A last minute change of venue from the large Electric Ballroom to the not so large (but very cool) Dingwalls just down the road may have suggested that advanced ticket sales for tonight's event were sluggish. I find that hard to believe with a line up like this. Here were three bands that I'd go and see individually, so to have all three on on bill on one evening was an amazing way to begin the gig going year.
Rapidly rising impressive newcomers DRAGONS, ignoring their bottom-of-the-bill allocation, belted out a set worthy of of any quality headline act. If you've yet to catch these guys live I suggest you do so soon. Firstly, so as not to deprive yourself of their fantastic set of songs any longer than is necessary; and secondly before they quickly ascend the billing and start to headline a large venues. Not that I want to deny these Bristol boys their seemingly inevitable rise to greater things, just that if they are always on such good form, the ideal is to see them perform in a small sweaty venue crammed with enthusiastic fans. They had plenty of those tonight, and obviously a lot more by the time they'd completed their astonishingly vital set. From the moment the opening notes of the bass guitar heavy opener, the superbly Joy Divisionesque Condition, everything their 2007 debut album Here Are The Roses implied would be possible with DRAGONS live came electrically to life. They look great, they sound terrific, their songs are beautiful and the entire experience is seriously emotional. What a start to 2008!
In stark contrast, but still very entertaining for a whole bunch of different reasons, were American outfit Faderhead. Tonight they were restricted to a a two-piece due to drummer Alex Montana being admitted to hospital with what front man Mr Faderhead described as "Four litres of shit coming out of his head" - whatever that meant! On the first two albums FH1 and FH2 (cool titles BTW) Faderhead demonstrated a clever ability to pull off a wide variety of songwriting styles. Whether its slow, vocal-led ballads or the hammering beats and screaming voice of in-you-face metal/rap-inspired EBM, Faderhead are just as convincing at either end of their broad spectrum.
Tonight's set reflects these sometimes odd extremes and, apart from the few who were impatient for their German heroes, the crowd (a real mixture of metal/goth/skate/industrial types thanks to Die Krupps) warmed to Faderhead's charms as much as his music. Live, it's a bit like seeing Fight Club's Tyler Durden perform cabaret in a titty bar. Nothing in the set sums this up better than new song Coke for my Ass (the band having performed it live for the first time ever just last night in Sheffield). On paper (or screen) it sounds ludicrous, and it is, but live they somehow, absurdly, manage to pull it all off. What's most remarkable though it just how good a songwriter Faderhead is at times (Vanish was the stand out tonight), and with charisma to spare naturally carrying every performance, it's virtually impossible to leave a Faderhead gig without a broad smile on your face.
Finally we got to the heavy hitters (in every sense). With a backdrop depicting a symbol of a hammer hitting an anvil, it was clear that not only have German industrial legends Die Krupps not forgotten their origins but they were keen to celebrate them. With their recent dual release Too Much History - Vol.1 The Electro Years and Vol 2. The Metal Years effectively demonstrating how Die Krupps fans can be split into those who prefer the band's electro years and those who, forced to choose, would go for their later forays into metal it would be interesting to hear how tonight's set came together. Anyone who has followed the band for some time will know that such a strict distinction is unnecessary and artificial. So far, no band has managed to better Die Krupps' ability to blend seriously heavy metal guitars with (and often in the same song) hardcore synths and electronics with such seriously talented songwriting. That they top all of this, still, with live metal percussion is just proof that when it comes to hard 'n heavy, it don't get any better than these lads.
Looking remarkably youthful given that they've been leading the industrial charge since the start of the 1980s, they opened with High Tech/Low Life the first song from their landmark 1992 album I. This is perhaps the quintessential Die Krupps track whose lyrics about high tech are driven through with pile-driving guitars and plenty of the band's characteristic bass synth sequencers. In spite of the past years, there was no lack of energy or enthusiasm in their delivery. Quite the opposite. This was Die Krupps at their essential (and elemental) best. This began a barrage of hit singles and choice album cuts spanning the years 1982 (Volle Kraft Voraus) to 1997's final Paradise Now album (Black Beauty White Heat). Lead singer Jürgen Engler, still looking fresh and keen as ever, engaged the crowd by various means, including getting down off the stage and walking through them - much to their delight. There were no airs or graces on display this evening.
Client's Sarah Blackwood popped up on stage at for one song, there was a storming Dawning of Doom, Crossfire, the glorious To The Hilt, Metal Machine Music, and the blindingly heavy EBM version of Germaniac was fantastic, almost uncontrollable beast of it own. And, of course, repeated calls from the crowd for the mighty Fatherland, to which they eventually acceded. They may have earned their legendary status but Die Krupps still come across like a bunch of like-minded blokes just out for one thing - to ensure that everyone in attendance had a memorable evening. In doing so, Engler never stopped for a moment. Bassist Rüdiger Esch on the other hand was (quite amusingly so) the eye of the Die Krupps storm. Rarely exerting himself beyond a gentle sway and sporting a broad grin throughout he looked every inch the experienced old-hand who knows how to let his distinctive fretwork do the talking. The live sound was superb, with every one of Engler's lyrics discernible in spite of the monumental drums and guitars. Whilst Ralf Dörper's keyboards, samples and sound effects were, crucially, never relegated to a supporting role. No doubt about it, this was a masterclass from the meisters themselves. If you've only experienced Die Krupps on record and not live then you haven't experienced the real Die Krupps. Superb stuff. 9/10