Saturday, January 11, 2020

Ben Osborn / Zazuka - Live 2020.01.08 Schokoladen, Berlin, Germany

The last time I was at Schokoladen was just over ten years ago. I saw a punk show on New Year’s Eve and went outside at midnight to watch people throw snowballs and launch fireworks. I had such a good time that I memorialized the day in a song. Considering that I don’t live far away these days, it was nigh time to return.

Unfortunately, one of the originally scheduled acts, Tan LeRacoon, had to cancel due to illness. In his place was Zazuka, a Jordanian-German singer-songwriter that played solo at a keyboard. She was a bit meek and quiet, and the music was generally sparse and sombre, but she managed to cover a lot of ground and offered a fair bit of variety. She sung in German, English, Arabic, and Turkish, including a couple covers. Some songs were jazzy, with a hint of cabaret from a century ago, while others were rooted in various folk traditions. Her lyrics were also noteworthy; one bemoaned a person stuck too deep in their traditions that apparently held them back. For two songs, she brought Barbara Cuesta on stage to add backing vocals, which was a nice extra touch.

Ben Osborn from England also mostly played alone, but was a bit more adventurous in his instrumentation. He played guitar on one song, but a problem with one of his pedals prevented another. Instead, he mostly stuck to his keyboard and some light electronics, and he even played around a bit with a drum machine. His keyboard skills weren’t as dynamic as Zazuka’s, but the manner in which he blended the instrument with his synthesized sounds and effects more than made up for it. He joked about playing techno, but the electronic elements never dominated over the fundamental components of his voice and keyboards. He also brought up Barbara Cuesta to guest on two songs, and on the latter, she even played guitar.

Osborn also joked about him and Zazuka seeming out of place in a punky anarchist bar, but he said they were also anarchists, just of the “quiet” variety. He also made several references to chamber pop, but to my ear both acts were singer-songwriters somewhere in the realm of folk music. My understanding is that the studio recordings of both are somewhat more orchestrated and carefully arranged, so perhaps the label would apply more accurately there. At any rate, it was a pleasant evening and a welcome return to a place I have fond memories of.

Zazuka: C
Ben Osborn: B-

P.S. Thanks to Lutz, Dave, and Tobias!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

2019 in Review

I’ve never written a post like this before, but 2019 was something of a special year. Somehow, without even really trying, I wrote more reviews in 2019 than in any prior (37 posts). At present, there are 33 posts tagged 2019 (not counting this one), also more than any other year. It’s also the first year I saw a show and wrote a review in every month. I still haven’t gone to any major European festivals, but I did go to a local psychedelic festival that seems to be breaking out (Synästhesie), another local alternative/independent festival (Torstraßen Festival), and a street festival on the street I live on (Choriner Straßenfest). And in another first, I conducted my first interview (with Joshua King of Joshua and the Ruins). It’s been a busy year!

I managed to see three of the classic kosmische heroes (Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster and Harmonia, Michael Rother of Neu! and Harmonia, and Tangerine Dream, albeit with none of the original members), in addition to plenty of my other longtime favorites (The Specials, Ian Fisher, ChameleonsVox, The Smashing Pumpkins, Andrew Bird, Neil Young, Boogarins, Tame Impala, Wilco, Fehlfarben, Stereolab, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark).

I also got to see several strong newer German bands (Britta (new is relative), Barbara Morgenstern, Die Heiterkeit, Theodor Shitstorm, Laura Carbone, and Perilymph, among plenty others), and there were also plenty of pleasant surprises at festivals and in opening slots (Yeasayer (who just broke up), Michaela Meise, The Chap, Chris Imler, and Sunn Trio, to name a few).

There was also plenty of great music released in 2019. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:
You may note a few big names with new albums aren’t on the the list. To be honest, I found some of the high-profile releases by big-name artists middling or even disappointing, namely Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds - Ghosteen, The National - I Am Easy to Find, Wilco - Ode to Joy, and Thom Yorke - Anima.

On the other hand, there were (as always) a few older records that I came across this year that particularly impressed me, including: Britta - Lichtjahre voraus (2003), The Boo Radleys - Everything’s Alright Forever (1992) and Giant Steps (1993), Michael Rother - Flammende Herzen (1976), Neonbabies - 1983 (1983), and Ideal - Bi Nuu (1982).

Lastly, there were also a number of great records from recent years that I missed at first but have now caught up with, such as: The Besnard Lakes - A Coliseum Complex Museum (2016), Theodor Shitstorm - Sie werden dich lieben (2018), and The Veldt’s pair of 2017 EPs, The Shocking Fuzz of Your Electric Fur: The Drake Equation and Thanks to the Moth and Areanna Rose, although most of the latter appears to have been previously released as Apollo Heights on White Music for Black People (2007).

Like I said, it was a great year for me in terms of music! Here’s hoping that the fun continues in 2020.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark / Tiny Magnetic Pets - Live 2019.12.02 Tempodrom, Berlin, Germany

I had no idea that OMD was still popular enough that they could sell out a night in Berlin at a large venue and then offer a second night that was also quite packed. The crowd was markedly different (and skewed older) than I’m used to, but I had the same experience with The Human League last year.

Artist: Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark
Venue: Tempodrom
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 2 December 2019
Opening Act: Tiny Magnetic Pets

01. Stanlow
02. Isotype
03. Messages
04. Tesla Girls
05. History of Modern (Part 1)
06. (Forever) Live and Die
07. Souvenir
08. Joan of Arc
09. Joan of Arc (Maid of Orleans)
10. Statues
11. Almost
12. Don’t Go
13. So in Love
14. Dreaming
15. The Punishment of Luxury
16. Locomotion
17. Sailing on the Seven Seas
18. Enola Gay

19. If You Leave
20. Pandora’s Box
21. Electricity

Opening act Tiny Magnetic Pets claimed to be the only electronic band in Ireland, which I don’t believe in the slightest. Their music was mostly bright, upbeat, and danceable, but rather static. They managed to get a decent atmosphere going in a few songs, but they didn’t quite take off from there. I liked that they had experimented with their electronic setup, but their choices didn’t exactly work out in their favor. Their stage presence was sapped of much of its potential energy by using monotonous drum pads and pre-programming most of their instrumental parts. As a result, the keyboardist was left to merely play chords underneath the more interesting bits. Their singer had a strong voice, but the only nuance came from some occasional interplay with the much quieter keyboardist’s backing vocals.

I was worried that Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark might suffer a similar fate. Plenty of OMD’s songs are cheesy and lightweight, and their post-reunion albums have as many weak points as good parts. Thankfully, they’ve maintained plenty of artistic integrity and they made a strategic decision to build a set that balanced their deliberate pop singles with their earlier, more experimental songs. They went as far as opening the show with “Stanlow”, a long and brooding song about a power plant from their understated but superb second album, Organisation (1980).

I appreciate that the band still embrace their early songs in all their idiosyncratic glory. They chose to play both of their songs about “Joan of Arc” – one right after the other. They closed their main set with “Enola Gay”, infamously written about dropping the atomic bomb. The show ended with their first single, “Electricity”, a great song that really is earnestly about electricity (and the environment). Their breezy mid-period single “So in Love” is in fact bitterly the opposite of what one might expect (“It’s hard to believe / I was so in love with you”). Even their new songs maintain their wit, most notably with the consumerist critique of “The Punishment of Luxury”. A taped interlude before “Statues” featured a medley of spoken bits from Dazzle Ships (1983) and other albums, including the hilarious line, “The future you anticipated has been canceled”.

While I was disappointed at the lack of anything else from the exceptional Dazzle Ships, they did play several of my favorites, including all three singles from Architecture and Morality (1981). For “Statues” and “Almost”, the band came forward to the front of the stage to play in the traditional synthpop row setup à la Kraftwerk. Keyboardist Paul Humphreys was given his moments to shine with two songs featuring his lead vocals (“(Forever) Live and Die” and “Souvenir”), and vocalist Andy McCluskey played bass on about half the tracks, particularly the older songs. Even when he had the bass, he had a hyperactive energy and ran, jumped, and danced all around the stage. Keyboardist Martin Cooper also picked up a saxophone for a couple solos, and Stuart Kershaw wisely chose to play live drums.

All of this movement and variation did a lot to keep the show interesting. They managed to play a number of dancey newer songs that were reasonably good while still playing a huge number of hits. Their blend of styles and sounds was an excellent choice, and I presume that both sides of their divided audience were pleased.

The quality of the performance was also quite good. McCluskey’s voice is about as good as ever, and while Humphreys’ was never quite at the same level, it was and still is almost as good. When the two sang harmony together, it was excellent. Those moments were some of the best of the night, even when they were part of their more generic pop songs. The only unfortunate bit was that McCluskey’s bass was mixed far too low, although my mediocre seat might not have helped with that. Otherwise, the instrumentation was great, and I barely noticed the occasional sampled part. OMD have been at this for a while, and it seems like they’ve got it pretty well figured out.

[Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.]

Tiny Magnetic Pets: C-
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: B+

P.S. Thanks to Alyssa!

Monday, November 18, 2019

Synästhesie 2019 Day 2

After an incredible first day, I was quite excited for another day, although to be honest, there weren't any particular big draws for me. That wasn't going to stop me from making the most if it and taking some chances, though!

Event: Synästhesie 2019 Day 2
Venue: Kulturbrauerei
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 17 November 2019

The first event of the day was a conversation with Alan McGee (of Creation Records) and Anton Newcombe (of Brian Jonestown Massacre), but I arrived just barely too late to catch any of it. I went to the Kesselhaus to see Saba Lou, the teenage daughter of King Khan who started recording with her dad at age 6. Her band had an old-school garage sound blended with soul. There was some groove and a bit of fuzz, but most of the songs were fairly easygoing. She had some charm and had a fun vibe, though. She brought her sister Bella up for one song.

[Saba Lou.]

I went over to the smaller 8mm Stage to see Hello Pity, another Berlin band. From their studio recordings, I was expecting a mix of styles, in particular post-punk and psych. Instead, they stuck to a really heavy, doomy, dark sort of punk or rock. I liked the heavy rhythm, the dark energy of their noise, and that the guitarists and bassist traded vocals, but none of them were particularly gifted singers, and the music was too aggressive and indistinct for my taste.

[Hello Pity.]

I left early and went to the Maschinenhaus to catch the last 20 minutes or so of 10000 Russos from Portugal. Coincidentally, they were also playing a swampy haze of darkness and sludge. The drummer handled vocals but I again wasn't impressed. I couldn't discern much complexity in the sound, just a dense morass. That was fine, but I was hoping for some of the shoegaze I heard from their recordings.

[10000 Russos.]

Next door in the Kesselhaus, The Black Lips had already gotten underway. They were playing something like garage rock, old-school bubblegum pop, or psychobilly, a bit like The Shivas. I liked their playful party vibe and their high energy, but they were dampened by a weak mix that rendered their vocals indecipherable. The lo-fi sound suited their aesthetic, but it didn't make for the best listening experience. They didn't seem to care; they were having too much fun.

[The Black Lips.]

I went back to the Maschinenhaus to see Holygram, a darkwave band from Köln, but after almost a half-hour of waiting around, they still hadn't finished soundchecking, so I gave up on them. It's too bad; I think I would've liked them. Next up in the Kesselhaus was Deerhunter, who I've seen before but still haven't quite gotten into. However, this may have been the best set I've seen them play yet.


Bradford Cox seemed in a better mood than when I'd seen them before, which probably had a significant impact. He seemed to be enjoying himself and spoke exclusively in what he claimed was a Midlands accent (despite being from Georgia). In fact, he sounded oddly like Genesis P-Orridge, which is a fitting touchstone for the band. They maintained their off-kilter indie rock with psychedelic edges and added several nice sonic explorations. Guitarist Lockett Pundt again sang lead on one song. The highlight was the appearance of Emilio China on violin for several songs at the end. China was announced as the band's stage manager, although I recognized him as the excellent bassist and violinist from several of Peter Murphy's tours!

Here's the setlist, with some help from here:
01. Death in Midsummer
02. No One's Sleeping
03. Revival
04. Desire Lines
05. Sailing
06. Take Care
07. Futurism
08. Plains
09. Coronado
10. Nocturne

11. Agoraphobia
12. Cover Me (Slowly)
13. He Would Have Laughed

[Deerhunter with Emilio China.]

Once Deerhunter was over, I again went back to the Maschinenhaus to see what was up with Flamingods. However, they still hadn't started playing, and ended up being 25 minutes late. They were playing hypnotic and groovy psychedelia that had some promise, but it was so crowded that I had to bail. I once again returned to the Kesselhaus to see the final act of the night, A Place to Bury Strangers. Their sound was dark, aggressive, and very heavy. I like some noise rock, but something about APTBS was just too much for me. The guitarist and bassist kept throwing their instruments around and just thrashing about, and I just wasn't feeling that sort of energy. I left before the end.

Final Thoughts: I ended up having something of a disappointing second day, especially in contrast to the first. I liked everything I saw on the first day, but on this day, only Deerhunter really impressed me, although Saba Lou was good, too. The rest was all just too heavy for me. (This is a surprise even for me; I used to be all about Nine Inch Nails and The Sisters of Mercy.) Part of the problem was that the sound quality just wasn't great. It was fine for most of the first day (although I did complain about it during Stereolab's set), but almost nothing sounded optimal on this day. Particularly in the Kesselhaus, the sound was boomy, and in every room, vocals were always hard to discern. Perhaps related, it was also quite annoying that the schedule in the Maschinenhaus was running so late that I missed one band entirely and most of another.

Despite those complaints, I feel ridiculously lucky to live so near to a festival dedicated to Kosmische Musik and psychedelia. How in the world did that work out!? Even if it wasn't all perfect, I'm still quite impressed with the robust lineup. The choice of venue was also quite cool. I'm not sure how I missed out on this festival in past years, but I'll be paying attention next year!

Saba Lou: B-
Hello Pity: C
10000 Russos: C-
The Black Lips: C+
Deerhunter: B+
A Place to Bury Strangers: C

Synästhesie 2019 Day 1

The moment I heard about a festival put on by the people of taste at the 8mm Bar (where I've seen Love'n'Joy and The Shivas) taking place at a venue ten minutes' walking distance from my apartment and featuring Stereolab and Michael Rother, I was sold. I bought a ticket the day they announced it.

Event: Synästhesie 2019 Day 1
Venue: Kulturbrauerei
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 16 November 2019

I started off my evening with Steppenkind at the Baby Satan Stage. The Berlin-based band played a D.A.F.-like version of darkwave based on sequencers, synthesizers, live drums, and spoken word vocals. The vocalist also played some heavily effected guitar parts. Musically, I liked the heavy beats and the electronic soundscape. The vocals were an unusual choice, somewhere between rap and spoken poetry, but the words weren't enough to draw me in. I admire the risk, though.

I left early to head to the main stage in the Kesselhaus to see Laura Carbone. She first crossed my radar by playing at SXSW in 2016 and 2017, but in both cases, I somehow missed seeing her. This time I made it a priority. Her songs were rooted in folk and blues, but she draped everything in gothy psychedelic rock. Half of the songs featured fuzz bass, and there were moments when she manipulated her guitar with delay and subtle whammy bar usage to get the classic My Bloody Valentine sound. Most of her set was slow and smoky, but that was interspersed with just enough higher-energy rock to keep it engaging. Her lead guitarist was exquisitely suited to the style and was well-honed on playing just the right thing at the right time. The drummer provided a number of nice harmonies, and occasionally even the lead guitarist and bassist pitched in, too. Carbone's voice was strong and risked melodramatic oversinging, but she restrained herself such that when she did go big, it caught your attention. I was impressed that even with a voice like that, she paid careful attention to the atmosphere she created.

[Laura Carbone.]

As soon as Carbone's set ended, I went up into the Maschinenhaus to see Perilymph, another Berlin-based band. I came late and they were busy producing a big, warm, chilled-out psychedelic soundbed. Featuring two guitarist/synthesists, a bassist/percussionist, and a drummer, most of their music focused on exploratory instrumentals. One song did have vocals, but they seemed secondary. Their rhythms were steady and motorik-inspired. Several songs featured webs of interconnected instrumental parts, including several sections with really nice harmonizations. Their songs were pleasant and simple at first glance, but exploratory and full when you focused in. I wish I'd seen their full set.


Back in the Kesselhaus, Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar from Niger had already started. I've seen a few different Tuareg "desert guitar" groups now, and I haven't been disappointed yet. Mdou's recordings are known for his experimentation with effects and electronic elements, but on stage, he focused on the rhythm and his blazing guitar. He did end up using some guitar effects for bonus pysch points, but it was just the standard array of distortion, overdrive, and phasing. He sang some, but I couldn't understand the words, so they came across as just a vehicle for the music. The rest of the band consisted of a rhythm guitarist, a bassist, a drummer, and another person who literally just clapped along to the beat. Most of the set was energetic and upbeat, but they played around significantly with tempo changes. There were only a few brief pauses and slower, sparser sections, but several occasions where the band suddenly started charging ahead and playing at incredibly fast tempos.

[Mdou Moctar.]

Instead of rushing around to catch a bit of another set, I just waited patiently in the Kesselhaus for Michael Rother of Neu! and Harmonia to take the stage. He suffered a false start, but once he got going, he was on. He played guitar but sat behind a table full of electronics. Rother was joined by Franz Bargmann on rhythm guitar and Hans Lampe on drums. Lampe was originally the engineer on Neu! 2 (1973) but graduated to play drums on the second side of Neu! 75 and then became a full member of La Düsseldorf (notably the band started by Klaus Dinger after Neu! split). Rother even introduced him as "Mr. Motorik", and sure enough, he spent the whole set pounding away on the classic beat, albeit frequently with the aid of a drum machine. In fact, I was a bit surprised that backing tracks were used for the bass parts as well, although considering how simple and repetitive they were, I don't blame them.

Rother's set mixed up a number of classic Neu! songs along with songs from Harmonia and his solo career. All of them were reworked to sound fresh and vibrant. In some cases it was enough for the original electronic drums to be replaced or augmented by the live energy of Lampe, and in others it was simply that Rother played beautiful lead parts in his trademark shimmering fuzz that in many cases outshone the parts on the original records. Bargmann's guitar was mostly relegated to the background, but the balance of Lampe and Rother was excellent, and the music was transcendent and thoroughly delightful. I was surprised by how quickly the time went by and disappointed that it was over so soon, despite that he played even longer than the advertised 70 minutes. Here's the setlist:

01. Katzenmusik 5
02. Neuschnee [Neu! song]
03. [Unknown]
04. Seeland [Neu! song]
05. Gitarrero
06. Stromlinien
07. Deluxe (Immer wieder) [Harmonia song]
08. Zyklodrom
09. Hallogallo [Neu! song]
10. Negativland [Neu! song]
11. Dino [Harmonia song]
12. E-Musik [Neu! song]

[Michael Rother.]

I wasn't about to give up my spot at that point, so I stayed put and waited for the big headliner of the night, the newly reformed Stereolab. My first real interaction with the band came from seeing frontwoman Lætitia Sadier open for Beirut back in 2011. Unfortunately, I wasn't particularly impressed. In the meantime, I eventually got with the program and have since become a huge fan.

Stereolab today is quite similar to the group it was when they split in 2009. The founding members Tim Gane on guitar and Sadier on vocals/keyboards/guitar were joined by longtime drummer Andy Ramsay, keyboardist Joe Watson from their last few albums, and new member Xavier Muñoz Guimera on bass and backing vocals. They played a set that covered most of their career, but left out everything before Transient Random-Noise Bursts with Announcements (1993) and their last pair of albums, Chemical Chords (2008) and Not Music (2010). As if they were aiming for some sort of bell curve, the only album they played more than two songs from was Dots and Loops (1997), which was tellingly the album that saw the band move explicitly into a more experimental post-rock phase. Here's the setlist:

01. Anamorphose
02. Brakhage
03. French Disko
04. Baby Lulu
05. Infinity Girl
06. Fluorescences
07. Miss Modular
08. Need to Be
09. Metronomic Underground
10. The Extension Trip
11. Ping Pong
12. Percolator
13. Crest
14. Lo Boob Oscillator [extended]

15. Rainbo Conversation
16. Contronatura

I appreciated the varied setlist, but it leaned particularly heavy on the jazzier, academic, somewhat stiffer side of their catalog. Stereolab never forgot how to groove, and they wrote clever and exciting songs throughout their entire career, but I still prefer their looser early years when they wore their heavy influences from The Velvet Underground and Neu! on their sleeves. We still got a few of the rockers like "French Disko"and "Ping Pong", though, and the whimsical "Lo Boob Oscillator" was another highlight for me. They extended the second half of the song into an almost 15-minute jam with several intense uptempo sections separated by a long abstract interlude. It was a delight to see them cut loose and improvise, and they never wandered into territory that lost my attention.

However, there was one notable problem: the mix was not great, particularly in the vocals. I could barely understand Sadier even when she spoke between songs. Even worse were the backing vocals from Muñoz. It probably isn't possible to replace the loss of Mary Hansen, but I appreciate that he tried. However, his vocals were mixed so low so as to be almost unrecognizable. When I could discern him, he seemed to be hitting the notes, but the cheerful interplay from the records didn't quite come alive.

This was a pretty incredible set of bands to see all in one night. I thoroughly enjoyed all of them, which is a rare occurrence for me!

Steppenkind: B-
Laura Carbone: B
Perilymph: A-
Mdou Moctar: B+
Michael Rother: A
Stereolab: B

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Fehlfarben / Zerfall - Live 2019.11.06 Alexanderplatz, Berlin, Germany

November 9th marks 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. To celebrate, the city of Berlin has put on a series of events around the city under the name 30 Jahre friedliche Revolution ("30 Years of Peaceful Revolution"), including video projections in important places as well as concerts. I failed to find tickets for either of the Patti Smith shows that were announced, but this concert was free and open to the public. It took place in the southern part of Alexanderplatz, probably the busiest square in Berlin. The fact that it was cold and rainy didn't stop a sizable audience from showing up. Meanwhile, footage from the era was projected onto the buildings surrounding the square.

Artist: Fehlfarben
Venue: Alexanderplatz
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 6 November 2019
Opening Act: Zerfall

Setlist (Monarchie und Alltag):
01. Hier und Jetzt
02. Grauschleier
03. Das sind Geschichten
04. All That Heaven Allows
05. Gottseidank nicht in England
06. Militürk
07. Apokalypse
08. Ein Jahr (Es geht voran)
09. Angst
10. Das war vor Jahren
11. Paul ist tot

12. Platz da
13. WWW

Zerfall are an original East Berlin hardcore punk band from the mid-80s. They only managed to persist despite constant state intervention by playing in churches, which were one of the only havens for anti-authoritarian activity at the time. They reformed in 2008 with the original singer and drummer, although by now only the singer remains. Their only recording from the 80s is a live show at the Galiläakirche, but after reforming they recorded an album of their old material (25 Jahre, 2009) and then even put together an album of new songs (Ostkreuz in Flammen, 2013).

Musically, the band was a straightforward hardcore punk crew. There was no subtlety and no complexity. The messages were direct and political, as evidenced by the song titles and oft-repeated choruses: "Shop", "Geld regiert die Welt" ("Money Rules the World"), "Geld muß her" ("Need Money"), "Berlin Scheiß Stadt" ("Berlin Shitty City"), and so on. I got a bit tired of the repetition, but near the end, one song featured something akin to a bass solo, and another appeared to be a cover of Abwärts' "Computerstaat" with a longer drum and bass intro and even a sort of lead guitar part. They finished the song by quoting "Wir sind die Türken von morgen" ("We are the Turks of tomorrow") from Fehlfarben's "Militürk". The final song was "Blaue Möwen Lied" ("Blue Seagull Song"), for which the band brought up a bunch of their friends to help them sing it.

Zerfall played for more like 40 minutes instead of the prescribed 30, so Fehlfarben started about 15 minutes late. (I wouldn't have minded except for the rain!) They opened with "Hier und jetzt" and followed it with the rest of Monarchie und Alltag (1980), the same album they played in full when I saw them last year (and when they played Berlin the year before as well). I love that album (I reviewed it twelve years ago and more recently went into greater detail about the song "Militürk"), but the repetition irked me. The two songs they played for the encore were also played at the last show.


There's not much more to say about the performance than what I wrote last time. It was again a rather conflicted performance. The album is great and still largely relevant, and the current lineup is still able to bring it on stage effectively, but it felt too easy, and the newer songs again didn't quite match the standard of the old ones. However, Peter Hein was a bit more focused and consistent, and against all odds, the mix was actually clearer. (Maybe it helped that I was much closer to the stage.) They again extended "Militürk", but "Ein Jahr" and "Paul ist tot" were played closer to their original studio versions, which may have actually been an improvement.

I'm still amazed that the government put on this concert for free. Both bands were anti-authoritarian and highly critical of the sociopolitical status quo of their times, and it's amusing that the government is now directly sponsoring them. Neither has much of a direct connection to the fall of the Wall, but then again, even the bands that supposedly do (Pink Floyd, David Hasselhoff, David Bowie) merely earned the distinction by playing a concert in front of it. This worked just as well: I appreciated the selection of a politically relevant band from each side of the wall. Hein even commemorated his role with the letters "BRD" taped on his shirt.

[Note the "BRD" shirt.]

Zerfall: C
Fehlfarben: B-

P.S. Coincidentally, I was in Berlin ten years ago for the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Wall and also saw some of the festivities and displays for that celebration. That was one of the trips that inspired me to move here.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Tangerine Dream - Live 2019.10.25 Passionskirche, Berlin, Germany (early show)

The current incarnation of Tangerine Dream features none of the original members, let alone anyone who played with the band in the 20th century or was even born when they made it big in the mid-70s. And yet they still sold out this concert and added a second late show. How do they do it?

Artist: Tangerine Dream
Venue: Passionskirche
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 25 October 2019 (early show)

Tangerine Dream today are synthesists/producers Thorsten Quaeschning and Ulrich Schnauss along with violinist and "Ableton Push controller" Hoshiko Yamane. Notably absent is Edgar Froese, the cofounder and only consistent member of the band until his death in 2015. Other notable members such as Christopher Franke, Peter Baumann, Johannes Schmoelling, and Edgar's son Jerome Froese have all gone their own way. However, Quaeschning has been with the band since 2005, Schnauss is an acclaimed artist in his own right, and supposedly Edgar's wishes were for the current formation to carry on and expand the tradition, so they have some clout.

Quaeschning stood surrounded by a wall of keyboards and patch bays, and he appeared to be driving the show from his corner. Schnauss stood off in the opposite corner, mostly attending to his laptop, but he also occasionally manipulated a keyboard, a single rack-mounted unit, and assorted other knob-filled boards. Yamane was front and center but performed as if she was unaware of the crowd. She played violin on about half the songs, although her instrument was not always audible or easily identifiable. She also spent substantial time using her laptop and a few boards.

Interestingly, at this show, an unannounced fourth performer also appeared: Paul Frick. As far as I can tell, he isn't an official member or even a regular touring member, but his contributions to this performance were substantial. He played synthetic percussion and central keyboard parts on every song, and he even had something akin to a piano solo near the end.

The band played works from across most of their extensive oeuvre, overlooking their earliest experimental and kosmische albums (as expected) and focusing on their trademark sequencer-driven sound from the mid-70s and onward. A few pieces were distinctly more upbeat and bright, presumably from Quantum Key (2015) or other recent albums, and several were darker and more sinister, likely from their soundtrack work. I distinctly recognized "Stratosfear" near the end of their set, which grabbed the audience's attention and served as a highlight of the night.

I was particularly impressed by their willingness to develop and explore their work, including even their canonical classics. They may work with familiar structures and recognizable motifs, but they used them as a framework to expand upon. I'd normally wonder how much of their performance was pre-programmed, but my impression was that most of it was live. The musicians appeared to built off the work of each other, and they occasionally looked to each other for cues. I also wonder what they sound like without Frick, as he added quite a bit to the performance.

Tangerine Dream learned early that as an instrumental band that was mostly stuck behind their massive racks of equipment, a visual element was critical for a convincing performance. Not only that, but they sought out a venue beloved by classical performers and known for its acoustics and intimate vibes. It's hard to say how much the venue really contributed to the sound quality, but the show sounded fantastic. Well, with one exception: I started out the night in the gallery, but I struggled to get a good view and the low end seemed to be oddly absent. Down on the floor, the sound was much better balanced, although the bass was occasionally too loud and the speakers had some trouble producing the intended sound.

In any case, the space was certainly taken advantage of for the light show. It seems likely that the lighting engineer had some time to practice or program specifically for the venue, as the lights frequently lit up parts of the hall and choir in especially dramatic fashions. The projection screen was used mostly spatial themes and geometric patterns, which was fine, but the lighting was on another level.

This might be the first time I've seen a band where none of the original or influential "core" members are involved anymore. It seems weird, but the existing members did everything in their power to make it thoroughly enjoyable nonetheless. The music was as solid as ever, the variety of moods and atmospheres was well balanced, the choice of venue was perfect, and the light show was a great match. They won me over.

Score: A-