A dry sense of humour lurks behind the intense metal bashing and poetry of Einstürzende Neubauten. After two encores, Blixa Bargeld is pleased that his fans still love the group and jokes: “You can all die happy now that you’ve seen your favourite band”. Death is never far from the surface in this ironic “greatest hits” tour: how many hits have Einstürzende Neubauten enjoyed over the 37 years since forming in West Berlin?
The group have no support and play no music ahead of their concert. Lulling the audience into a peaceful mood with the delicately swooning ‘The Garden’ (1996), which slowly but surely builds on Alexander Hacke’s sawing bass, they next tear into the thumping, clanging, experimental post-punk industrial racket of ‘Haus der Lüge’ from 1989. Percussionist N.U. Unruh is by now playing a great angular set of metal tubes.
The rest of the set is almost entirely from 2000-14 — less jarring than earlier work. Theatricality temporarily trumps metal in the deliberately preposterous ‘Let’s Do It a Dada’, as Unruh sports an oversized white cap and cape to read gibberish while guitarist Jochen Arbeit empties a pale of metal scrap and Bargeld spins a vinyl record. The riffs and refrains in between the anti-art outbursts are riveting.
“There is a place around the corner where your dead friends live” is the cheerful chorus of ‘Dead Friends (Around the Corner)’, by which point it has become clear that stark and simple lighting is just as important to the group’s artistic integrity as industrial sonics. They allow no distracting flashes or spots of coloured light, opting for wide warm and cold white stage washes against a backdrop that takes on a few solidly atmospheric hues.
The music is more tricksy. ’Unvollständigkeit’ features a suspended half barrel that pivots to slowly disgorge metal rods, creating a harsh yet sweet percussive rain. Bargeld is a captivating presence as he waits until the barrel has finally emptied to end the song. Throughout the two-hour show he is debonair — reciting, singing, declaiming and making the most astonishing strangled screaming noises. He even looks cool when slapping his cheeks to emit sound at the start of the ‘Halber Mensch’ fragment preceding ‘Von Wegen’.
The builders’ pipes lined up for ‘Youme & Meyou’ would go wrong if the UK reverts to imperial measures, he says to lambast Brexit. The backdrop turns blue and the song finishes with another extraordinary yelp from Bargeld. He shares the tremendous climax on ‘Die Befindlichkeit des Landes’, as the whole group sing together, but adds a quiet coda of his own. A triumphant ‘Sonnenbarke’ sees handsome Rudolf Moser hitting what looks like the inside of a jet turbine with jazz brushes and sticks, before he returns to his kit, which is a fusion of normal drums, slabs of metal, plastic tanks, springs and stove pipes. Hacke turns the bass amp to 12 and Arbeit uses all kinds of devices on his guitar strings in ‘Halber Mensch’/‘Von Wegen’.
Bargeld explains that when ‘Sabrina’ was used in a film soundtrack the director complained: “You took it too seriously.” Beautifully, the backdrop and lights turn red as he sings, “It’s not the red of the dying sun, the morning sheets surprising stain, it’s not the red of which we bleed”; the song ending with “It is that black, I wish this would be your colour”. The colour is sky blue for ‘Susej’ — “a dialogue between Blixas” created years after he recorded guitar work that made no sense in 1983.
The main set ends with the ticking-clock majesty of ‘How Did I Die?’ from the imposing First World War centenary album ‘Lament’. Bargeld’s voice is huge against an electronic orchestra: “Didn’t we die at all, we didn’t die.” Back for the first encore, he lights a cigarette for ‘Silence Is Sexy’, the title track of the album from 2000. He holds his fag to the microphone, making the burning crackle fill the entire venue. A security walkie talkie goes off in one of the song’s pregnant pauses and Bargeld joins the laughter, but not for long. Feedback and banging bass/percussion add layers to the track until, after the words “as sexy as death”, it peaks and makes clear that “silence is not sexy at all”.
A looped chant from Bargeld starts hallmark metal-and-wire-bashing song ‘Die Interimsliebenden’ from 1993 and there’s more thudding bass after the orchestral synth intro of ‘Total Eclipse Of The Sun’. The spinning jet turbine is now played by Unruh, who returns for the second encore’s ‘Ein leichtes leises Säuseln’ to play a golden foil survival blanket. The show ends with the metallic metronome of ‘Redukt’ — a sixth track from ‘Silence Is Sexy’ — and its bursts of loud high energy, completing an evening that rejoices in post-industrial musical and lyrical poetry.