The short walk from Angel tube station to Islington Academy was all that was needed to know that industrial/EBM legends Nitzer Ebb were back - there being way more bald heads on the streets than one usually sees around these parts. Yes, they're back! Although according to the Douglas McCarthy on the official website this world tour is a "...one off special tour only. Miss this chance and you'll have missed Nitzer Ebb forever!" So, if you've not already seen them, or bought your tickets to this time around, then I suggest you get over to that website now (http://www.nitzer-ebb.com) to check out the full tour details and get booking.
The same website confirms that the Fixmer/MacCarthy project is Douglas' main focus now. So it's entirely logical then that (one half of Fixmer/McCarthy) Terence Fixmer claims the support role on this leg of the tour. Much to the delight of the audience too. Fixmer's 2002 mix album Aktion Mekanik set out firmly what Fixmer is interested in, namely stripped back-to-the-bones bare harsh analog electronics. His appearance of a cool-looking Frenchman, with his long wavy hair, tall, slim build, and indie style clothing was not only thoroughly unlike anyone else in the venue tonight - it's also a fine example of misdirection.
This was a non-stop set of full-on EBM sequences and thunderous bass drum beats - all shot through with Fixmer's techno sensibilites. Mostly instrumental, based around an Apple notebook, a mixing desk and small effects box, this was, in a word, punishing. Somebody could have reminded Fixmer that he wasn't playing at Wembley Arena and he needn't perform quite so loudly. Still, those audience members who atoms had not been shaken apart into pools of gooey grey matter seemed to enjoy soaking up the wavelengths. Not overly familiar with Fixmer's work, this was way more brutal than I expected. It was also great to hear things kept simple in terms of sounds. There were few melodies, just lots of repetative sequencer patterns and beats - which you don't get to hear much these days. The perfect support slot I guess.
The NE website also has McCarthy reveal: "We have absolutely no plans to record any new Nitzer Ebb material" so no surprise that this was going to be effectively a night of greatest hits. The first four albums were all well represented. These guys know how to make an entrance. With guest female drummer Kourtney Klein (on loan from Combichrist) strolling on first, Bon Harris then slowly walked out, stood at the front of the stage and took a bow from the raptuous applause. Finally, Douglas McCarthy walked on - all in black, slicked-back hair, jackboots and sunglasses - what a presence this guy has - and everyone just went berzerk (both band and audience!). From that point on it didn't stop until the lights went up at the end of the evening and everyone was kicked out back onto the streets.
The sound was excellent (though it was at least partly due to the fact that it was generated largely from a laptop), pristine and incredibly punchy. Getting Closer, Let Your Body Learn, Muscle And Hate, Godhead, Lightning Man, Family Man. They all came smashing out of the PA and into the faces of the crowd who, I can report, were solid from the stage right back to the walls at the rear of the ground floor. The balcony upstairs was open but most preferred to experience this as it was designed to be - in the middle of a huge, heaving, sweaty mass of people.
Hardcore fans must have been exstatic when original member David Gooday (who left in 1987) joined them on stage to provide additional drumming for two numbers: Control I'm Here and Join In The Chant - which the entire audience duly did, requiring no further encouragement than the title itself. This meant we we watching no less than three drummers, a vocalist and no other musicians. (I think that's probably another unique stage setup even in my extensive exposure to electronic music). Suddenly, the main set was complete, but it wasn't long before they returned for the encore. This began with Fun To Be Had from 1990's Showtime followed by I Give To You from Ebbhead a year later. And that was that.
This was one of the most powerful live performances I've ever witnessed. McCarthy's vocals were just flawless. He never wavered once. Amazingly he was both astonishingly powerful and yet crystal clear, meaning every single lyric could be heard - a real rarity on this scene - and proof that it can be done if you've got the know-how and talent. Even more astonishing was just how much more bombastic the live sound was compared with the albums. Listening back to the recorded versions of what what we heard tonight - not one of them comes close to capturing what Nitzer Ebb can unleash live. It is then a genuine shame that it looks as though the chances of us experiencing this energy and power again are slim. So, don't be a fool - grab it while you can.