There are few bands that could justifiably claim that as they pass thirty years of existence as an active and still-recording unit, they remain a source of reference and perhaps reverence to many music-lovers and indeed other artists. One band that certainly can is Einstürzende Neubauten, whose second stop on their “30th Anniversary tour” was in London last night, with a companion performance tonight (Sunday) at the much-smaller Highbury Garage for a night entitled “An Evening With Einstürzende Neubauten”, focusing on side-projects and rare material. Having seen them back in 2004 at the Forum – an astonishing show – I was keener to go to the main show rather than the smaller one, so to the Forum on Saturday night it was.
As always bigger gigs like this are always a great opportunity to see friends too, so prior meetups were arranged for a few drinks in the locale beforehand. Anyway, with no support band, we could afford to be leisurely in getting to the venue, and Neubauten took to the stage around 2035, leaving a lot of time for a lengthy set, and they didn’t disappoint.
Like a machine that needs to be coaxed into life, they didn’t half start gently. The Garden and the wistful Nagorny Karabach eased us into the set, and indeed set the tone for much of the show – this was a show heavy on the more restrained side of EN. What this sense of restraint did do, though, was to highlight the moments where they did cut loose spectacularly. There were two in particular that stuck in my mind – the joyous, playful Let’s Do It a Dada (by far the best track on Alles Wieder Offen) was a cacophonous delight, and then the unexpected, thunderous Haus der Lüge that sounded heavier than anything else I’ve ever heard another industrial band play live – and it was absolutely fantastic.
Dead Friends (Around the Corner)
Let’s Do It a Dada
Ich hatte ein Wort
Haus der Lüge
Die Befindlichkeit des Landes
Ein Leichtes Leises Säuseln
Selbstportrait mit Kater
Silence Is Sexy
Back to the restrained side, though – the mellow feel atmosphere did do one thing well, and that was to allow the melody and subtlety of so many EN songs to shine through unhindered. It’s all about the little things – like a box of autumn leaves being gently dropped onto a table that helped to close one song, trays of metal objects (cutlery? I couldn’t tell), the multitude of percussion items used – frequently only once – including at one point replacing the bass drum with a (slightly open) metal box, the general sense that EN won’t even think about playing something live unless the effect that created the sound in the first place can be used. Perhaps the oddest sight on stage was watching a guitar being played with a vinyl 12″ attached to the end of a small drill. But aside from the effects and found sounds, its also in Blixa’s voice and his wordplay, the clever poetry and concepts that so many songs revolve around. I didn’t realise, until he helpfully explained it, for example, that the “Kater” in Selbstportrait mit Kater, aside from meaning hangover, also means tomcat! But of course the idea of a self-portrait with a cat is just as meaningful as a self-portrait with a hangover…
Other than the songs, Blixa did seem a little quieter than usual, but the bits of talk that there was were all very funny indeed.
Back to the songs, though, with it being billed as an anniversary show, it was a little surprising perhaps to find that the oldest song aired was the aforementioned Haus der Lüge, thus meaning that nearly the first ten of the thirty years was ignored entirely, but with a backcatalogue as extensive – and lengthy – as they have I guess it was always likely that there would be quite a few omissions (I was disappointed a little at the omission of Alles myself, but you can’t have everything!). There were other highlights, though, as the two-hour-plus set flashed by. A red-lit Sabrina was absolutely glorious (and even more tender than the album version), and Redukt was something of a shock to the system once it kicked in.
There was one last surprise in store, too – at least for me, as I didn’t realise that an exemption for smoking onstage existed. A look on the internet has confirmed as such:
The law also includes a limited exemption for performers, which applies to the performer only during the performance, where the artistic integrity of a performance makes it appropriate for a person who is taking part to smoke. [Source: Smokefree England]
So, of course, Silence Is Sexy requires the use of a cigarette to make some of the delicate sound effects, and the song’s mellow, gentle feel provided a feeling of closure to the evening (and if only more of the crowd had shut the fuck up a bit quicker – or in other words, have actually been paying attention to the show). The pre-Silence exchange about past stage chaos was hilarious, too, and appeared to be a genuinely off-the-cuff bit of reminiscing. It’s not often you hear the singer of a band turn to his bassist and ask “remember that time that we threw molotov cocktails into the crowd in Oslo?”…
But that’s the thing about Neubauten. To go in circles a little, they remain unlike any other band, but over a thirty year period of being a unique band, they’ve never allowed their sound to be constrained by expectations, or by anything resembling genres or fashions. Instead they’ve developed at their own steady pace, becoming a much loved and cherished band to those who listen to them. As I found recently when I turned 30, it’s not the end. It’s just a milestone, and it gets even better afterward.