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+

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