The Forum, London
3 April 2004
If one thing in life is true, it that people get older, bands get mellower – the noise and sound and fury of an Industrial youth flows into a neatly-tailored sartorial elegance and a penchant for slower numbers. Or so it is with Einstürzende Neubauten; perhaps it was always there, as such things happen with people as with music. A friend recently observed upon hearing the track “Silence Is Sexy” for the first time, that it was Marks And Spencers music – that is, middle aged, perhaps a bit boring: a contribution to the pension fund. It seems somewhat appropriate then that the merchandise stall tonight is selling what are effectively EN-logo’ed cardigans – smart, stylish black affairs, but comfortable enough to go with a matching set of slippers – and yes, this reviewer purchased one.
All the above may be true, or an opinion which holds validity, but still Neubauten know how to put on a show, Cabaret or otherwise. Fronted by the joint double act of Alexander Hacke and Blixa Bargeld, each shoeless and providing a certain focus for the group: Hacke is the Rock’n’Roll whirlwind, sweeping thunder from bas strings, legs stretched wide apart; Bargeld the poet raconteur, besuited and Baudelairean in his demeanour. Behind and around them, NU Unruh handles the klang and metallic rhythms as he has always done, seemingly the most unchanging and avuncular of metal bashers, while relatively new recruits Jochen Arbeit and Moser thrash guitars and rattle plastic pipes respectively with a will.
There seems to be less of a scrapyard on stage these days, even if the two bright yellow compressors which provide air and sound for various devices become the focus of a mildly amusing anecdote concerning the difference of one decibel between two supposedly identical models bought at different points in the tour. There a chimes made from pipes, the old faithful sheets of steel, bars and plastic tubes – but even the opening warning from Bargeld that the latter might emit “folkloric” (as he puts it, rather quaintly) levels of volume and feedback do not materialise. Instead, and this is only by Neubauten’s own former standards, the show feels restrained, reined in, mellower – there are no angle grinders, screams rammed into megaphones orsucked out by compressed air, and instead a keyboard holds the mid range drones and melodies in place. This is not a storm of ear-breaking, delerious, cacophony – nor could it be, and perhaps nor should it be so. Perhaps the tight-trousered, sturm-und-drang onstage infernoes can perhaps be left in the capable (if derivative) devices of Rammstein et al?
Neubauten stride forth into their new Perpetuum Mobile album with plenty of energy though, and the resonant walking Blues of “Youme & Meyou” or the melancholic “Dead Friends (Around The Corner)” shimmer with that special edge of Bargeld’s voice and the delicious evidence of the non-standard nature of much of EN’s instrumentation, while the condensed epic “Selbsportrait (mit Kater)” showcases the group’s talent for mixing ensemble call and response choruses with unusual time signatures. “Perpetuum Mobile” itself uses the eponymous self-built mechanical device as both rhythmic source and visual equivalent of a lottry machine, controlled remotely by Blixa with a curious air of the throway appliance of radio technology, as if it were perfectly normal for a band to brandish a a large RC set in the surrounds of the strangely Fascistic decor of The Forum – and perhaps it should be too. Older pieces are not forgotten – there’s a fairly gentle run through “Haus der Lüge” and a sinister shuffling sweep into “Armenia” to follow, while the pace quickens into urgency with “Redukt” and “Alles”, though both singularly fail to take off into full Metal mayhem as they sometimes can. Still, “Ende Neu” grips and entangles as it should, with many a satisfying clang of metal on metal, rushing guitar and Bargeld’s impassioned emotional vocal apocalypse. Best of all though is the encore (one of several) where the band line up front of stage with a selection of metal bars and proceed to enact a sigil cursing “a former record label” (not their current one Mute, as Bargeld emphasises) by taking turns to hammer out some dextrous rhythms to power up the hex – and there’s nothing like making your chaos magick public to fully charge its effectiveness. The object of the pointed disapproval (who was kept anonymous, perhaps for legal reasons, maybe just to avoid mention of his name once again) must be well and truly under psychic attack from all sides now, what with another dissatisfied former artist invoking statments of their creditorhood on remastered CD releases…
Otherwise, it should be emphasised that this is a great concert, but by the standards of Neubauten past, not one to inflame the audience, rather to caress and satisfy in a different way, in a transitional mood perhaps. Einstürzende Neubauten remain a vital force, and their commitment to novel methods of production are exemplified by the sale of a just in time double CD set of the gig itself almost immediately after the lights go up, hot from the CD burner and straight into pre-prepared card sleeves. In the last year or so, EN have been immersing themselves, the development and production of Perpetuum Mobile in webcasts and forum discussions on www.neubauten.org, a service which allows subscribers access to studio sessions, exclusive CDs, live downloads and the like (including the opportunity to join the band in a virtual spaghetti dinner…) and Blixa was keen to expand on this to the audience, hopeful no doubt of the new supporters the tour programme would draw in. Direct support such as this seems to be a way of the future, one which engages the band and fans alike, and is an intriguing experiment to observe and take part in. Still, the apex of musical experience still remains in concerts like this, and despite its relative restraint by the standards of former years, is one which shows them in a unique light.
-Antron S. Meister-