It took us 45 minutes of wandering around Jannowitzbrücke, asking every asshole in sight, including the bouncers at Safe Club, where a goth soirée appeared to be well underway, where the hell were the Hells, or more precisely, who the hell are the Hells, or, even more precisely, where the fuck is the Golden Gate, and, let me tell you, nobody knew a goddamn thing about any of the aforementioned topics, and I assure you, my German ain’t that bad.
But okay, we had to crawl through some dirt, but then we stumbled upon it. The name of the club has to be some kind of joke. It ain’t San Francisco, and it sure as hell ain’t the wonderful land of Oz. More like a dingy hole in a brick wall someone broke into. We’re talking post-squat here, if such a thing exists, and if not, then the Golden Gate invented it, cos the tiny makeshift interior is about as endearingly dingy as you can get without the roof caving in on your head. If nothing else, Golden Gate wins the Dorfdisco award for best men’s toilet in town.
Once inside, I immediately bumped into my old friend Athena, whom I hadn’t seen in ages. She explained that the Golden Gate was normally a haven for Mitte fashion yuppies. Not tonight. There were no pretty faces in the crowd, no one dressed much better than we were, and a decisively rock n’ roll air permeated the scene. It felt like the perfect garage for a garage rock concert, and when the DJ put on the first track of Exile on Main Street – not the Stones epic, but scum rock outfit Pussy Galore’s ultra-rare cover of said album featuring a young Jon Spencer – I nearly shit myself with glee and wonder. Like I said, I knew nothing of the Hells other than the hype surrounding this, their first gig in Germany. Peering through the crowd of dyed black hair, I held high hopes that they would at least come close to approximating Pussy Galore’s level of pure talentless filth.
First up was Bronco and the Guitar, a new Berlin-based garage guitar-drums duo. Filthy blues-based rock n’ roll, but without the cheesy pretentious guitar solos that might garner a White Stripes comparison. In fact, I have to say these guys could kick the Stripes and the Kills out the door with one foot in the grave. Maybe this has to do with the fact that, unlike all these garage revival bands clogging the circuit nowadays, this one’s actually got an excellent drummer. It’s too soon to tell, but if they stick around long enough, Bronco and the Guitar could very well climb to the top of the rungs. In the meantime, it’d be well worth your while to keep an eye on ’em.
I wish the same could be said for the headlining band. The hype promised the Stones mixed with the Cramps. Okay, not an incongruous mixture, but still promising. But the Hells are too caught up in inherited notions of rock orthodoxy to truly deliver – or even cut loose, for that matter. It’s like they’re too caught up in trying to play their instruments correctly, and it shows in their rigid performance. Considering the ol’ strength in numbers standard, it’s pretty amazing that the Hells, a trio, couldn’t hold a candle up to the two guys who preceded them. And the music? A more apt comparison could be made to the Strokes, the White Stripes, the Kills, basically all of these second-rate revival bands who fixate vampirically on the rock gods of the past in order to produce their “own” cliché-ridden melodies that are sure to please the crowd, who never expect that much anyway. The lead singer doesn’t have the voice or strength or endearing stage presence required to front a band, and none of their songs are particularly memorable. As though they themselves realized this in advance, their solution was to crank the volume up to an unbearable pitch.
Look, I’m also a death metal fan, and I’m also in my early 20s, so the whole “too loud, too old” thing doesn’t apply here. At the same time, I’m capable of recognizing when “too loud” is simply an inappropriate solution to a lingering problem – namely, when the energy given off by the band isn’t able to sufficiently match the volume. The Hells’ first German show was a prime example of this. Instead of raw power, we were subjected to blaring mediocrity. Amazingly, there were a couple of idiots dancing to this racket near the front. I wanted to hit them with a beer bottle, but was restrained. Before leaving, I ran into Athena once more. Boring, she sighed. I couldn’t think of a more appropriate adjective.
Bands like the Hells prove that rock is stagnating at the moment. I understand that rock was never about originality, that bands have always pilfered and stolen from each other throughout the history of the genre. But what we see nowadays, at least in the bands that make it big (and believe me, the Hells are well on their way), are the same motifs, the same riffs, being played over and over again in dour imitation of the original. It’s a rock n’ roll that’s bankrupt of ideas, of the skills needed to use the foundations in a novel way; flogging a dead corpse instead of moving forward. Also – what’s with the choice of influence, anyway? Why the Stones and the Velvets over and over again? Why not revive the adolescent insanity of, say, the Butthole Surfers, or some other band that refused to play their instruments well? Taking risks is scary, I know, but in the long run, you just might wind up doing something no one else has done before, as opposed to simply feeding us more of the same.