so bright, so strong
a hope long-held by many became reality last year when nitzer ebb caved in to demands for a live reunion show. this was followed by the announcement of a 2006 world tour. having imploded personally and artistically in 1995, the two members have done a few other projects, but their classic records continued to play in underground dance clubs, expanding their reach to new audiences. when i went to a t.raumschmiere show in 2004, the hipster/techno crowd at knitting factory was being warmed up by NE’s “warsaw ghetto”, an early rare single. besides countless industrial bands, their influence has been heard recently in avant-pop/techno label ghostly international band kill memory crash and even t.raumschmiere himself. what they’ve clearly learned from NE is that if you have basslines and beats good enough, you don’t need much else.
the irving plaza show was opened up by another band following this template, albeit filtered through the berlin/detroit axis and powered by almost lo-res digital sounds. motor came to my attention via a remix for depeche mode. the word described the movement of the mix so well, i thought it was just a title and not a band name. the german/new york duo was joined onstage by a third tweaker, who added some very welcome live squelches and percussion to the proceedings. they weren’t especially visual (they had projected images but you could hardly see them as there was no screen), but they did their best. the kick drums pounded out sub-bass frequencies while every aspect of synthesizer filters was explored. while somewhat monochromatic, it has an edge missing from most techno and is excellent dance music. however, while the crowd listened attentively and applauded, they were clearly reserving all their energy and enthusiasm for the headliner. a rough spot to be in, but motor handled it well.
three triangular flags bearing the NEP (nitzerebbprodukt) logo and each of the quintessential “industrial” symbols from their first album (cog, hammer, star) dropped down. the live blond female percussionist strode onstage to whoops and applause - clearly a woman being able to hold her own in a very male-dominated field has garnered her respect in the short time she’s been playing with the group. in fact, there were a lot of women at the show, more than you might expect for such angry, masculine music. next bon harris came on to much greater applause, followed (after a calculated pause) by a roar for vocalist douglas mccarthy. while many industrial bands favor dehumanized, over-processed voice, mccarthy stands nearly alone as being one of the most distinctive vocalists in the genre.
i knew what to expect and was not disappointed. there is no better way for them to begin a show than with the quasi-metal buildup of grinding synths and halting drum rolls of “getting closer”. the tired rock cliché ending of the full band beating the last note of a song to death is inverted and synthesized into one of the best intros ever. bon surprised me and tag-teamed on vocals (as in the picture above), adding to the energy by criss-crossing the stage in a mirror of douglas’ movements. after that he went behind a second drumkit and manned the ubiquitous mac powerbook which has replaced their racks of gear.
not that the band need a lot. their music, like their lyrics, is a perfect minimal expression of directness and anger. from what little they give you, you can infer the rest. some may call their music mindless and simplistic. but really, when you’re faced with lines like “money for blood /don’t take that cash away / don’t take that cross away” mixed with a southern US-accented televangelist sample over a single relentlessly ominous bassline and punishing beat, what more do you need to understand their point?
because they’re so easy to learn as well as bring so primal, mccarthy had a lot of help with his lyrics on sunday night. the packed house tried to match his guttural scream word for word. i don’t know how he can even speak, much less continue to sing and shout after a few nights of shows. the thing about nitzer ebb is, there are almost no breathing points. no long ambient intros, no ballads, no extended solos during which anyone can rest. the music is full-on energy from start to finish, and all members are very physically active onstage. they did an amazing job, especially for a couple of guys in their 40s.
the set was almost the entirety of their classic ‘belief’ album, with the singles from their first, third and fourth albums. there were a few surprises in some of the less-known choices such as “captivate”. while i was initially happy they’d chosen to do the highly-underrated “ascend,” sadly it didn’t come off anywhere near the album version. on the other hand, “godhead,” which to me falls flat on the recording when the band, as ben put it, “tries to be slayer,” came off as powerful all the way through. it was especially great because the more widespread video/radio mix has re-recorded “clean” lyrics which completely erase the song’s original seedy, nasty, sexual lyrical tone. that song, and indeed many aspects of NE seeming to be an aggressively homoerotic experience, i was surprised to find out recently that mccarthy is married with kids.
clearly NE cares about their fans, which is one reason they inspire such devotion. mccarthy took time at one point to hand out bottled water, and thanked fans at the end of the show. bon harris lingered in front of the audience both coming and going, with a look of amazement and intense gratitude. he kissed his hands and offered them to the audience, bowing repeatedly and mouthing “thank you.”
no, thank you bon, for writing the best basslines in the world.
the title of this post comes from a collection of early singles by nitzer ebb.