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- Einsturzende Neubauten »
The first time I saw* Einsturzende Neubauten *play live, I flung open the double doors at the back of the Kentish Town Forum to be greeted by a metallic cacophony the likes of which I had never heard before. My innocent, uninitiated eyes and ears beheld the most handsome drummer I have ever seen bashing away on cymbals of sheet steel, a bald bloke flinging spanners around, a maniac who resembled Lemmy’s perverted cousin in a string vest hammering away at his bass, and Blixa Bargeld uttering forth his unearthly, marrow-troubling banshee scream. It was, needless to say, something of an eye-opener. But it’s repeated encounters, especially in recent years, that give up the greatest reward. Tonight as I arrive, they’re delivering ‘Dead Friends (Around The Corner)’, a delicate affair from the 2004 album Perpetuum Mobile. Blixa is in genial mood too, telling the security guards to allow the photographers to remain for one more song, in which N.U. Unruh (the aforementioned bald gentleman) dons a white plastic cloak and tall white hat to read off some lyrics before pegging it to the front of the stage to whack away on some plastic piping.
It’s a playful attitude that might come as a surprise to those unfamiliar with Neubauten’s more recent work. It’s a popular misconception that Neubauten are of a bunch of dour and emaciated Germans wielding drills and screaming; tonight (and a listen to any of their recent albums) sets that straight. For Neubauten (the ultimate sonic collective) are masters of nuance and texture, of light and dark, of power and grace. In the quiet moments, with just the very minimum of percussion, a bouncer’s polyphonic ringtone is clearly audible (though, as ever, not identifiable) from 20 feet away.
Of course, in a right world Neubauten would be the group to dislodge that waxy blockage in the ears of British music fans that prevents them appreciating anything musical that emanates from East of the Rhine. It’s telling tonight that those fans present who are dressed as the foot soldiers of the goth industrial complex (around half the crowd) seem to be British; those attired in similar fashion to the indie hordes pouring into the Animal Collective show down the road tend to order their ale in European tones. Perhaps the UK indie mindset (at least at present) is not far removed from that of a_ Sun_ reader, full of xenophobic folk memories of the perfidious Hun hordes hopping across the Channel in their clanking tanks.
As ever, the ignorant lose out. In recent years, Neubauten have opened up both in sound and personality. Alexander Hacke is still the hoary and hairy bass legend, but Bargeld is especially good value, giving pithy introductions:_ “I don’t know whether it is possible to say what a Neubauten song is about, but this one is about Berlin. Or London. Or Marlene Dietrich,”_ he deadpans, before Neubauten launch into the tumultuous_ ‘The Lay Of The Land’_. It’s one of the recent tracks that, grandiose and a slow, mercurial build, rewards patience, Bargeld putting finger to his lips to silence the crowd’s cheers in the breakdown. His vocals on _‘Total Eclipse of the Sun’ _give the feel of a last waltz and, for some reason, he flings a satsuma into the crowd.
The best moment is reserved for the end. For new album Jewels, Neubauten created the fifteen tracks by pulling instruction cards from a hat, and then playing as commanded. They do this tonight, a roadie handing around a box to the black clad musicians, who examine them with furrowed brows. Unruh starts blowing down some plumbing into a massive metal tank, Blixa Bargeld bangs the microphone against his heart, Alexander Hacke plays a small guitar. The result is terrific, the musicians coalescing into a track of charcoal smoke and ouzo melodies – it’s hard to believe that something so majestic is being created before our very eyes. A quarter of a century since their inception, the ever-prolific Einsturzende Neubauten are only now reaching their creative peak. It’s about time they were given their just reward.