Friday, 23 May 2008


"Some German band...I can't even pronahnce their fackin name." So said one of the security staff who happened to be sat in a cafe just down the road from the venue, as he talked about vis and vat in a loud, boorish and monotonous voice to one of his colleagues. He was getting on our nerves so once we'd finished eating, we headed into the pub next door to sink a couple of pints before the gig.

Last time I'd been to see said unpronounceable German band, they'd been touring to mark their 25th Anniversary, and they had been on electrifying form: not having a new album to promote at that point, they'd played 2 long sets dipping extensively into their older, more chaotic and noisy material with gleeful abandon - they were a tight and effective unit too, well-practiced having toured the previous year.

Going for the third time in four years to see them at the same venue felt something like going to see an old friend, or as my companion put it, like a sort of homecoming. It would be interesting to see what had changed in the meantime.

Certainly, this time around they were a largely different beast - current album Alles Wieder Offen is a more stately, restrained affair: their choice of material and their demeanour reflected that.

They opened strongly with "Die Wellen" and from there they set the tone with the meditative, medium-paced works taken from the aforementioned current album. This was particularly effective on tracks such as the darkly seductive, slow-building drone of "Unvollständigkeit," and it was here that they were at their strongest. When they drew on material from previous albums, they chose works which were of a broadly similar feel. Another highlight was "Die Befindlichkeit des Landes" - and it's always delicious to see a whole crowd of people singing the final, repeating refrain, Was ist die Befindlichkeit des Landes?

For a band which has a reputation for being noisy and manic, they rely a lot on the impact of silence, of faint whispers, and mere hints of the chaos that used to be their staple fare. Now, so much of it is given over to nuance and the mere suggestion of darker, nastier things lurking behind the fragility of their material.

As such, it was an incredibly engaging concert, and they once again excelled: my one criticism would be that, as they returned for their first encore, they played two of their quietest, slowest songs, and it felt like it was threatening to stretch the point a little too far. However they did finally up the tempo with an excellent version of "Alles", before returning once again to do an improvised piece, and finishing with "Youme & Meyou."

Visually, they're a unique band to watch as well, given the bewildering array of objects and contraptions from which they manage to tease noise, textures and notes, blending them into a coherent whole with other more conventional instruments. It's hard not to smile when, say, the bass player manages to coax sounds from his guitar by playing it with a vibrator next to the pickup, or the percussionist generates a haunting melody from playing plastic tubing.

As well as being there with a good friend of mine, we met my brother there too, someone I don't see all that often. I was glad to see that he enjoyed it just as much. In conversation with a mutual friend, we remarked also just how genial Neubauten's onstage presence has become - very relaxed and happy to engage with the audience from start to finish. This mutual friend described them as being "surprisingly cuddly" - which is quite a leap from their old reputation as confrontational and rather dangerous manglers of sound.

Their name, as you surely know, roughly translates into Collapsing New Buildings. On present evidence it seems that the buildings have long since collapsed: Neubauten are sifting relentlessly through the rubble and finding much of great beauty, as well as the occasional hint of danger.

We stopped in a hotel a short walk down the road, where we had a bottle of whisky and an iPod waiting for us. We stayed up for a further couple of hours, talking, supping whisky and listening to - that's right - The Fall. A perfect end to a fine evening.


Merkin said...

Only a single bottle?
You must be getting old!
Still, sounded like a fine night.
And many more of them for you and yours.

Andrew said...

Just chanced on this via Google and, I must say, you've summed up both the gig AND the transitional nature of the Neubauten sound very well. There's an awful lot of depth to the latter end material that many miss because it's not noisy enough.

To me, if people want to hear something like Kollaps then they can put that on, and the same goes for any album - to see them embracing their new sound with such panache was mesmerising and long may they keep 'sifting'.

Nice post - keep up the good work!

DJ Kirkby said...

Yes, of course I knew what their name translated into...*slinks off*

trousers said...

Definitely merk, on all counts. I drank as much (or as little) as felt right, and was all the better for it.

Hi andrew, I'm glad you liked the post. It was one of those situations where the gig really stayed in my mind right through the following couple of days - I had, as mentioned, had the odd moment of wanting them to hit harder as it were, but they were right to focus on what they're doing now, and it worked very well (especially with the added wisdom of hindsight).

Thanks too for the kind words :)

I wouldn't doubt it for a single moment dj!

Bollinger Byrd said...

I'm so glad it lived up to your expectations.
And I'm with the security guard in pronounciation here!

trousers said...

b-b, after nearly 25 years of being aware of them, I still can't pronounce their name completely correctly - it wouldn't sound exactly convincing to someone who speaks German as their first language...and yes, the gig (and the occasion in a broader sense) was good stuff. x