Sunday, November 18, 2018

Psychic TV / Michael Cashmore & Shaltmira - Live 2018.11.15 Astra Kulturhaus, Berlin, Germany


Everything about Genesis P-Orridge fascinated me from a young age: hearing Throbbing Gristle's 20 Jazz Funk Greats thanks to my sister, finding Psychic TV's The Magickal Mystery D Tour EP at a used record store in Kansas, learning about Genesis' and Lady Jaye's gender transformations, seeing an exhibit of their photography at the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, and so on. However, Throbbing Gristle disintegrated a few years ago, Psychic TV hasn't toured as much in recent history, and Genesis' health has not been particularly good lately. Opportunities to see them or the band are probably quite limited.

Artist: Psychic TV
Venue: Astra Kulturhaus
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 15 November 2018
Opening Act: Michael Cashmore & Shaltmira

Setlist (approximate):
01. New Sexuality
02. We Kiss
03. Burning the Old Home
04. Alien Brain
05. White Nights
06. Just Like Arcadia
07. Jump Into the Fire [Harry Nilsson cover]
08. After You're Dead, She Said

Encore:
09. Suspicious
10. Mother Sky [Can cover]

Opening the night were Lithuanian visual artist and vocalist Shaltmira and British musician and Current 93 member Michael Cashmore. In addition to singing and chanting, Shaltmira danced, played with masks, and performed various ritualistic actions. Cashmore mostly stayed behind a table with a laptop and some electronics and produced a dark electronic soundscape. Twice he stepped to the front of the stage to briefly sing along with Shaltmira. The music had elements of techno, industrial, and darkwave. This was matched with a weird, dark, magic-oriented visual display designed by Shaltmira. It made for quite a strange experience, one that I wasn't sure how to connect with. It didn't speak to me, but I found their dedication to some version of magical ritual to be captivating. The more cohesive musical elements had some appeal to me, but much of it felt purposeless and vague.

[Michael Cashmore & Shaltmira.]

Psychic TV hit the stage at an uneven time while the house music was still playing, suggesting that they were either late or in a hurry to get going. Genesis P-Orridge came last and took the central spot. The rest of the band consisted of longtime members Edward O'Dowd and Alice Genese on drums and bass, respectively, Jeff Berner on guitar, and John Weingarten on keyboards. They started with a long instrumental passage before Genesis joined in with their vocals.

Musically, the band incorporated elements of psychedelia and classic rock, but stretched out into long jams that felt trance-like and droning. They performed only ten songs over the course of almost two hours. The songs rarely felt tiresome, perhaps because of the energy of the performers, the subtle variations in the musical and lyrical themes, or the weird kaleidoscopic patterns of the slideshow, which exhibited an obsession with twisting classical art images into unusual forms in constant motion.

Many of Genesis' lyrics seemed to related to their explorations and experiences with gender and sexuality. The ghost of the departed Lady Jaye was frequently present, either via their shared pandrogeny or Genesis' tribute to and obvious sadness for her passing. Another dominant theme was finding personal freedom.

While I found Genesis' lyrics poignant, their vocals were not at their best. Whatever the cause, Genesis frequently sang jarringly off-key and sometimes even out of time. If I hadn't been particularly interested in understanding their experience, and if the music hadn't been strong enough behind them, the vocals might've been overwhelmingly distracting.

However, there were a few shorter numbers where Genesis seemed slightly more lively and consciously engaged, such as the pseudo-Christmas song "White Nights". I missed the psychedelic reverb and other effects that often grace the vocals on their studio recordings, but Genesis' trademark unconcerned drawl was still quite present. Their humor and openness were also on display. At one point, Genesis urged the audience to reject coolness and hug one's neighbors. Between many songs, the band played samples from old movies, PSAs, and similar media, including the famous Bill Clinton denial quote. Genesis often mimed to them or made a quick joke as the next song began.

Psychic TV might be a profoundly strange band, but they are also profoundly fascinating. The music was compelling, the visual aspect was hard to stop watching, and Genesis barely has to try to still have a captivating stage presence. I just hope this isn't the end of Psychic TV as a live unit. O'Dowd had to appeal twice to the crowd to stop smoking cigarettes, as Genesis was apparently on oxygen before the show and would be again immediately afterwards. They're either dedicated to their craft or desperate for financial support. I hope it's the former.

[Psychic TV.]

Scores:
Michael Cashmore & Shaltmira: C
Psychic TV: B-

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Human League / Shelter - Live 2018.11.12 Huxleys Neue Welt, Berlin, Germany


Similar to my experience with Fehlfarben, one of my first reviews on this blog was of my favorite album by The Human League, Travelogue (Dare comes second!), and it took until now for me to finally get a chance to see them live. Of course, the band that recorded Travelogue only shares one member with the current lineup, but it still seemed worth a shot.

Artist: The Human League
Venue: Huxleys Neue Welt
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 12 November 2018
Opening Act: Shelter

Setlist:
01. The Sound of the Crowd
02. Sky
03. Heart Like a Wheel
04. Open Your Heart
05. Soundtrack to a Generation
06. Seconds
07. The Lebanon
08. One Man in My Heart
09. Louise
10. Human
11. Behind the Mask [Yellow Magic Orchestra cover]
12. Love Action (I Believe in Love)
13. All I Ever Wanted
14. Mirror Man
15. Tell Me When
16. (Keep Feeling) Fascination
17. Don't You Want Me

Encore:
18. Being Boiled
19. Together in Electric Dreams [Philip Oakey & Giorgio Moroder song]

When I read that the opening band was Shelter, I was expecting the American Krishnacore band. It seemed like a strange combination, but you never know with these things. When I showed up, I was instead presented with a British electronic pop duo featuring a singer that addressed the crowd in fluent German. I liked the queer vibes I got from them, but that was about it. The songs sounded like they were written by stealing one bit of a song by New Order, Gary Numan, or Depeche Mode, and then using that as the only hook. The lyrics were bland and the music just made me wish for the real thing. The singer was decent, but most of the music and backing vocals were programmed. I kind of wished I'd seen the hardcore band instead.

The Human League appeared as a six piece: original singer Philip Oakey, Dare-era backing vocalists Joanne Catherall and Susan Ann Sulley, two keyboard players (Nic and Ben), and Rob Barton on electronic drums. Off to the side of the stage was David Beevers, their sound engineer, who was important enough to receive an introduction by Philip along with the others. Both keyboard players came onstage with keytars, so clearly things were off to a good start.

[Two keytars!]

I had no idea of what to expect from the concert. Unsurprisingly, they played half of Dare along with both subsequent non-album singles, all of which were well done even if predictable. Otherwise, they played various singles from throughout their career, of which some were markedly better than others. "One Man in My Heart" was a welcome opportunity for Sulley to take the lead, but the song itself was not a winner. "Behind the Mask", on the other hand, was a compelling reminder of the band's collaboration with Yellow Magic Orchestra.

"Don't You Want Me" was naturally the closer of the main set, but the instrumentalists led an extended intro with an opportunity for the crowd to sing a round of the refrain before the singers came back on stage. I was particularly curious what they would offer for an encore after already playing their biggest hits. The answer was "Being Boiled", the only song they played from the original incarnation of the band. It's a weird song, but I still like it, and it was markedly heavier than anything else they played. The last song was "Together in Electric Dreams", originally a collaboration by Oakey and Giorgio Moroder for the Electric Dreams soundtrack. Naturally, it fits right into the Human League mold, and the crowd was into it.

From what I could tell, almost everything was performed live. One of the keyboardists even played a guitar for a couple of the songs! Oakey's vocals were still quite strong, and while no one ever pretended that Catherall and Sulley were virtuosos, their vocals were solid additions. I wish they'd been a bit higher in the mix at times, though. While the backstory of the women's addition to the band still sounds bizarre today, I've got to hand it to them that they've stuck with the band ever since they joined in 1980. It'd be a lot weirder if it didn't work.

The band clearly tries to fight the notion of being a boring synth band just standing statically behind their rigs. Oakey kept active and ran all over the stage. Catherall and Sulley were both in constant motion, swaying and dancing on the sides. (All three also had a few costume changes throughout the night.) The drumkit and keytars also helped with the movement on stage. And true to tradition, they had a massive array of video screens. The visuals were sometimes bits of their music videos but often just weird pseudo-sci-fi imagery or scenes from old video games (e.g. Pac-Man) and movies (e.g. Tron). The weirdest was for "Together in Electric Dreams":

[Are those mechanical sheep with telephones for heads?]

Despite the many things the band did right, there was still something missing from the show. Although they did their best to keep the attention of the audience, there was something a bit too easy, clean, and predictable about it all. They leaned hard on the pop side of their catalog, but their presentation lacked depth. I appreciate the politically charged nature of some of their songs, but many were straightforward and uncomplicated. It felt a bit too cheesy at times, like the audience was being pandered to. Where were the experimental elements? The willful weirdness? Obviously, I wanted more from Travelogue, but that's not the last album in their career to feature experimentation and exploration. I liked what I heard, but I was hoping for more.

Scores:
Shelter: D
The Human League: C+

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Boogarins / Love'n'Joy - Live 2018.11.08 Musik und Frieden, Berlin, Germany


I had the good fortune to see Boogarins three times in Austin at various festivals while I lived there. They seem to be constantly growing and changing, so they were always worth taking a chance on. Although their second album, Manual (2015), didn't initially appeal to me as much as their first, As Plantas Que Curam (2013), it has grown on me in the meantime, and their latest album, Lá Vem a Morte (2017, reissued in "deluxe" form with three bonus tracks in 2018), is a delightful collage of psychedelic sound. 11€ seemed like a bargain to see them headline a show in a compact venue.

Artist: Boogarins
Venue: Musik und Frieden
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 8 November 2018
Opening Act: Love'n'Joy

Setlist:
01. [Unknown]
02. Foimal
03. 6000 Dias (Ou Mantra dos 20 Anos)
04. Lucifernandis →
05. Auchma [Extended]
06. Avalanche
07. LVCO 4
08. Corredor Polonês →
09. Lá Vem a Morte [Extended]
10. Onda Negra

Encore:
11. San Lorenzo
12. Doce [Extended]

Unsurprisingly, the opener was another psychedelic band: Love'n'Joy from Ukraine. They were a three-piece with a garage rock foundation and a load of riffs and harmonies. The English lyrics that I could understand were nothing special, but they sure managed to make the music translate effectively. All three musicians were solid performers and held their own. This was put to the test when the guitarist broke a string and the bassist and drummer carried on and jammed on their own for a bit. The guitarist ended up just grabbing a different guitar (which turned out to be one of Boogarins'), but something went wrong with the cables or pedals and he ended up playing most of the next song plugged directly into the amp. It's practically a joke that some bands would sound completely mundane if the effects were removed, but thankfully Love'n'Joy mostly still worked even without the pedals. They kept it together and showed no sign of weakness despite the troubles. I was impressed.

[Love'n'Joy.]

The core of Boogarins' music has remained constant: melodic psychedelic rock with intertwined guitar work, Portuguese lyrics, and a healthy dose of experimentation. Lá Vem a Morte brings the experimental characteristics to the fore, but unlike some of the jam sections of the last show of theirs I saw, the record is focused, cohesive, and surprisingly bright. The propulsive drumming of Ynaiã Benthroldo was also given more room to shine.

However, I honestly wasn't sure how the new album would translate to the stage. Thankfully, they pulled it off quite successfully. Benthroldo's drumming retained a prominent place, particularly in songs like "Foimal", but his energy made the entire setlist groove, and his improvisational ability was essential for the jam sections. Bassist Raphael Vaz lent an electronic edge by playing most of the new songs on a keyboard. Dinho Almeida and Benke Ferraz kept their traditional roles, but they've only continued to expand their skill of playing off each other's parts. Almeida's rhythm guitar parts were often bouncy and dynamic enough that in another band they could be the lead part. Ferraz's lead guitar just jumped off from there. I was happy to see him singing more harmonies again as well.

Their set opened per tradition with a jam that I didn't recognize, and from there they jumped all over their catalog, frequently rearannging and extending the songs along the way. "LVCO 4", a quite new song from the reissue of Lá Vem a Morte, was a surprisingly restrained and sparse number, although a few parts of their various jams had similarly minimalist breakdowns. "Lá Vem a Morte", which appeared on the album in three parts, each quite cacophonous and scatterbrained, was performed in a nine-minute continuous version. It still shifted from section to section, but it was focused more on the guitar jams instead of the samples and noise from the record. It was a highlight.

The house lights and music came on after "Onda Negra", but the band hadn't even been on stage for an hour. Thankfully, the crowd and band convinced the venue to let them carry on. The crowd had repeatedly and enthusiastically requested the song "San Lorenzo", and the band finally obliged, although Almeida had to struggle to remember the guitar part in the middle. He figured it out after a few tries, and the audience cheered him on instead of grumbling or jeering.

They played a strong set, and the show felt full and fulfilling despite being shorter than I expected. I liked the mix of songs and the many changes they made to the songs to adapt them to the stage. Even the new songs felt like they were retooled and reworked to keep them interesting and impressive without studio effects and samples. The only weak moments were when some of the sparser sections dragged on a bit too long, and I was surprised that they closed the show with such a section. Instead of building up to a big finish, the gradually worked their way down until there was nothing left to remove. I hoped they might come back for a brief second encore to do one more rocker, but that was it.

[Boogarins.]

Scores:
Love'n'Joy: B+
Boogarins: A-

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Echo & the Bunnymen / And They Spoke in Anthems - Live 2018.10.31 Admiralspalast, Berlin, Germany


It's almost hard to believe I've made it this far in life without seeing Echo & the Bunnymen live. Coincidentally, the first album of theirs I bought was Ocean Rain right here in Berlin on my first visit in 2004. And they played on Halloween of all nights!

Artist: Echo & the Bunnymen
Venue: Admiralspalast
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 31 October 2018
Opening Act: And They Spoke in Anthems

Setlist:
01. Going Up
02. Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
03. Rescue
04. Never Stop
05. All That Jazz
06. All My Colours
07. Over the Wall
08. The Somnambulist
09. Villiers Terrace → Roadhouse Blues [The Doors cover tease] → The Jean Genie [David Bowie cover tease]
10. Nothing Lasts Forever → Walk on the Wild Side [Lou Reed cover tease] → Don't Let Me Down [The Beatles cover tease] → In the Midnight Hour [Wilson Pickett cover tease]
11. Seven Seas
12. Rust
13. Bring On the Dancing Horses
14. The Cutter
15. The Killing Moon

Encore:
16. Lips Like Sugar
17. Ocean Rain

I didn't see any reference to an opening band, so I had no idea what to expect. After the bells stopped ringing, the lights went down, and the spotlight came on, I was surprised to see a single man surrounded by instruments. This was And They Spoke in Anthems from Belgium. His shtick was looping. He mostly stuck to guitar and vocals with occasional bits of organ and percussion. Unfortunately, his foot-tapping on the hi-hat with a tambourine was rarely in time, so it was more of distraction than anything. Otherwise, his songs were fine and the looping generally worked. The highlight was some classical or folk-styled guitar parts, particularly one where he looped a lead part to simulate double-stop thirds.

Half an hour later, the bells rang again, but it took another conspicuous 15 minutes for Echo & the Bunnymen meander on stage to the sound of a Gregorian chant, just like they used to in the old days. They even opened with the traditional choice of "Going Up". The band, nominally just Ian McCulloch and Will Sergeant, was augmented by Stephen Brannan on bass, Gordy Goudie on guitar, Nick Kilroe on drums, and Jez Wing on keyboards.

It quickly became apparent that they weren't planning on deviating from their typical sound and approach, despite that just weeks ago they released an album of orchestral rearrangements of some of their classic songs (The Stars, The Oceans & The Moon). I had half-expected that the band would be touring with strings players as a result. The album is exactly what you would expect: relatively tired and sappy versions of songs that don't stand of a chance of improving on the originals. The idea is obvious and not even executed particularly well. That said, the two new songs are actually decent.

At the concert, however, you might as well have not known that the new album exists. They made no mention of it whatsoever, and although the setlist is unsurprisingly similar to the album's tracklist, the renditions were essentially the classic arrangements that they've been playing since the beginning. The only exceptions to the standard mold were that Mac sang the updated lyrics to "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo" and they performed one of the new songs from the album, "The Somnambulist". Although it's a good song and it did fit in with the rest of the set, Mac's claim that "Everyone'll say that's a classic in twenty years" is probably unrealistic.

The only other surprises were the various teases of the band's favorite songs that they threw into the middle of "Villiers Terrace" and "Nothing Lasts Forever". However, even that wasn't really a surprise at all; they've been doing that practically since the beginning. Still, it's fun to see them do it live. Musically, they were consistently on point. The could hammer out these songs without even trying, but thankfully they still invest them with energy and strength. The fact that the setlist is so predictable is a bit disappointing, but at least the songs they do always play are a superb selection.

The biggest disappointment, however, was Mac's voice. For the most part, he still sings well enough, but he can't hit the notes like he used to. In "Never Stop", "The Cutter", and "Ocean Rain" in particular, he changed some of the melodies to a lower register. It seemed like he was trying to give his all for "The Cutter", but he couldn't quite make it each time and he sometimes opted for the easy route. On other songs, you could hear his voice stretch and fail. "The Killing Moon" was unfortunately the worst example. Most of the song was great, but I guess he figured he couldn't just skip the highest parts. He tried his best, but he just couldn't do it. In general, there was an element of power in his voice that was missing. The best Bunnymen songs feature sections where Mac would belt out in an almost unbelievably strong voice, and that just didn't quite happen.

For a band that got their start just about 40 years ago, though, they still have a lot to offer. The songs are as good as ever, and the fact that they are still able to throw a new one in the mix that isn't an obvious dud is reassuring. I wish they would've thrown in some more obscurities or simply played a longer set, but they lived up to their reputation of being a capable and well-honed band.


Scores:
And They Spoke in Anthems: C
Echo & the Bunnymen: B

P.S. Unfortunately, we weren't granted any special treats for Halloween. In fact, Mac claimed to "hate Halloween". I wasn't able to understand his explanation, though.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Fehlfarben / Black Heino - Live 2018.10.26 Heimathafen Neukölln, Berlin, Germany


I've always been a bit skeptical about full-album concerts, but I wasn't about to miss a chance to see Fehlfarben, one of the undisputed best bands to come out of the German punk and Neue Deutsche Welle scenes. One of the very first reviews I ever wrote for this blog was of their iconic debut album, Monarchie und Alltag, the very album they were performing in full. (According to my webhost's statistics, it's the most popular review I've ever published.) Furthermore, just before I caught wind of this concert, I wrote an entire article about "Militürk", one of the songs from the same album. To say the least, I was excited for this concert.

Artist: Fehlfarben
Venue: Heimathafen Neukölln
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 26 October 2018
Opening Act: Black Heino

First set (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

Second set:
12. Platz da
13. Das Komitee
14. Urban Innozenz
15. [unknown]
16. Politdisko

Encore:
17. Dekade 2
18. WWW
19. Große Liebe

Not knowing anything about Black Heino, while doing my advance research, I quickly realized their name was appropriative. (You'll have to forgive me for being previously unaware of the Schlager singer Heino, who is white, just like the members of Black Heino.) I've been unable to find any explanation from the band other than provocation, which is a tired excuse. Despite my reservations, I tried to give them a chance on the merit of their music, but they failed to impress me on that account as well. They were boring, repetitive, and simplistic. Most of their solos and lead melodies were literally just ascending and descending a scale. At first, there were a few little flairs that reminded me of classic 60s pop/rock and garage rock, but even those gradually disappeared. The vocals were whiny and shouted tunelessly in the style of Frank Jürgen Krüger (of Ideal) and other German punks. (Why that style is beloved is beyond my understanding.) Their lyrics might have been good, but I couldn't tell, and I wasn't inspired to look them up.

[Black Heino.]

After that disappointment, I was impatient for Fehlfarben. Thankfully they didn't keep me waiting too long, and they launched right into "Hier und jetzt", the opener from Monarchie und Alltag. As expected, they played the whole thing start to finish, and then they left the stage. They came right back out for a second set consisting of much more recent compositions, and for the encore, they offered more of the same plus their first single, "Große Liebe".

As a result of the format, it seemed as if I saw two different bands with the same members. The first set was dynamic, varied, engrossing, and exciting despite the age of the songs. There was an unavoidable hint of gimmickry due to the premise, but the songs were still strong and largely relevant, and the audience was into it. The second set and encore were subdued, monotonic, and relatively tame. The band was still trying, but the audience wasn't feeling it, and people steadily streamed out while they were playing. The newer songs aren't bad at all, and lyrically they still have plenty to say, but somehow it didn't translate well on stage. The songs blended into one another and I had trouble concentrating and understanding the words.

Although the second half of the show wasn't as good as I had hoped, the first part didn't disappoint. It was awesome to see the entirety of one of my favorite albums played live by most of the original band. Peter Hein, the original vocalist who left after the debut album to work at Xerox for twenty years, has been back in the band ever since they reformed. He danced around stage, playfully messed around with the other members while they performed, tossed around balloons, and joked about whatever was on his mind. His vocals were actually substantially more powerful than they were on the album (although still not exactly trained or proficient by mainstream pop standards). As a result, he changed the original melodies and cadences at will, which was sometimes annoying but often a welcome improvement.

Three other original members were also present: bassist Michael Kemner, saxophonist/percussionist/keyboardist Frank Fenstermacher, and synthesist Kurt Dahlke, aka Pyrolator (although he only played on "Paul ist tot" on the album). Unfortunately, drummer Uwe Bauer hasn't played regularly with the band since 1991 and original guitarist Thomas Schwebel left the band around 2006. (The post-Hein additional guitarist Uwe Jahnke also left in 2014.) In their places were longtime drummer Saskia von Klitzing and relative newcomer Thomas Schneider on guitar. They were both capable replacements that played the original parts with deft skill.

Other than Hein's vocal alterations, most of the songs were played very similarly to the original versions. The exceptions were the three most beloved songs: "Militürk", "Ein Jahr", and "Paul ist tot". "Militürk" was extended and just as extreme as ever. It's admittedly quite strange to hear the crowd chant along to "Deutschland, Deutschland, alles ist vorbei" ("Germany, Germany, it's all over"). How do I interpret the remark from one of the elder punks in front of me to his comrade that the lyric suited the present day just as well?

"Ein Jahr" was also somewhat extended and rearranged, starting with the drums and then bass instead of the distinctive guitar riff. As if designed to prove the allegations of the band being a one-hit wonder, the audience response was conspicuously drastically more enthusaistic. The entire crowd tried to dance or sway to the mock-disco beat, and the sound of their singalong was louder than Hein. Something about it felt forced. Perhaps the band's claim that they never liked the song was true. The performance didn't quite live up to the studio version.

The album closer "Paul ist tot" was the other highlight. It wasn't until recently that I finally began to understand the song; until then, I'd never been able to figure out why German fans would often cite that as one of their favorites. Again, the audience sang along with the despondent lyrics, even when Hein forgot a line. The band extended the song about as far as it could go, and they made it work. Hein wandered off stage after he finished his part, but most of the band kept going. Von Klitzing eventually left too, but since the rest of the band kept going, she came back and drove them to a finish. Even then, Schneider kept hammering away at his guitar until he too grew tired.

I was a bit disappointed that Fehlfarben didn't play anything from the other albums released during their initial incarnation in the early 80s. However, of the musicians on stage, only Kemner played on 33 Tage in Ketten (1981) and none of them played on Glut und Asche (1983)! That said, they did play "Große Liebe", their first single that preceded even Monarchie und Alltag in 1980. It was originally recorded by S.Y.P.H. under the title "Industriemädchen" and presumably brought to Fehlfarben by Schwebel, who was an original member of both bands and wrote the lyrics to it. The industrial love song was just as ironic and appropriate as ever. It brought the show to an end on a (relatively) high note.

[Fehlfarben.]

The concert gave me a wild assortment of conflicting feelings. The original album is a classic, and the band can still do a solid rendition of it. However, there was still a lingering feeling of being pandered to. I liked that the band adapted and extended some of the songs from the album, but "Ein Jahr" didn't quite work, and it took a few songs for the mix to sound right. Hein's vocals were an interesting change, but he forgot some of the lyrics and took a playful, uncommitted stance. And after they finished the album, the rest of the show just couldn't live up to it. The words are perhaps the most important part, but they were often indiscernible. The band is still relevant, but they are aging and their energy seemed to wane. The audience followed suit – or maybe it was the other way around.

It was a weird show, especially since they played basically the same show last year. It's hard to blame them, since this show was sold out, but the artistic merit is questionable. For better or worse, Fehlfarben fell in the trap of having released an album that captured the voice and spirit of a particular generation in a particular time and place. Judging by the sales numbers and the audience reaction, nothing else they do can quite reproduce that magic, no matter how hard they try.

Scores:
Black Heino: D-
Fehlfarben: C+

[This is a terrible photo, but I took in a rush because the slideshow in the back was displaying the album cover. It rotated through a set of something like a hundred photos with similar elements of historical bleakness and commercialism.]

P.S. The only other review I've found so far of the show (in German, of course) is from the Berliner Morgenpost. It's a bit harsh but not far off from what I observed.
P.P.S. The Berliner Zeitung has a review of last year's show (again in German) that also has some elements in common, although it says very little about the actual performance.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Leo Grande - Live 2018.10.20 Prachtwerk, Berlin, Germany



Artist: Leo Grande
Venue: Prachtwerk
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 20 October 2018

Leo Grande played the first night of their German tour in their hometown at the cozy Prachtwerk. Antonio Hoffman led the group with acoustic guitar and vocals, preferring a folky fingerpicking style over anything heavy. His vocals were stronger than I was expecting, although his annunciation was casual and loose such that I didn't quite catch every word. The lyrics were in German, and from what I could I understand, they were personal but amusing and often focused on social connection and understanding. Their looming cover of Ton Stein Scherben's "Mein Name ist Mensch" ("My Name Is Human") fit right into their themes.

However, Leo Grande was far more than just a singer/singwriter with a backing band. The interplay of all four musicians was what made their performance successful. Jonathan Kirchgeßner played keyboards that sometimes kept to the shadows but often swelled with drama. His tones set the mood of their songs towards darkness or light. Raffael Bernhardt supplied superb harmonies while holding down an upright bass. His variety of techniques meant that the bass was more than just filler for the low end. Andrea Zuliani also offered a mix of styles and rhythms with his drumset that kept the pace from being monotonous.

Their style was jazzy, but not just because of the upright bass and the brushes on the drums. It was more about how the musicians worked together to construct a cohesive and compelling sound without getting lost in pretentious complexity or pandering with simplistic clichés. Their sense of balance was essential: Antonio took a few brief solos, but for the most part, they played off each other and just let the instrumentals build up together. That feeling of collaboration was what made them special. No one member was the star: they all had something to contribute.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The Cure - Mixed Up reissue (1990/2018)


Mixed Up was the last Cure album that I purchased. I was never particularly excited about it. I mean, a remix album? Of a post-punk or alt-rock band? Why? But in truth, it is an interesting prospect, especially with some of the re-recordings and the presence of a new song, "Never Enough". And as the latest edition of the protracted reissue series by the Cure, there's now even more material with which to debate the relative merits of the album.

Artist: The Cure
Album: Mixed Up
Release Date: 5 November 1990, reissued 22 June 2018
Label: Fiction (UK), Elektra (US)
Producer: Robert Smith, Chris Parry, Mark Saunders, Dave Allen

Tracklisting:
Disc 1 (original album):
01. Lullaby [Extended Mix]
02. Close to Me [Closer Mix]
03. Fascination Street [Extended Mix]
04. The Walk [Everything Mix]
05. Lovesong [Extended Mix]
06. A Forest [Tree Mix]
07. Pictures of You [Extended Dub Mix]
08. Hot Hot Hot!!! [Extended Mix]
09. The Caterpillar [Flicker Mix]
10. In Between Days [Shiver Mix]
11. Never Enough [Big Mix]

Disc 2 (Mixed Up Extras: Remixes 1982-1990):
01. Let's Go to Bed [Extended Mix]
02. Just One Kiss [Extended Mix]
03. Close to Me [Extended Mix]
04. Boys Don't Cry [New Voice Club Mix]
05. Why Can't I Be You? [Extended Mix]
06. A Japanese Dream [12" Remix]
07. Pictures of You [Extended Version]
08. Let's Go to Bed [Milk Mix]
09. Just Like Heaven [Dizzy Mix]
10. Primary [Red Mix]
11. The Lovecats [TC & Benny 12" Remix]

Disc 3 (Torn Down):
01. Three Imaginary Boys [Help Me Mix]
02. M [Attack Mix]
03. The Drowning Man [Bright Birds Mix]
04. A Strange Day [Drowning Waves Mix]
05. Just One Kiss [Remember Mix]
06. Shake Dog Shake [New Blood Mix]
07. A Night Like This [Hello Goodbye Mix]
08. Like Cockatoos [Lonely in the Rain Mix]
09. Plainsong [Edge of the World Mix]
10. Never Enough [Time to Kill Mix]
11. From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea [Love in Vain Mix]
12. Want [Time Mix]
13. The Last Day of Summer [31st August Mix]
14. Cut Here [If Only Mix]
15. Lost [Found Mix]
16. It's Over [Whisper Mix]

The Cure had always described Mixed Up as a way to lighten up, take a break, and do something fun after the doom and gloom of Disintegration and the long, intense Prayer tour that followed. They may have succeeded, and certainly much of the album is upbeat, but the irony is that all four of the singles from Disintegration appeared in some version of Mixed Up. "Never Enough" might be fairly uptempo, but the truth is that the Cure have always had a dark side and a light side, and Mixed Up just continued to demonstrate the myriad ways that the band intermingled their dichotomies. The full triple-disc reissue offers plenty more of both old and new remixes, and I will proceed to break down the contents.


The original album was dominated by the Disintegration remixes. Three of them, "Lullaby", "Fascination Street", and "Lovesong", are simply the extended 12" versions. All three are perfectly fine, but don't offer substantially more than the original versions other than just being longer. "Pictures of You", however, is instead the slightly more obscure "Extended Dub Mix", originally labeled the "Strange Mix", a proper remix featuring a new arrangement of the bass and drums. It's not an improvement over the original per se, but it does successfully change the feel of the song.

The first two singles from Mixed Up are unsurprisingly probably the most successful tracks. "Never Enough" is the only new song, an ironically guitar-heavy affair. It's a little over the top, but it's a decent song that seems like a radical departure from anything on Disintegration. The "Big Mix" seems like less of a remix than just the full, unedited version of the recording. "Close to Me [Closer Mix]" mostly just features a baggy drum beat, and for some reason it works better than I would've guessed.

The third single, "A Forest [Tree Mix]", was apparently a re-recording. The multitracks for that and "The Walk" couldn't be found, so both were entirely remade for this album. Both are more direct and aggressive that the originals. "A Forest" has new guitar parts and effects, and "The Walk [Everything Mix]" has more modern synth sounds and a faster-paced drum machine.

The remaining tracks from the original album are the least impressive. "Hot Hot Hot!!! [Extended Mix]" was never a great song to begin with, just an absurd funk workout. This mix is the same version from the 12" single from 1988 and there isn't much more to it. "The Caterpillar [Flicker Mix]" and "Inbetween Days [Shiver Mix]" are both proper new remixes, but neither really works. "The Caterpillar" is sparse, spacey, and weird. "Inbetween Days" has new drums, electronics, and even some more guitar and bass. It takes the song in a much different direction that loses most of the pure but confused joy of the original.


One remix from the original double vinyl/cassette release of Mixed Up has never appeared on the CD versions. The original excuse was that it exceeded the 74-minute limit of the time, but now that the limit is upwards of 80 minutes, the excuse no longer holds. However, the band at least put "Why Can't I Be You? [Extended Mix]" on the second disc, Mixed Up Extras: Remixes 1982-1990. That said, it's another song that I was never fond of in the first place, and the remix is overlong and tedious. It too was taken straight from the original 12" single in 1987.

Most of the second disc is focused on collecting these assorted 12" remixes, which was supposedly one of the original motivating factors behind the original release. Now that the band has finally followed through with that, it makes for quite a nice collector's piece. "Let's Go to Bed [Extended Mix]" and "Just One Kiss [Extended Mix]" are decent early 80s mixes that are pleasant if unexciting. "Close to Me [Extended Mix]" is a highlight if for no other reason than the big brass section solo by Rent Party. "Boys Don't Cry [New Voice Club Mix]" is a bit of an overlooked obscurity. With vocals resung by Smith in 1986, it's a weird blend of old and new. "A Japanese Dream [12" Remix]", originally the 12" b-side to "Why Can't I Be You?", is another highlight. It's nothing dramatically different, and yet there is something exciting in both its energy and the relative rarity of the track itself. "Pictures of You [Extended Mix]" is the "other" original 12" single version. It's only barely longer than the album version, but the structure and arrangement are slightly different. However, it is still quite straightforward in comparison to the "Strange Mix".

The last four tracks from the second disc are b-sides from the remix singles and an actual outtake. None are labeled as re-recordings, but the older songs sound like they could be, especially considering that other "remixes" of early tracks were. "Let's Go to Bed [Milk Mix]", originally the 12" b-side of "Never Enough", is much more electronic and dance-oriented. It's actually a compelling arrangement. "Just Like Heaven [Dizzy Mix]", originally a b-side of the "Close to Me" remix single (and later on Join the Dots from 2004), is oddly short for a remix and rather unexciting. It has different drums that sap its energy and a stereotypical breakdown. "Primary [Red Mix]", the 12" b-side from the same single, is more interesting. It's an aggressive remix with heavy guitars and a very different sound from the original. "The Lovecats [TC & Benny Mix]" is an obscure track that once appeared on the online-only Greatest Hits Rarities in 2001. In addition to the peppy percussion, it features a jarring distorted guitar part.

Oddly, three of the historical 12" remixes are still missing from this reissue: "Primary", "The Lovecats", and "Inbetween Days". The liner notes claim they will be available digitally, but so far this has not borne out to be true. However, these were the three weakest remixes the band ever released, so this isn't exactly a big loss. There are also a ton of 7" mixes that have never been assembled in one place, but most are barely different than the album versions, and many are on Galore (1997) and Greatest Hits (2001). Several other interesting remixes released on Join the Dots have also not been reproduced here (which is fine): "Icing Sugar [Remix]", "Hey You!!! [12" Extended Remix]", and "How Beautiful You Are [Remix]". "Harold and Joe", a new song released as a b-side of "Never Enough", was also collected there. Also missing, of course, are any remixes from Wish (1992) or thereafter. And what happened to "Let's Go to Bed [12" Duke Remix]", the other obscure, largely unexplained remix from Greatest Hits Rarities?


The third disc, Torn Down, is a collection of new remixes by Robert Smith. The originally announced plan was to have other artists remix the Cure's songs, but that was scrapped for unknown reasons. Smith's arbitrary restrictions were to choose one song per "album" (defined loosely) and to generally keep the song structures and lyrics intact. That doesn't leave a lot left to work with. However, Smith mentioned finding unused elements that didn't make it to the final mixes that he tried to work in. He also (almost across the board) redid the drums to sound more modern and added various forms of electronics.

The disc starts quite strongly. The first four tracks are all substantial departures from the original recordings. One again wonders if they were actually re-recordings, considering the reasons cited for why other early tracks were re-recorded for Mixed Up. However, the liner notes deny that. In any case, these versions sound contemporary without being cheesy or overdone. They blend the updated drums and electronics with creative reuse of the original elements. "The Drowning Man [Bright Birds Mix]" is a rare case where the remix is actually markedly better than the original. It feels like the logical conclusion of where the song was going. It sounds grand, dark, dreamy, and beautiful.

After that, though, the quality starts to decline. Few of the remixes offer any improvements over the originals. "Just One Kiss [Remember Mix]", "Like Cockatoos [Lonely in the Rain Mix]", and (surprisingly) "Want [Time Mix]" are the only ones that get interesting, but even those still aren't better than the originals. Most are just slightly different seemingly for the sake of being different. That isn't always bad, but in almost every case, it's a downgrade. "A Night Like This [Hello Goodbye Mix]" sounds dated and silly. "Plainsong [Edge of the World Mix]" is more relaxed, but without the epic scope of the original, it looses something. "Cut Here [If Only Mix]", clearly an important and personal song for Smith, is the epitome of a remix done simply for the sake of doing a remix. There are plenty of subtle differences in the mix, but every single one is a downgrade.

The original album was always a mixed bag, which is usually the case with remixes and remix albums. Mixed Up feels like an aberration for the band, but that's exactly what makes it interesting. It doesn't quite succeed in being an enjoyable listen from start to finish, but at least the interesting ideas slightly outweigh the embarrassing parts. Mixed Up Extras: Remixes 1982-1990 actually makes for a marginally more satisfying listen because the average quality ended up being higher. Torn Down is the other way around: a few tracks succeed with flying colors, but most fall flat. The high points of the whole package still manage to make it worth it for a dedicated fan, but no casual listener will be interested in sorting through so many second-rate remixes to find the gems.

Scores:
Original album: C+
Mixed Up Extras: Remixes 1982-1990: B-
Torn Down: C-
Entire reissue: C+

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Ian Fisher / Antoine Villoutreix - Live 2018.10.06 Privatclub, Berlin, Germany


Artist: Ian Fisher
Venue: Privatclub
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 6 October 2018
Opening Act: Antoine Villoutreix

01. Idle Hands
02. Tables Turn
03. Icarus
04. Road to Jordan
05. My Eyes Have Seen the Glory
06. I Could Do Wrong
07. Rotted on the Vine
08. Change of Heart
09. Why Do I Go?
10. Nero
11. All Ya Need
12. Koffer
13. Candles for Elvis
14. If I Could Buy You
15. Long Line

Encore:
16. Bed Downtown
17. Tears in Dust

The show opened with singer/singwriter/guitarist Antoine Villoutreix, accompanied by Karsten Lipp on lead guitar. Antoine's songs appear deceptively simple, but his lyrics are subtle, clever, and humorous if you listen closely. To be fair, I can only speak for the parts in German and English; he also sings plenty in his native French that is opaque to me. But even when I couldn't understand the words, his gift for melody and catchy songwriting craft carried the songs just fine. Lipp's guitarwork was an excellent addition as well. He played just the right parts to underpin the songs without overwhelming them, and he filled the instrumental breaks with proficient solos.

Ian Fisher appeared with a complete band: Ryan Thomas Carpenter on keyboards, guitar, and backing vocals; Andreas Laudwein on bass and backing vocals; Ollie Samland on pedal steel; and Camillo Jenny on drums. They started out by playing several songs from the new album, Idle Hands. The title track was a strong opener. The smart lyrics were only reinforced by an extra edge in the live performance. "Tables Turn" marks a turning point in songwriting and arrangement for Ian, showcasing his ability to stretch into classic pop and simultaneously push forward. "Road to Jordan" followed suit. "Icarus" and "My Eyes Have Seen the Glory" are conspicuously slower and sparser, but show growth in being able to make the minimalism work with getting tiresome.

After playing about half the new album, everyone left except for Ian and Ryan. They played three songs from the 2013 album Ian Fisher & the Present, which also featured just the two of them. It was a delightful throwback. Ryan switched to guitar and they shared a mic. Their guitars and voices still blend just as sublimely as they did five years ago. There is still a special place in my heart for Ian's acoustic folk, even if I also enjoy his growth and development with a full band into a wider array of styles. I also liked that Ian slightly changed the arrangement of the old songs by playing a 12-string guitar.

Ollie returned to the stage for "Nero", the opening track of Ian's album of the same name from 2015. It was a slow build that demonstrated the dynamic power of Ian's voice. For "All Ya Need", Ryan stepped off but Andreas and Camillo returned. Ryan rejoined to complete the full band for a rousing take on "Koffer". The arrangement was somewhere between the tightly produced, almost electro-sounding studio recording and the original acoustic demo (both of which, incidentally, appear on Koffer from 2016). The band also gave us a strong rendition of Ian's signature song "Candles for Elvis", dedicating it in protest to Donald Trump. Again, they played a new arrangement that was slightly different than any of the three studio versions Ian has released over the years.

Ian and the band then proceeded to complete their performance of Idle Hands. "Long Line" and "Bed Downtown" were both already strong on the album, but live they had even more energy. "Bed Downtown" in particular shone, giving extra time to contemplate the moral ambiguity with a bit of a noisy jam at the end. I think it was Ollie's pedal steel that was given a chance to wield some effects and get weird. For "Tears in Dust", everyone left but Ian and Ryan, who played a synthesized string part to match the arrangement on the record. It was a beautiful way to finish.

Ian Fisher's latest step into stately, carefully crafted, Americana-inflected pop turned out quite successfully, and the transition to the stage went off without a hitch. His humor was on display as well, and the interplay with Ryan and the rest of the band was fun. The extensive use of 12-string guitar along with the other subtle changes to the old songs meant there were plenty of extra touches to keep things interesting. Ian continues to impress me no matter what direction he takes.

P.S. If you want to catch a taste of the live band (albeit without Ryan), check out their set recorded just a few days ago for Radio Zwei in Bremen.

P.P.S. Thanks to Alyssa, Laurent, and Eva!