I have been to some crazy gigs in my time. Punk rock gigs in a small-town library, in a front yard facing the sea, in various churches, in my friends' living room, in a hay shed, in the back room of a Greek snack bar. And crazy shit has happened. The band and audience going naked, the band throwing up on stage, nazis being beaten out of the venue while the band was playing, the performer getting pissed off at the audience, all sorts. But there is always something new to add to the list. After weeks, months really, of anticipation for JEFF The Brotherhood's return to Berlin, this evening turned out to be super weird and, really, a bit of a joke.
I had actually bought tickets in advance. Yeah, yeah, laugh at me. But I had. West Germany had been packed at the start of the year when JTB played one of the best gigs Berlin has seen this year and their best gig of that tour, according to insider sources. So I assumed all those people would show up again at White Trash Fast Food, and maybe more. The album was released in September, they have continuously toured and they're about to tour the US with The Kills in the new year. They've been busy and I thought this could pay off with a packed gig.
I don't learn, do I? This was White Trash, and I have not yet seen a packed gig there. They do little in terms of promotion it seems and people just don't show up there. I remind you about The Strange Boys and about Wavves, two gigs that should have been absolutely rammed but weren't. We arrived at 9:20pm, which was ridiculously early since White Trash shows traditionally start late. The ticket read 9pm and we just wanted to be on the safe side, Sunday night and all. But, apart from one couple at the bar, we were the only guests thus far. And here is the first curiosity of the night: we were told that the gig had started at 8:30pm, that the support band had already played, and that JTB were about to go onstage. With no audience?!
We made ourselves comfortable and anticipated what would happen, certain that there was going to be a delay while everyone was waiting for more guests. Instead, after a 10 minute wait, the lights onstage went off and the cold lights in the main room were switched on, without an explanation. Confused, we approached the tour manager of the band, who was able to inform us that the band had been offered to play upstairs in the restaurant instead. Their reservation at playing to a dining audience was answered with the promise of an Arte film crew. What?!
So we moved to the restaurant, where the cover for the gig was now a mere € 3 instead of the € 13 I had originally forked out, and seated ourselves at one of the tables at the back, where we ordered drinks and food to help us get through the originally booked local band that was to play for the following hour. They wanted to be the Foo Fighters but they didn't quite manage, if you know what I mean. It was atrocious. When finally, near midnight, JTB took the stage, spirits were low. The set up was poor, with no effort having been made to remove the tables right in front of the stage. The band was very drunk by now, having sat around for six hours. The tour manager had no opportunity to sell merchandise, sure to make a loss that night. And the dining audience couldn't care less whether one of America's best current rock groups was about to blast them away with the loudest gig that restaurant had probably ever seen. What a shambles.
So imagine this: Those that had actually showed up for JTB were about 20 people, which were now scrambled in a very small space between dining tables and the entrance door. Between the audience and the small, low stage was a camera crew of three people with big TV cameras and lights. And the band was not able to play half their songs because they were simply too wasted. Could this possible work out OK?!
The surprising answer is: Yes! Of course JTB could not show how great they actually are, not to the audience and not to the filming cameras. They simply weren't given the chance. And of course the guests couldn't show how much they loved JTB. We also weren't given the chance. But somehow we all made it work. The band gave their best to get the rest of the restaurant involved, with loudness and direct address; the small crowd gave their best to dance and ignore the cameras, despite the fact that I got nearly knocked over three times by one of the camera crew. And somehow it all worked into a very rock'n'roll kind of affair. We actually enjoyed ourselves, and I think to some degree, so did the band. It was all absurdity at its strangest and JTB made sure to play as loud and as rebelliously as they could. Good on them!
I did complain to White Trash and asked for at least a refund of the difference in entrance price. They laughed at me. I have since written to the promoter Trinity. Yes, we did have fun and laughed at the absurdity of life. But really, from the perspective of the band and the audience, this night was a shambles. I'll add it to my list of crazy gigs I've attended and look forward to seeing JEFF The Brotherhood again in a more appropriate setting.