Teho Teardo & Blixa Bargeld
Tuesday 18th March 2014 – Union Chapel, London
London is a hateful city at the best of times, filled with cancelled services and losers who try and impress you with some piece of shit shirt that someone in Shoreditch bought for 50p in a charity shop and resold for £40 as “vintage clothing.” But it’s a necessary stop for music lover and, with this being the sole UK date for Teho Teardo & Blixa Bargeld, one must bear such burdens.
Everyone knows Blixa from his role as singer and strategy definer in the legendary industrial outfit, Einsturzende Neubauten, as well as being guitarist and sideman in Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds for nearly twenty years. But Teho is maybe less of a household name. He began his career as an industrial musician (early works include collaborations with Nurse With Wound and Ramleh) as well as working with people like Mick Harris (Napalm Death, Scorn) and Lydia Lunch. In recent years, he has branched out into film scores and sound installations.
These two characters collaborated on an LP released last year called ‘Still Smiling.’ Although first impressions were that it was a bit patchy, it quickly became one of this writer’s favourite albums of last year. So it was going to be intriguing to hear it played live. The Union Chapel is exactly that, a chapel. Church benches and a hushed atmosphere make it an unusual place for a live show. But it was the perfect setting for the best gig of the year so far.
Beginning with ‘Nur Zur Erinnerung’, cellist Martina Bertoni recaptures the drama of the recorded version while Teardo uses his Fender to give the track some low end. Bargeld’s voice is still rich with grandiose power. ‘Mi Scusi’ is filled with playful melodies and the might of European classical music. Later on, a string quartet are introduced to give tracks like ‘Alone With The Moon’ (a Tiger Lillies cover) and ‘A Quiet Life’ (a song about a mafia killer renouncing his past) extra pathos and beauty. Teardo conducts the quartet by swinging his guitar in the air and seems enthused by the addition.
Throughout this, Bargeld is the consummate front man. Although very different from the early days of Einsturzende Neubauten (when he would set stages on fire and scream in such a way that Nick Cave compared it to something that comes out of strangled cats or dying children), he is witty as well as being engaging and a brilliant vocalist who can confront the audience and interpret a vocal beautifully (such as the aforementioned ‘Alone With The Moon’). Closer ‘Defenestrazioni‘ begins on a more ambient note, with Bargeld reciting a list of stupid questions he’s been asked over the years (with a sample of his wife asking them). As the track progresses, the use of the string quartet, chimes, loops and samples of a cheering crowd build to an ecstatic finish. It is breathtaking.
Simply put, this was a show that took the listener out of their comfort zones and re introduced them to the power of chamber music, while using minimal electronic backing to make it more than a night at the proms. Roll on the next album.