Being dicked around by venue staff before even getting through the door is never a great start, but the annoyance it caused resulted in me being in just the right mood to watch Cold In Berlin. And then, to have me question exactly how I hadn’t caught them before.
Cold In Berlin
Live @ O2 Academy Islington, London N1
17 June 2012
Yeah, so once again I’m seriously late to the party. These guys have been around for a couple of years at least, and the buzz around them is apparently well justified – a furious, stark post-punk sound, made all the more enthralling by Maya, the vocalist and visual centrepoint. Watching her stomp around the stage, her hair flying around as she poured out torrents of rage and bitterness reminded me somewhat of the primal, searing performances of PJ Harvey in her early years. Even in a room as large as the Islington Academy, this was a performance of astonishing intensity, and if they keep up performances like this, they surely can reach an audience bigger than this in future. Half an hour of that and I was absolutely sold, and I wholeheartedly recommend the album Give Me Walls, which gives an idea of their intensity at least, and is interestingly a bit more electronic than I was expecting.
Quite how Cold In Berlin were on before Heretics, though, was something lost on me and my friends also attending. Checking back subsequently on my reviews confirms that I’ve seen them before, and I wasn’t enormously complimentary then. Sadly they were still rather tedious, even with a better set-up, better visuals and plainly and simply more space. Songs droned on interminably, with few peaks and far too many moments where the attention was able to wander. But not only that, in the nine months between the two shows, I’ve discovered other realms in Witch House that are far more interesting – such as the pitch-dark, industrial-tinged ∆AIMON, and the shoegazey, wall-of-sound approach of Unison. The end of the set was met, in our corner of the venue anyway, with something of a sigh of relief.
Which, after more Witch House (and dubstep) from the between-bands DJ, brought us to She Wants Revenge. I got into this band quite late, comparatively – it has been six years since they last played the UK, and I only really picked up on them in the past couple of years. I’m not entirely how I missed them previously – I was pretty keen on Justin Warfield’s work with Bomb The Bass (the outstanding Bug Powder Dust) and his rap-rock project One Inch Punch – but I was quickly drawn into this bands first two albums, but not so keen on the latest album Valleyheart.
What I did find from this show, though, was that live there isn’t so much of a chasm between the two sides of the band. That is, on record the first two albums are much, much darker – songs dripping with lust, betrayal, regret and just that little bit of sleaze – while the latest album is perhaps that bit more positive, and “loved up”, and for me at least that means that it loses some of the menace and edge.
Red Flags and Long Nights
Take The World
Broken Promises for Broken Hearts
Someone Must Get Hurt
This Is the End
Maybe She’s Right
Out of Control
Tear You Apart
Two of the newer songs in particular really sounded quite extraordinary live. The debt that Take the World owes to Enigma was made plainly clear by straight use of the rhythm of Sadeness Pt.I (I’m sure that it isn’t this obvious on CD!), but even so, the impassioned delivery of the chorus in particular suddenly made this song sound a whole lot darker. Little Star didn’t have such a dramatic change, but certainly had far more energy than the oh-so-slightly-sluggish sounding album version.
I’m not going to lie, though – I was there to hear some of the old stuff performed more than anything, and I certainly wasn’t left wanting, in the main. The set was stuffed with old songs, unexpectedly biased heavily toward older material, a marker put down from surging opener Red Flags and Long Nights, the pitch-dark, quite creepy tale of forbidden love of Sister, and then a big crowd singalong to old favourite True Romance.
While the whole set was slick, and clearly hugely popular with a crowd that seemed very devoted fans indeed, though, something never quite felt 100% right – but that might just be the way the band present themselves, dark, almost gothic post-punk with Justin’s voice only adding real emotion when he needs to, to exaggerate the effect (to admittedly spectacular effect). But it does mean that some songs felt that bit flat. This wasn’t helped later in the set by the odd technical gremlin making itself known, throwing the band out of their stride at points.
Come the encore, though, as Adam teased out the synth interlude of Disconnect, things appeared to be back on track, only for the band to thank the crowd for their attendance, and then announce that they “had two songs left to dance to”. Which, incredibly, didn’t include the dancefloor sleaze and obsession of Written In Blood, which apparently was on the setlist, and was dropped for reasons I don’t know. A nice surprise instead, though, was that Out of Control turns into a hedonistic, sweaty rush as the chorus spirals into life, while to finish it was of course yet another tale of love, sex and desire, but probably their best take on this of all: Tear You Apart. Which like a few other songs in the set, seemed to get an extra boost from the fact that the crowd were roaring on the band from the off, and singing along with every single word.
From this gig, it was definitely easy to tell one thing – that this is the kind of band that inspire quite unbelievable levels of devotion from their fans, and it always seems to be those bands that delve in great detail into relationships, warts and all. Those that realise that not everything is plain sailing, and at points those relationships head into dark corners and unknown worlds of experimentation. And you get the feeling that the band have lived through these events, too, that it isn’t all a show to sell records. And perhaps why the devotion results – it is an identifier. Either way, gripes aside, this was an impressive show, and with a bit of luck it won’t be another six years before the next show in this city.