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

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

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.


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.


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

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

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.

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.