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]

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

16. Over and Over

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 its 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. [Update 2024.05.11: This song formed the basis of "Before I Go" on Rampen (apm: alien pop music), released in 2024.]

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: Before I Go
18. Let’s Do It a Dada

Third Encore:
19. Redukt

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

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

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