After three days hiding from over-tanned Californians with big smiles and other predictably-cliched music biz lemmings at PopKomm, it was definitely time for some monsters. I like my monsters as loud, hairy, misshapen and misanthropic as possible but I knew since this was Spex gig I’d better lower my expectations.
Spex, for those of you unfamiliar with the publication, is one of Germany’s biggest music magazines. It has a fine history of cutting-edge journalism and photography and riding on the wild side of musical tastes, however sometime in the nineties it turned into (as so many other things did during the nineties) an insipid, anemic, overly-styled mag aimed at whiter-than-white fashionable Germans living off their parents’ money in designer flats with Space Odyssey furnishings. Through all this sterility though, there does linger on a vein of dirtiness, just on the fringes of glossy video pap.
The line-up of The Blood Brothers, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Standstill and the Hamburger Tigerbeats (whoever the hell they are – I arrived too late…) was intriguing enough. Not as dirty and hairy as a night at Bad Kleinen, I know, but at least the promise of a few blood-curdling screams.
Pretty Girls Make Graves were playing when I finally started paying attention. Unfortunately they gave me the disturbing feeling I was in my livingroom watching MTV. Picture perfect indy, of the Seattle school, albeit well-played but, yawn, I’ve grown out of that genre. Besides that, there seemed to be no real tension onstage.
After a pause which gave all the girls in the room the chance to re-adjust their Karen O. fringes back over their eyes, Spain’s latest contribution to milky, crossovery-funky-prog-rock started to play. They’re called Standstill and I can’t recommend them. The lead singer clearly had a back problem which required him to stick his ass out at an unflattering angle. Maybe it would have been okay if he’d taken his jeans off, (the Spanish always have such pert little asses, sigh…), but clothed it was just wrong. Meanwhile, a bass-player in a polka-dot shirt doodling and bobbing away enthusiastically on an elephantine instument did little to instill me with any faith in their ability to play anything other than murky gook. Standstill, indeed.
Another suspenseful pause, and this time the tension of knowing that something I actually like was going to sneak up and hit me over the head. My favourite boy band wonders: The Blood Brothers. This is a little band of imps I can always count on to rip out my intestines, strangle me with them, then show them to me just before I die so I can appreciate their satin-ribboned beauty. Such calmly masterful post-children, with cheerful grins on their faces as they torture torture torture. An almost-funky skate-beat, countered with the most spasmatically exquisite time changes, a nod to metal guitar, all interwoven with a shrieking spiral of tight, vocal intercourse, whose rocccoco lyrics taste of the bitterly poisoned truth. The little gaps left over are just enough to gasp for breath and gape that anyone still has the wisdom to make something so ingenious.
Little Johnny Whitney stands up at the front, blithely whipping his hair into hurricane, til he looks like a kewpee doll. An impudent, West Coast sneery-snarl in his voice.
Jordan Blilie, the other vocalist, is a beanpole Alfalfa at the centre of the stage, dressed in the same, too-short, drain-pipe jeans I saw him in last time in Berlin. Something about him is utterly corrupted and tragic, as if society impaled a little boy before his time. Accordingly, his screams are more blackly ominous.
Morgan Henderson pulls the throbbing entrails of his bass with the same sly, confident smirk seen on the young Hendrix. Cody Votolato plays a volatile, chunky guitar, with the soul lacking from a metal-man’s poncey ego, and Mark Gajadhar beats out the sound of flesh and bones. Finally, the whole band organism is throbbing: sending synapses to a broken heart, causing a haemmorage of tainted blood, and proving to me something I always suspected: it does make sense to mix crude bestiality with the echelons of intellectualism.
And what to do after your brains have been fried by the scary avant-garde of the Blood Brothers? Stick around for the cool balm of the YeahYeahYeahs.
I know, I know, I had my doubts about them as well at the beginning. I’m instantly allergic to anything that’s being hyped, but the gut reaction that creates an aversion is always over-whelmed by a desire to try something new (and that’s how one ends up taking every drug on the list)…
From the silent anticipation that built up before the set, it was clear that this was the band that the youth of Cologne had sold-out the venue for. All those long-fringes and dirty Converse-footed legs started pressing a bit more insistently around the stage.
When Nick Zinner (guitar) and Brian Chase (drums) came on, the lights dimmed psychologically to make a place for a diva’s spotlight. Drum and guitar punctiliously began the long, suspensful intro and then, in an enormous, exaggerated, self-mocking, insect stride Miss Langstrumpf took the stage, stood for a moment like a mad hatter and then opened her mouth to let out the most fabulous vocal noise I’ve ever heard (live): it sounded like a train had just collided with a dying hobo blues singer. A huge gust of relief went through my body: all this hero worship I’d read about in the media hadn’t been for nothing.
Yup, in the world of the mainstream underground it’s a fine line between being in the right place and the right time and contrived mediocrity. Between finding the grooves that bring out the best in everyone, and cheaply manipulating your audience with thinly-disguised, two-dimensional coolness. I’m happy to say, nay, proclaim, that the Yeah Yeah Yeahs has got it, you know that. A combination not only of Karen O.’s non-stop, virtuoso vocals and charisma – she tied that tired audience of horny boys into a knot around her finger – but also, of course, Zinner’s so charmingly obvious you can’t believe it didn’t occur to someone else already guitar lines, played with appropriately modest nonchalance and Chase’s shimmery drums -although I did have to giggle every time I looked at him sitting there squarely with his earphones on, like a session drummer.
Fittingly, it was midnight when the Yeah Yeah Yeahs took the stage to simultanously raise from the dead a few disturbed ghosts of old N.Y. punk, a couple of howling and growling libidinous blues souls, and the wraithlike phantoms of 80s unashamed urban romantics. In the process of this glorious séance, shaking out my Popkomm demons, and putting a much-needed stake through my heart.