Einsturzende Neubauten, The Palace, Los Angeles, 7/21/00
I think my first introduction to Einsturzende Neubauten was the jackhammer biting into concrete, followed by all manner of banging and scraping on metal, yelled German, and shattering glass of "Krieg in den Stadten", recorded in 1981, on their first album Strategien Gegen Architeckturen (Strategies Against Architecture). A wondrous creation - my friends and I used it on numerous occasions as a last resort to annoy the living daylights out of our boisterous neighbors in college when more reasonable lines of diplomacy failed to get them to quiet down. We almost always won.
I always wondered what their live performances were like, given the somewhat unorthodox musical equipment they employed - for example: "Schwartz: air conditioned duct"; "Stahlversion: recorded in a hollow overpass using the sound of the bridge itself and drumming on its steel sides"; "Mikroben: the sound of switching off the studio itself."
The raw elements that forged the often chaotic form of their early works - the fracturing of glass, the scraping and rhythmic pounding sound of steel on steel - were at once both post-modern in their deconstruction of "accepted" musical forms and pre-modern, reducing music to its most sinewy muscular essence. Over time, they began applying these raw industrial elements to more traditional ends, blending them in with electric bass and guitar (and even more recently strings), and even trading in the screams of the early days for melodic singing.
Upon entering the Palace, one glance at the stage quickly allayed any fears that despite their forays into melody, they had clearly not gotten soft in their middle age. Instead of a more traditional drumkit, a bass drum was straddled on either side by a pair of sawhorses, upon which lay a massive 5 foot square metal plate, which over the course of the evening served both as a stand for other "instruments" (a massive metal pipe, and large plastic containers duct-taped together) and also as a percussive device when it was struck with metal rods or ground with a power drill.
On either side of that were a large metal drum (probably twice the size of a typical 42 gallon oil drum) with metal pipes protruding vertically from it - and a motorized metal cylinder with numerous spikes porcupining from it (I subsequently figured out this was a turbine from a jet engine - note to self: when played properly, a jet turbine can sound like a glass partially filled with liquid when you lazily rub the lip with a moistened finger).
Vocalist Blixa Bargeld and his sonic accomplices filed in (in suits no less) and proceeded to play the title track off their new album, "Silence is Sexy". It seemed incongruous to hear a band I had associated with noise for so long perform something so quiet - from the sound of Blixa's exhaled cigarette smoke curling past the microphone, to periods when the band simply stood in unified silent inaction. And over the course of the evening, it became increasingly apparent that the band were not so much about noise anymore as they were about sound - a subtle difference, but the band itself has become progressively more subtle over time.
It's terribly easy to wax intellectual about what Einsturzende Neubauten does (it deviates heavily from the 'mainstream', is extremely well done, and is quite clever) - but at another level, they can be awfully amusing. What better soundtrack for a black turtlenecked Dieter on Sprockets than Germans banging things? Thankfully, even the band doesn't take themselves 100% seriously:
"This next song very nearly won us the Nobel Prize in Physics - but at the last minute, it was taken away from us. Something about an anti-Newtonian conspiracy - so now we wander the world, outcasts from the scientific community."
And what of the portion of "Total Eclipse of the Sun", when Blixa Bargeld tells us "all I really, really, really want to see" - which my friend ML very aptly points out bears more resemblance to the Spice Girls than most would care to admit. What's next? Are we going to find out that Blixa Bargeld was actually a Turkish game-show hostess and erstwhile topless model a la Ginger Spice? The world may be ready for a more melodic version of Einsturzende Neubauten, but Blixa in something lacy and revealing? Thankfully, there are limits to reality.
* * *
The quotable Blixa Bargeld (from CMJ magazine):
"I feel disturbed by colors. I find it more mentally calming without them."
"I cook a wonderful white mushroom risotto with fresh rosemary. I grow herbs outside my window and cut them with my 1929 Bauhaus scissors. But my specialty is black risotto."
"It's very hard to get a black toothbrush."
"Of course I wear black underwear. See?"
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