Blastitude Number Seven
issue 8  june/july 3001
page 3



Reviews (Gravedigger/Lurking Fear page):

A home-video collection of bizarre moments in the history of German television, curated by Schenctady, NY resident and underground culture entrepreneur Robert Plante. I have to admit I was a little disappointed when I saw the full track listing at the Gravedigger website, after I'd ordered and before it arrived. Passport? Eberhard Schoener? Wolfgang Dauner/EtCetera? And, of the three Can clips, one of them is the great "Paperhouse" from Beat Club, but the other two are post-Soon Over Babaluma, Damo long gone, the band at their most intentionally ridiculous, lip-syncing in front of go-go dancers for the tape opener "I Want More." As far as camp 70s euro-kitsch goes, it's pretty fun, but it's not the deep psychedelic mystic side of krautrock I was hoping for. Still, "Paperhouse" alone has nearly enough of that to make this tape a keeper, and there are some other promising names on the track listing too, such as Popol Vuh and Amon Duul 2.
      However, they both come late in the tape, and there's plenty more camp before that. The second offering is a nearly 10-minute promotional cartoon for one of the campiest of all krautrock tracks, Kraftwerk's "Autobahn." It's also one of the subtly greatest of all krautrock tracks, but the visuals, featuring the lugubrious hallucinations of a cheesy alien cyborg character, were not holding my interest. I'd rather watch the movie Heavy Metal, and that's not saying much. A couple moments deliver a roughly Fantasia-derived psychedelia that might look good in a Mountain Dew commercial, but as a ten-minute narrative? Forget it.
       The next track is "Can Can" by Can, a ridiculous novelty number performed with a full corps of costumed dancers. It has to be seen to be believed, not that you should want to believe it. After that, another Kraftwerk video, this one for "The Robots" in 1978. Still campy, but this time it's better, a television performance with automated mannequins taking center stage while the real bandmembers sit ominously off to the side in front of computer terminals, ostensibly 'performing' the music.
       It's good to have "Viva" by La Dusseldorf on here, simply because it's one of the weirdest krautrock and punkrock songs of all time, and this gives me more of an opportunity to try and figure it out. I'm still not as taken by it as I am by Neu!, Harmonia, Kraftwerk, Cluster, et al, but this crude, decent video (band shown playing on fake frozen landscape, waving flags, lounging at a picnic, all with camera tricks that are cheesy but refreshingly disdainful of lipsyncing) helps me peg them as some strange mixture of contempo-Bowie glam pout, proto-Clash anthem rock, and the same kind of marching "rock soldiers" vibe that finally peaked later with mutant strains of hardcore and metal like Oi! and the band Manowar. The look of La Dusseldorf alone gives them staying power, with Klaus Dinger, his chiselled face wearing sunglasses, coming on like some stern inscrutable star you'll never quite put a name to, his brother Thomas playing the younger and apparently more innocent glam-rock Adonis (the Andy Gibb to Klaus Dinger's Robin?), and Hans Lampe on drums, looking absolutely nothing like either of them, thin and pale with cropped hair, even more proto-New Wave than Dinger.
       Eberhard Schoener is one of the ones I was worried about. His piece is "Bali Gung", a live performance from 1976, as broadcast on German television. It's hard not to be impressed at first, by a fully decked-out Balinese gamelan orchestra performing in a TV studio. I've heard plenty of gamelan records, but oddly enough this video is the first place I've ever seen gamelan while hearing it. This was initially fascinating, seeing real people performing all the familiar bell rhythms, the weird stops and starts, not to mention the monkey chant, costumed dancers and even a shadow puppet show. The catch is, Schoener and his prog-fusion band set up and play along with them, and however noble their intentions as curators of great world culture, a feeling of crass Las Vegas-style commercial exotica quickly overtakes the piece. It ends up being unbearable, a group of pony-tailed musos taking an ancient tradition of beautiful, hushed, and intricate music and mostly drowning it out by playing proto-Miami Vice MIDI licks over the top. East meets West? Nope, East drowned out by West's proto-Miami Vice jazz-fusion licks.
        The Michael Rother short is decent. It's from the 80s, the music consisting of nice, electronic pulses, better than your average New Age by a long shot but nowhere near the past heights of Neu! and Harmonia. Accompanying footage is cute toy car animations; also decent, kinda cool, but also sorta the same vibe as the "Autobahn" cartoon.
         With the next clip I finally get what I came for. It's "Truckstop Gondolero" by Kraftwerk, but this is a far cry from the electro-camp Kraftwerk seen in their two previous clips. This is another 1971 vintage Beat Club clip, the only known recording, audio or video, of Neu!-era Kraftwerk; that is, the brief time when Michael Rother and Klaus Dinger, who became the duo called Neu!, played with Florian Schneider in a Ralf-less trio lineup of Kraftwerk. The music comes on like the Kraftwerk of the first albums (s/t and 2), and even more so, the previous album Ralf and Florian recorded (with others) under the name Organisation. In other words, not electro-dance music, but rather raw electro-acoustic psychedelic rock, utilizing electric guitars and drumkits along with all the percussion and electronics. On the TV soundstage, the trio sets up in a semi-circle, each member sitting down behind their respective equipment. The blue-and-red pop-art road-cones that adorned their first two albums sit in the center of the stage and semicircle. The trio begins easing into their piece, playing hardcore space improv, very abstract for the first few minutes, with Dinger not playing at all as low-end psychedelic guitar and atonal electronics rub and blend together. Then Rother starts outlining a chordal drone on his guitar, Florian switches from electronics to blending flute melodies, and the piece eases from space abstraction to a more melodic/modal focus. Some TV producer decides to cover the televised image with bullshit 'trippy' video effects, probably feeling it will justify the uncompromising abstractness of the music to the perenially clueless TV audience. These effects, which really just look like bad TV reception, are tellingly reduced once Dinger kicks in with the proto-motorik backbeat. ("It's got a backbeat, you can't lose it," the producers seem to be thinking for their audience.) Still, Dinger's drumming isn't yet the tight trance-inducing ur-statement that was right around the corner of his career. Rather, he plays crude caveman jazz, heavy on the cymbal washes and tom-driven tribalisms. A cool clip.
        Next is the aforementioned "Paperhouse," which is indeed stunning. Unlike the other Can clips, the song is performed live and has a more stripped-down garage-rock feel than the version we all know from Tago Mago. The sight of the band locking down for the long double-time outro while Damo kick-boxes in the background is one for the annals.
        Passport is a Canterbury-ish Soft Machine-ish prog-jazz type band with lots of horn parts and sax solos. I just couldn't get into their clip here, although I might be able to handle listening to 'em on record. Something about seeing these funny looking guys, sorta stocky, with glasses and big sideburns and hair pulled back into a super-tight little ponytail (call it the Irmin Schmidt look) huff and puff on these horns from multiple angles with superfluous 'video effects' going on...well, we're back to camp, huh?
        Just two clips later we have another rather terrible number featuring prog-jazz played by more Irmin Schmidt lookalikes, one of them wearing a vest without a shirt on underneath it! The band is spread out on a 'eerily' lit soundstage with small risers. The guy up and in back, stage right, has wild hair and glasses -- almost a Eugene Chadbourne look -- and the way he spazzes while playing some sort of sitar-type instrument has a near Muppet Show vibe. In between these two prog-jazz-ponytail numbers is one of the would-be highlights of the tape, a short Popol Vuh clip from 1970 or 1971. Unfortunately, I don't remember much of it, except that it was pretty confusing to watch due to all the 'psychedelic' video effects going on. (I am pretty sure I caught a glimpse of Florian Fricke's fur vest somewhere in the proceedings, so of course that alone is worth it.)
        The longest clip on here is another Popol Vuh effort, this time an honest-to-goodness short film made to accompany "Sei Still, Weiss Ich Bin." This piece of work is about a half-hour long, and also known as "Sinai Desert," because that's where it was actually filmed. Florian Fricke is so mystical in this one that he's more less playing Jesus, and he's even filming it on location at the desert next to the Dead Sea for good measure. The visuals might make you think of Jodorowksy, but they are much more understated. (What wouldn't be?) I don't quite know what to make of this film; it's long, it's slow, it's weird, and not a little spooky, but it's also got this seething devotional power, and in that sense, it's a worthy accompaniment to Popol Vuh's music. I screened this at a party with the sound off and it was quite a trip to glance at the screen every few minutes mid-conversations and see how little the mystic/desert visuals had changed.
         After "Sinai Desert," the vid ends with another killer from the vaults: Amon Duul 2 live on Beat Club in 1971, playing two tracks from Yeti. They weren't the biggest showmen in the world, more of the 'stand there and bash it out' school, but when what you're bashing out is "Eye Shaking King" that's just fine. Karrer howls and jams, John Wienzerl wails acid leads while hiding behind his huge mop of hair, the drummer and bass player lumber and groove, and someone sits off to the side and beautifully plays synth patches and electronic noises. Renate doesn't appear, which is too bad -- I'd LOVE to see some clips of her performing with this band -- but it's freakin' great anyway.

Full track listing: 'A solid 2 hours of rare German '70s rock; complete listing: 1. Can: "I Want More," German TV, 1976; 2. Kraftwerk: "Autobahn," promo film, 1974; 3. Can: "Can Can," German TV, 1976; 4. Kraftwerk: "The Robots," promo film, 1978; 5. La Dusseldorf: "Viva," German TV, 1976; 6. Eberhard Schoener: "Bali Gung," German TV, 1976; 7. Michael Rother: "Gluck Im Spiel," promo video, early '80s?; 8. Kraftwerk: "Truckstop Gondolero," Beat Club, 1971 (notable for being the only recording of the trio lineup with Rother and Dinger from NEU!); 9. Can: "Paperhouse," Beat Club, 1971; 10. Passport: [unknown track], Beat Club, 1971; 11. Popol Vuh: "Bettina," Beat Club, 1970 or '71; 12. Wolfgang Dauner/EtCetera: [unknown track], Beat Club, 1971; 13. Popol Vuh: Sei Still, Weiss Ich Bin film, 1980 (aka Sinai Desert); 14. Amon Duul II: "Eye Shaking King," Beat Club, 1971?. (2:00, C)'

This is an important archaeological document, a 90-minute collage made up of excerpts from 80s metal concerts. Although I recognize some snippets from Ozzy Osbourne's Tribute, perhaps the last gatefold double vinyl live hard rock LP, most of the sources seem to be audience bootlegs. After all, the only liner notes/credits on the tape say "Thanx Angela Sawyer and all those '80s tape traders." The fun part is that the excerpts don't come from songs, they come from the moments between the songs, when one of a few different things is happening: the guitar player is playing an unaccompanied hot licks guitar solo, the drummer is playing a typically endless unaccompanied hot licks drum solo, or the singer is shouting something ridiculous and "rocking" to the audience. To top it off, there are several extremely drawn out song endings in the mix as well, usually featuring a hot solo, wild drum fills, and an over-exerting singer.
         All of these things are consistently met with roaring herd mentality approval. For one long section, featuring a band I cannot place, an 'eerie' intro plays from the stage, filled with piped-in 'scary' organ music, an atmosphere so thick you can practically see the smoke machines working and the giant mechanical demon-mascot's eyes twinkling from the darkened stage. All around, people roar their approval, some so close to the bootlegger's recorder that you can practically hear their conversations, and their "woo!"s and "YEEAAHHH!"s sound strangely weak and insubstantial when separated from the dull roar of the masses.
         One unforgettable section has Ozzy leading a vast crowd in a game in which Tommy Aldridge plays a steady beat on his bass drum, and Ozzy, after much fanfare and orientation, counts off "One...two...THREE!!!" to which the audience is instructed to respond with yet another dull roar. This is repeated enough times to bore a kindergartner. I know, I know, you had to be there, but I can't help but think that Mr. Plante, intentionally or not, has given us a wakeup call with this tape, an expose of what a certain cross-section of us was doing in the '80s. The message, to me, seems to be: sure, everyone requires a little dumb fun now and then, but what we do for our dumb fun can still be chosen wisely. Going to '80s metal concerts just no longer seems to be the wise choice for dumb fun that it once did.
         Ah, but listening to this tape is a choice way to have dumb fun. At 90 minutes long, it's as endless as a Tommy Aldridge drum solo, but strangely addictive. Part of the reason is that most excerpts are only a few seconds long, and the knowledge that something new is just around the corner keeps my hand off the fast-forward button. Highlights are some European metal singer saying, in his scariest voice, "Do you want some heavy music?!!! Yeah? Well, we'll give you some!! We'll give you a LOT!!!!" And where would this tape be without James Hetfield, who is pictured on the cover and appears here more than anyone else. I'm guessing there are two reasons for this: one, Plante, like me and so many others, was probably a big Metallica fan in the '80s, and two, because Hetfield can't seem to open his mouth in between songs without saying something hilariously doofoid. (I love the call and response "Are you morbid?!!" "Yeah!!" "Are you morbid?!!" "Yeah!!" "Are you raging morbid?!!" "Yeah!!", but my single favorite Hetfield quote is probably "It's cool if you throw shit, but don't hit our beers. It's our fuel, man." And let's not forget "METAL UP YOUR ASS!!!") Robert Plante spent hours upon days putting this together, and the result is something you can snicker at, sure, but it's also a serious purging, an exorcism of all of the various 80s metal demons that may or may not haunt you. As someone who used to think that Dokken was really hot shit, I know they haunt me, so this tape is a helpful thing. Thanx Bob.



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