Monday, 12 August 2013

Review: Bohren & der Club of Gore + Julia Holter

I was quite excited when Puschen announced Bohren & der Club of Gore to be headlining day two of their Puschenfest this year. They kept the support act a secret for quite some time and when the news came out that it will be Julia Holter, I admittedly was not that excited about it.

This concert was not only my first Julia Holter show but also my first time at Heimathafen Neukölln. It's situated on Karl-Marx-Straße and even though unimpressive from the outside, the main room itself looks quite fancy. It's an old ballroom now functioning as a public theater. Besides the occasional concert, a lot of theater plays, music theater, lectures and other performances take place there. Luckily, they had put up chairs for this concert, because watching a Bohren show while standing... well let's just say it's quite a challenge.

Despite the fact that the room was supposedly air-conditioned, it was already pretty hot and sticky when the staff closed the side doors and Julia Holter came on stage to start playing. It gradually got hotter and hotter, which didn't make her performance more bearable to me I have to say. I wasn't really familiar with her music before. It just wasn't of interest to me but I thought I'd give her a chance, after some friends of mine tried to convince me her records are good. She played melancholic and rather dark piano pop music that was very theatrical. She was supported by a drummer, a cellist, a violinist and a saxophone player. Her support band added a classical and sometimes jazzy touch to her music while she sang and played the piano. Now that all doesn't sound too bad, and it also probably wasn't. My actual problem with their performance was - it was just way too nice. So nice actually that I found it rather bland and eventually just boring. Yes it was all very professional and clean but there wasn't anything holding my interest. There were no rough edges, no irony, everything was smooth and everything was pretty. Too smooth and too pretty for me. So I had to sit this out somehow and waited and sweated until they finished.

In between the bands the staff reopened the side doors, which was a nice opportunity to get some fresh air, before the lights got dimmed for Bohren & der Club of Gore to start. I had already seen them twice before, I know their records, I know what they sound like and I also know that their announcements between songs are funny... So why did I bother going to a show, where everything would be as I anticipated? Well, probably because I like all those things about them. And I was right, I did like their show. I don't think I have to say much about what Bohren sound like. They're a dark doom jazz band from Mühlheim an der Ruhr. Having started out as a Metal/Hardcore band they eventually developed their own style which sounds like a cross between dark jazz and ambient drone music. Their music redefines the term "slow" and to call them minimalistic would be an exaggeration. To me their music was always very cinematic, perfectly capturing an atmosphere that would fit in (almost) any David Lynch movie. It's music for rainy nights and long car trips in the dark. And as depressing and melancholic as they may sound, watching them play live is still highly entertaining on many levels. They are one of the funniest bands I've ever seen and the contrast between the "serious" music they play and their hilarious jokes shows that they don't take themselves too seriously (which is always a good thing I think). Bohren play in almost total darkness, just being dimly lit by single cones of light for each musician. They step in and out of these light beams, so that most of the time you can barely make out their silhouettes, which was a stark contrast to the slightly exaggerated light show during the Julia Holter show. In fact it was so dark that the emergency exit sign besides the stage was annoyingly brighter than the rest of the room.

All in all, the Bohren set was very coherent and without many surprises. The songs from their individual records blended perfectly into each other. Towards the end of their show, they announced that they will play two encores, a kind of rare thing for them to do. And even though it was really hard to bear the heat and lack of air, nearly everybody stayed in the room, listening devoutly until the band finished and left stage after bowing down. I'm still glad that I watched them again although nothing surprising or unexpected happened. I really have nothing to complain about, except that annoying emergency exit light... And although Julia Holter really wasn't my cup of tea, I think inviting her to support Bohren was the right decision. It's hard to find a suitable support band for this band and I always like it when artists play together that musically have not much in common.

Oh and here's a video from the show I found on youtube, as you see you see nothing!

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