Funker Vogt/XPQ-21/Assemblage 23

The Hollywood Palace, Los Angeles, USA - 13 March, 2002

"Jens Kastel's voice sounds like it's passed through a band-saw on its way up his throat"

"We just got another lesson, how illusory safety is.
This was an opportunity just too good to miss.
We have been gutted like a fish, in a moment of inattention.
Now we are responsible for our own suspension.

Thus spake Funker Vogt on their track Body Count - one perhaps unsurprisingly absent from the set list on their US tour, a trip postponed after the events of 9/11. If they were nervous before their first concert in the States, they weren't the only one - it was also our first time on a plane since then, and much of the flight from Phoenix to Los Angeles was spent looking nervously at other passengers.

Our mental state wasn't helped by the journey from the airport to the venue, just off Hollywood Boulevard. Our first experience of LA's metro system was nerve-jangling in itself, as it cruised what seemed like the VERY long way round, touring all of the area's demilitarised zones en route. Still, at least it got us in the mood for Hollywood and Vine; that's the sleazy, down-market end of the strip, as we discovered when hunting hotels. Two places claimed to be full - we find this hard to believe, and suspect they thought we were narcs - and the third we just turned tail and ran, before even getting to the reception.

I mention this to give us some idea of our mental state on arriving at the venue, the quite splendid Hollywood Palace. A fixture of the local landscape for 75 years, it had hosted everyone from The Rolling Stones to Bill Clinton, and been everything from a theatre, through a TV studio to a film set. With two levels, seating upstairs and a dance floor below, it is an excellent venue.

Shame, then, about Assemblage 23. It's hard to be cruel about a man who used a sample from Leprechaun 4: In Space on his track Surface, but something just didn't quite fit. Difficult to say whether it was the music or Tom Shear's voice, but they seemed almost to come from two different bands. Shear isn't a bad singer - bits of Covenant or VNV Nation peeped out here and there - but it didn't gel with the beats at all. His fondness for introspective angst did not go down well with us either: lyrics like, "while your pain is over, mine has just begun," (Disappoint), sung while Shear was on his knees, prompted several sarcastic comments about getting over it and moving on. He was accompanied by a keyboard player and a drummer, though from our vantage point at the side, we didn't notice the latter till half way through the set. We were then entertained by trying to work out what, if anything, he was adding to the sound; the eventual conclusion was that they'd have been better off giving him a tambourine.

[Funker Vogt ticket] Next up were XPQ-21, and opinions were divided here. My fiancee Chris found them irritating; I found them amusing. Their live sound is radically different from the smooth presentation on CD, a harsh and abrasive assault on the senses most apparent on the near-instrumental, Ghost, which expanded out into a highly impressive wall of neo-noise, courtesy of Nicque's background work on the wall of synths. [I was amused to see her fold up her laptop and walk off stage with it at the end of the set.] Up front, Jeyenne seemed like a man possessed. Possessed by what, precisely, it's hard to say - maybe the spirit of Peter Murphy, given the cover of Bela Lugosi's Dead, but mostly, he was looning round like a caffeinated mime. He seemed bent on extracting some kind of reaction from the audience, even mooning them at one stage, alternating this kind of manic activity with standing stock-still, arms crossed, and staring into the crowd as if he was a disapproving schoolteacher. Go figure. I would like to think he was introducing sarcasm to an American audience, but I'm not 100% certain.

Finally, it was Funker Vogt time, after one or two minor technical problems with their visuals, prompting speculation that they would end up performing to a backdrop of Shrek or something similar. Fortunately, we were spared that, though the war footage which began proceedings was scarcely less harrowing. They're a band who have changed direction significantly from the early days of Thanks for Nothing, to the more melodic version we hear on their latest release, t (a double-CD combining new songs and remixes). Two things haven't changed: the relentlessly up-tempo nature of their songs, and Jens Kastel's voice, which sounds like it has passed through a band-saw on its way up his throat. Thank heavens this was the first night, as it's hard to see how he could survive a full tour.

The songs performed touched all the bases in their history, from raucous tracks like Killing Fields, through to the almost sea-shantyesque Under Deck. I don't think I've bounced so much at a concert in my life, with the energy given off by the band flowing through to the audience. That, however, was about all that flowed through; as there was little interaction otherwise - though there was at least none of the "needless pointing" mentioned by Mr. Dyer last time out. :-) Special mention to the visuals though; just when the parade of dead soldiers threatened to become tedious, they switched to footage from first-person shoot-'em-up computer games, which gelled perfectly with the pointedly pro-Internet Subspace - their pointedly anti-Internet song Follow Me was not performed this time out. From here, it segued effortlessly into clips from Tron, to somewhat distracting effect - I found myself trying to work out how long ago that movie came out. I dragged myself off that train of thought, to bounce one final time to Tragic Hero, and filed out into a scary, cold, very windy, 2 a.m. Hollywood.

The next day at the airport, the security guard demanded to know who the Funker Vogt on my T-shirt were, perhaps mistaking them for an offshoot of Baader-Meinhof. I just thanked my lucky stars I hadn't bought the "we will never negotiate with terrorists" one, or I'd probably still be at the airport...

Jim McLennan