The last time I saw Blixa Bargeld, the lead singer of Einstürzende Neubauten (literal translation “Falling New Buildings), he was moonlighting with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. He was a gaunt, terrifying presence on stage with a piercing, eviscerating stare and dressed in a rubber butcher’s apron and battering, not playing, guitar.
Here in Hobart’s soon to be demolished Odeon Theatre, in the midst of the edgy and astonishing Dark Mofo Festival, Bargeld is a dapper, witty, self-deprecating figure decked out in a three-piece sparkling suit and bare feet. He is a garrulous, warm and charming figure curating the audience through an extraordinary performance.
The stage looks like the workshop for a hardware store. There is a step-ladder, a huge gas tank, buckets of metal shards, a drum kit with what looks like buzz saw blades instead of cymbals.
On reputation, I was expecting Rammstein mixed with a headache. What I got was a mesmerising, intoxicating platter of delicacy infused with dashes of brutality and multi-layered aural architecture.
The use of industrial hardware – apparently born from stealing things in surrounding constructions sites in Berlin to make sounds – seems both challenging and a little precious. It is neither. Every time metal shards are dropped on the floor from the step ladder or the gas tank pounded, it is an essential part of the song’s structure. Bargeld noted that the band’s luggage allowance precluded them from bringing the usual jet engine to Hobart for use in the song Sonnenbarke, but a suitable alternative mechanism was found and the result just as effective.
The spine of Einstürzende Neubauten rests with Alexander Hacke’s relentless bass lines which underpin the strength of the percussive elements of each song. N. U. Unruh, a founding member, plays a wide range of industrial gadgets and is complemented by Rudi Moser on drums (albeit a strange drum kit with its buzz saw cymbals). Guitar (Jochen Arbeit) and keys play almost a secondary role, but at the fore is Bargeld’s deep sonorous vocals, interposed now and again by banshee yells and screeches that are alien and instrumental.
The set opened with The Garden with its insistent keyboard single note and grinding bass and the band proceeded to play most of their recently released and somewhat ironically named “Greatest Hits” compilation. They throw in a few other songs such as “Silence is Sexy” – a mesmerising rendition that takes a quiet/loud approach of bands like the Pixies to another dimension. They were on stage for two hours which passed in a second and played under a very minimal functional light show.
My friend commented that rather than the industrial barrage of noise as expected, Einstürzende Neubauten could be described as indie cabaret. Indeed, an indie cabaret hosted by a suave and witty ringmaster. It may well be that Bargeld and the band have softened over the years, but this was an exceptionally nuanced performance that combined passion and creativity with an intricate level of musicianship.
Bringing Einstürzende Neubauten for an exclusive Australian performance in Hobart during the Dark Mofo Festival was a brilliant achievement. In Blixa’s own words on the night, if you should die and meet your maker, at least you can say “I saw your favourite band”.
Haus der Luge
Let’s Do It A Dada
Dead Friends (Around the Corner)
Die Befindlichkeit Des Landes
YouMe and MeYou
How Did I Die (Lament)
Silence is Sexy
Total Eclipse of the Sun