Thursday, November 29, 2018

Peter Murphy with David J / Desert Mountain Tribe - Live 2018.11.27 Columbia Theater, Berlin, Germany


I've expressed plenty of skepticism for full-album concerts in the past, but I wasn't about to miss an opportunity to see Peter Murphy and David J play together on their first tour together since the last Bauhaus shows in 2006. Although I have seen Murphy play some Bauhaus classics over the years, I missed my chance to see J's rock outfit at Levitation a couple years ago. If this is as close to seeing a reunited Bauhaus as I can get, I'll take it. These are two of my favorite artists and I've written a lot about both of them over the years.

Artist: Peter Murphy with David J
Venue: Columbia Theater
Location: Berlin, Germany
Date: 27 November 2018
Opening Act: Desert Mountain Tribe

Setlist:
01. In the Flat Field
02. Double Dare
03. A God in an Alcove
04. Dive
05. Spy in the Cab
06. Small Talk Stinks
07. St. Vitus Dance
08. Stigmata Martyr
09. Nerves
10. Burning from the Inside
11. Silent Hedges
12. Bela Lugosi's Dead
13. She's in Parties
14. Adrenalin
15. Kick in the Eye
16. The Passion of Lovers

Encore 1:
17. Telegram Sam [T. Rex cover]
18. Ziggy Stardust [David Bowie cover]

Encore 2:
19. Severance [Dead Can Dance cover]

A band with a name like Desert Mountain Tribe could really go either way. At first, the roughly growled vocals and heavy sound had me worried that they were some bland hard rock band. However, I detected some nice psych and drone touches that piqued my curiosity. And then after just two songs, Peter Murphy appeared on stage! He sang two songs that coincidentally had bits of gothic rock guitar. He may have had to read some of the lyrics, but his soaring voice really made the songs hit home, and the audience was clearly thrilled. After he left, the band veered into a more Krautrock direction. I was oddly reminded a bit of Jesus & Mary Chain (simultaneously coarse but cool) and U2 (simultaneously grandiose but melodramatic). I liked their blend of styles, even if the individual songs didn't make a strong impression. They were great at building up their jams and maintaining a driving energy.

[Desert Mountain Tribe with Peter Murphy.]

I had always heard that Bauhaus were a powerful live band, and their live albums and bootlegs are reasonable proof of this. Seeing them live, or even half of them, is the real deal. Most of their songs (and particularly the opening trio of In the Flat Field) are propulsive, expansive, and dramatic. On stage, they were all the more captivating. Peter Murphy was in his element. He danced and moved with natural grace and perfectly played the role of a messianic glam-rock vampire. He connected with the crowd, sang every note with effortless ease, and filled the venue with his stage presence. His action was all the more enhanced by the stark, theatric stage lighting.

The band backed up Murphy just as well as any recording of Bauhaus that I've heard. David J appeared cool and restrained, but his performance was spot-on. I've never seen him play bass, let alone fretless bass, but you'd never guess such a solid bassist could also be a folky singer-songwriter and guitarist. Frequent collaborator Mark Gemini Thwaite played guitar and joined J for the backing vocals. Unlike when I saw Thwaite with Murphy in 2009, when I criticized him as "no Ash, let alone Mick Ronson", this time around he was almost a match for Daniel Ash's erstwhile guitar flash. Drummer Marc Slutsky was also a suitable fill-in for Kevin Haskins; he was able to replicate both the energy of the intense songs and the unusual rhythms of weirder tracks.

[Peter Murphy, David J, and two Marks.]

Choosing the strangest Bauhaus album is difficult, but In the Flat Field might take the cake. After blasting through the first three tracks, the band had to tackle six rather unconvential songs that had been largely ignored since circa 1981. "Dive" and "The Spy in the Cab" remained lesser tracks, but the band's patient meditation of the bizarre rhythm of the latter was enlightening to behold. (It took me years to realize that it was J's bass making the bleep sound and that that was basically the entirety of his part.) For "Small Talk Stinks", Murphy brought out a megaphone, presumably just as he did on the studio recording. He was clearly have fun with it in a way that was never quite apparent in the sarcastic bite of the original. He also used the megaphone to introduce "St. Vitus Dance", another opportunity for play and dance. "Nerves" required a sampled piano, but the taut precision and eventual release worked nonetheless.

With only a brief pause, the band continued onwards as if they hadn't just played an entire album from start to finish. The first post-Flat Field pick was "Burning from the Inside", which has never been one of my favorites. While I could again appreciate the meditative simplicity of it, it always seems to go on too long. But after that, every song they played was a winner.

Murphy, J, and company mostly stuck to the beloved classics from the original incarnation of Bauhaus, but they also threw in "Adrenalin", a solid rocker from their reunion album Go Away White (2008). "Bela Lugosi's Dead" might be an obvious choice, but I'd never seen any member of Bauhaus play it in full, and it was a dark delight. Murphy even used some sort of delay pedal to modulate the snare in a manner quite similar to the recorded version, except in stereo and to a much greater extent. "She's in Parties" gave Murphy a chance to play a melodica and even a bit of electronic percussion at the end. Meanwhile, J played a spirited take on one of my favorite dub jam basslines. "Kick in the Eye" was another funky highlight.

For the encore, the band gave us a rendition of one of Bauhaus' first covers, the excellent "Telegram Sam". It was played in the same tense, amped-up style as their studio recording. Much to my surprise and delight, just as on the 1998 live album Gotham, they segued right into their (rather faithful) version of "Ziggy Stardust". Bauhaus might not be Bowie, but they did the best version of the song I've heard that didn't come from the Spiders from Mars. This was a rather transcendental experience.

That seemed like a fitting end to the night, and some of the audience departed, but to my surprise, the house lights did not come on. After a bit of a wait, the band came back and offered "Severance", the somber Dead Can Dance song that first appeared in Bauhaus' setlists during their first reunion in 1998. It was a beautiful performance with a grand crescendo. Murphy's vocals were sublime.

This was an awesome show. I really wasn't sure how they'd pull it off, but Murphy and J were at their prime, and their bandmates were an excellent support. I've never seen Murphy perform at this level. Perhaps J's presence spurred him to greater heights, or maybe Murphy is just particularly well suited to the Bauhaus spirit, but whatever the cause, this show surpassed my high expectations.

[Peter Murphy and David J.]

Scores:
Desert Mountain Tribe: B+
Peter Murphy with David J: A

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. Te Quero Longe [Early Version]
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 [Edit 2019.07.31: turns out it was an early version of "Te Quero Longe"], 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.