vocals and the subtly intricate but supportive instrumental parts.

[Accidental Bird with Ian Fisher.]

Ian Fisher came to the stage with a five-piece band, the largest I’ve ever seen back him. I immediately recognized Camillo Jenny on drums from past tours, and I’d heard Richard Case on pedal steel and backing vocals on some of Ian’s past recordings and radio shows. Fairly new to the crew were Emanuel Krimplstätter on lead guitar and backing vocals, Lukas Pamminger on bass, and Danny Rico on keyboards and percussion. Notably absent was Ryan Thomas Carpenter, who was already in the USA for the St. Louis Muny season. Nonetheless, Ian mentioned him a few times throughout the night. They make for quite the musical duo, and when Ian had last toured just as a duo with Ryan last year, it was a different experience. That show featured a number of new songs (mostly versions of songs from his now-defunct Patreon) and a couple covers (one of which has now appeared on his Fanklub). This show focused more on explicitly on American Standards and included most of the album along with about half of his previous, Idle Hands (2018). These are generally all great songs, but I missed the playful risk of all the new songs from the last show. That said, I always appreciate some of his prescient classics like “Candles for Elvis” and “Manmade Mountains”.

On the other hand, with the full band, the newer songs really shone. As Ian has progressed in the complexity and nuance of his recorded arrangements, the songs have increasingly benefited from the skills of a tight band that can reproduce and embellish the material on stage. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ian play with both a lead guitarist and pedal steel player, to say nothing of a keyboardist as well. Krimplstätter wasn’t flashy, but he wielded a number of delicate solos in just the right places. I appreciated the band’s subtle changes from the recorded versions. And despite my affection for the full sound, I also enjoyed that Ian again took it a step down for a few songs. He performed “Bed Downtown” by himself and then “Candles for Elvis” with just Richard Case on lead guitar. Case moved back to his pedal steel for “Manmade Mountains”, and Camillo Jenny came back out on drums halfway through to really punctuate it. The rest of the band came back for “Regret”, and Stefan Honig came back up to sing along as well.

I’ve never been disappointed by an Ian Fisher show, and this was no exception. I’m looking forward to that new album!

[Ian Fisher with his band.]

Here’s the setlist:
01. Be Thankful
02. AAA Station
03. American Standards
04. Melody in Nashville
05. Road to Jordan
06. Tables Turn
07. Maybe a Little More
08. One Foot
09. Bed Downtown
10. Candles for Elvis
11. Manmade Mountains
12. Regret
13. Koffer
14. It Ain’t Me
15. Constant Vacation

Encore:
16. Nero
17. Idle Hands
18. Ghosts of the Ryman

Sunday, March 27, 2022

Upcoming Show with Soltero

I'm excited to announce I'm going to be joining Soltero for a show on 2022.04.02 at the Belvedere am Kreuzberg in Berlin! I previously joined Soltero for a brief set in January during an evening of poetry at the same venue, but this will be more of a conventional concert. I will be performing on bass. We will also perform some songs from singer-songwriter Tim Howard's other project, Anfängerfehler. Sharing the bill for the evening is Mikka Bozu.

The Belvedere am Kreuzberg is located at Kreuzbergstraße 32Y, on the northwest corner of Viktoriapark, right by the bus stop. Doors are at 7, show at 8. It's 5€ and will be following the rules for 2G plus a test. That means you need to be vaccinated or recently recovered and tested. There is a simple bar at the venue.

Dedicated listeners may already know, but I've been jamming with Tim for a couple years now. I edited some recordings from one of our sessions and released them on my Preserve the Absurd EP last year. I'm thrilled that we're finally able to perform outside the rehearsal room together!

Monday, January 10, 2022

2021 in Review

2021 proved to be a perhaps even more challenging year for me than 2020. Music has hardly been my focus lately, and Covid restrictions and anxiety prevented me from seeing many concerts. I had tickets for a twice-rescheduled Jesus & Mary Chain concert, but didn’t go, and after purchasing a ticket for Synästhesie in a fit of summer optimism, I returned it when things turned worse. In the end I only saw few outdoor concerts, most notably the Ich brauche eine Genie songbook release party, and one indoor show of Ian Fisher. I only managed a single other review, although I also released one more song of my own work. I didn’t even listen to music at my normal rate; I bought fewer records than I had in any year since 2002, which is before I had a job, started recording, or could drive myself to a record store.

Nonetheless, I did listen to some music. Here are my favorite releases of 2021:
  • Cremant Ding Dong - assorted singles - I’m so thrilled they’ve kept going. Many of their songs are still amusingly pandemic-related, but they’ve branched out, too, as with “Zu faul für’n eigenen Garten” (“Too Lazy for My Own Garden”). They write great lyrics and the cat still appears in every video.
  • Falsetto Boy - People Crying in Cars - Falsetto Boy has released a string of singles, EPs, and splits (to say nothing of his excellent releases as Cup Collector, among other projects), but this is his first album under this banner in ten years. It’s a double, and it’s his strongest and most cohesive work yet. The guitars are splendrous and the lyrics and vocals are affecting. He also released “I Can’t Do That Anymore” from a Snappy Little Numbers compilation as a single, which is a little burst of upbeat energy with appropriately downbeat lyrics.
  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor - G_d’s Pee at State’s End! - Have they released a bad album? No. They haven’t. The general pattern of post-apocalyptic ensemble rock and drone just gets refined with time as the rest of the world catches up to what they’ve been saying for 25+ years.
  • Lightning Bug - A Color of the Sky - Hazy dreampop of the best variety. I’d just found their earlier albums at the start of the year before this was even announced, and I couldn’t be happier. They’re all pretty similar, but this one sounds the best. It's got less noisy shoegaze and more wistful synth folk. I think the radio-static compression effect is overdone, but otherwise I love the production.
  • Nation of Language - A Way Forward - Their basic technique hasn’t changed since last year's Introduction, Presence, but they continue to churn out great synthpop. The drama has only heightened, though, and this album is actually slightly more upbeat and complex.
  • St. Vincent - Daddy’s Home - Still can’t beat Strange Mercy (2011), but I prefer the 70s pastiche to the drug-addled electro mayhem of Masseduction (2017). The gender politics speak to me (or at least amuse me) better, too.
  • Stereolab - Electrically Possessed: Switched On Volume 4 - It’s hard to compete with the first two editions of this series, but it’s still a gift that they finally caught up with the missing years. A few tracks feel like insubstantial filler, but most is high-quality, and the wide variety makes for a more captivating listen than any of their latter-day albums from the same era (well, except maybe Margerine Eclipse).
Again, a few additional honorable mentions:
  • The Besnard Lakes - Are the Last of the Great Thunderstorm Warnings - This is such a strange band. I love their grandiose vision, but I have trouble holding on to the individual songs. They went even harder into the long form, including a long closing drone at the end of the album. I’m not sure they used the time wisely. They also released the “Superego” single, which is a little poppier and more direct.
  • Kikagaku Moyo - Live at Levitation - I literally heard this band’s KEXP session playing at a tea store and knew I had to hear more. I caught the name and now I’m hooked. There’s a degree to which this sort of deeply psychedelic jamming gets predictable and redundant, but I love it anyway. It was pure coincidence that I hadn’t already caught wind of them via Levitation, and when I found this album, I had to have it.
  • Monta at Odds - Peak of Eternal Light - I hyped this Kansas City space rock band’s music last year, too, and it doesn’t seem that I’m gonna stop soon. This album didn’t immediately pull me in the way Argentum Dreams did, but it’s just about as good. Your Friend makes another appearance, too!
And lastly, a couple excellent albums (and a single) from recent years that I missed before but caught up with this year:
  • Sharon van Etten - Are We There (2014) - After hearing her name for years now I finally gave her a proper listen. I get lost in the beauty, power, and finesse and of her voice every time regardless of where I’m at. The music is a perfect match, too, even if the lyrics don't always do it for me.
  • Hallogallo 2010 - “Blinkgürtel” / “Drone Schlager” (2010) - Two great kosmische songs from a collaboration between Michael Rother of Neu! and Harmonia, Steve Shelley of Sonic Youth, and Aaron Mullan. I don’t really know what the history of these tracks was, but it doesn’t matter. They’re on par with the classics.
  • TENGGER - Spiritual (2017), Spirtual 2 (2019), and Nomad (2020) - I’d wanted to see them at Synästhesie in 2019, but I missed my chance. I finally dug into their music, and I find their latest three albums utterly entrancing. They are kosmische drones without much of a melody, but I can put them on in the background and always end up feeling better.
Who knows what 2022 will bring. I’m just trying to find some peace and stability. Stay healthy!