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We’ve got a great time in Berlin to see Steely Dan, but with some surprises. I’ve found the expected wonderful city of Berlin so filled with beauty and history (a pity that it was my first time in Berlin, it could have been awesome knowing the city before 1989 and returning now without the wall) and the polite and gentle German people. What I haven’t expected to find (first surprise) was the 37ºC (99ºF) of a city in the middle of a heat wave due to southern winds coming from Africa. Coming (actually running away) from the suffocating hot summer of Spain, so near to Africa, I didn’t realize that Germany is not that far away.
About the Steely Dan show, I’ve found the expected professional sound so near to perfection (well, even better than perfection itself) with an exact balance between virtuoso playing and savoir-faire, between controlled and loose playing, between meticulously planned arrangements and improvised and ever-changing solos. The musicians were first-class, with special mentions to guitar-player Jon Harrington and drummer Keith Harlock. Harrington played way better than Brecker (and that’s saying a lot) and Harlock displayed a prodigious ability to give the exact amount of power to every drum hit. And, of course, the two (against nature). Walter Becker seemed so relaxed, making funny comments and having a real good time playing guitar. Donald Fagen appeared to be less comfortable on stage (but probably it’s his own way of having fun) and had some difficulties reaching the higher notes. But he was superb anyway, tilting his head to infuse real emotion to such sophisticated material.
And that was the second surprise. I didn’t expect such emotional and energetic performance and such enthusiastic response from a middle-aged German audience. And all that with an uncompromising set of songs (see the set list at the end of the post), that avoided some of the biggest hits of the band as “Do It Again”, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” or “Reelin’ in the Years”. They played however generous and succulent portions of “Gaucho”, “Aja” and (unexpectedly) “The Royal Scam”, with 3 songs each. They performed at least one song from every album, including the last two albums from the present decade after a twenty year hiatus. And I was very pleased to listen one of my favourites, “Dirty Work”, from the very first album. Summarizing, 18 songs (two instrumentals) and a one and only encore, ending with “My Old School” (there were no more encores despite a feverish demand from an ecstatic audience), that made a perfect musical HOT summer night.
And a final third surprise. The day after the show we wanted to buy some German music, but we hadn’t enough time before the plane to go to Berlin Centre, so we headed a shopping mall in Spandau. I’ve expected to buy some old material, some 60s 70s kraut-rock and some recent stuff. I bought an excellent CD with the very first recording (1930!) of the original cast of Kurt Weill’s Threepenny Opera featuring Lotte Lenya. My friend Pepe bought a Tocotronic compilation, but… no kraut-rock in the record store. No Can, no Faust, no Neu!, not even Kraftwerk! I thought that, as we say in Spain, “nadie es profeta en su tierra” in Germany too (that means that the ones that obtain international recognition don’t get it as well in their homeland). But I had to try. I asked the young store attendant (a typical blonde-haired blue-eyed “fräulein”):
- Please, have you got some material by Can?
- I’m sorry, what’s Can? C.A.N.?
- Yes, Can, it was a German band from the seventies.
- Let me see… No, sorry, there’s nothing by Can here. But, are you sure that there was a German band called Can?
Oh, my God, the German record-store attendants in a shopping mall are as ignorant in musical matters as the Spanish ones…
Set list (approximately, the songs are correct but maybe the running order is inexact):
1. Instrumental Introduction
2. Time Out of Mind
4. Bad Sneakers
5. Two Against Nature
6. Hey Nineteen
7. Haitian Divorce (sung by Brecker)
9. Babylon Sisters
11. Dirty Work (sung by the backing singers, Carolyn Leonhart-Scoffery and Cindy Mizelle)
14. Green Earrings
15. Kid Charlemagne
16. Pretzel Logic
17. My Old School
18. Instrumental Ending
(many many many thanks to Pepe for providing the song titles; he’s the real Steely Dan fan, I must admit that I only knew barely half of the songs played).
(and millions thanks to María José, Juan Luis – and Donald Fagen – for the tickets).
PD 1: Henrik, did you enjoy the Stockholm show? Let us know...
PD 2: Next concert I'm going to: F.I.B. next Saturday (Festival Internacional de Benicassim). Arctic Monkeys, The B-52's, The Magic Numbers, The Human League, !!!, Ellen Allien, Cansei de Ser Sexy, Os Mutantes, Camera Obscura, Peter Bjorn & John, ... And my favourite for that day: Sondre Lerche & The Faces Down.
Honorio, I certainly agree it was a fantastic show. You summed it up so well that I don't have a lot of add. Two things come to my mind though.
1. "Dirty Work" was sung by the tour band's two ladies, which seemed very appropriate given the lyrics.
2. Donald Fagen (although great) said he was coming out of a cold, so maybe he wasn't in perfect shape in Berlin either.
I think the Stockholm show was a bit shorter, as it was part of a festival. But as the main attraction they played about 90 minutes. Some of the shortest 90 minutes I have ever experienced in my life. That's how good it was.
That story from the German record store is hilarious!
Make sure to check out CSS on the upcoming festival. Party, party!
Funny story, Honorio!
I was born and raised in Berlin (and still live here) and I think I can explain, what happened to you in the record-store:
Can and the other "Krautrock"-Bands really aren't famous in Germany AT ALL! There may be some critics that know about their significance, but in general there are hundreds of german artists/bands that are more popular here.
The german artists included in "acclaimed music" mostly don't use any language at all (electronic stuff in general). German bands that use the german language simply have no market outside of Germany, Austria and Switzerland, because the language seems to be a big obstacle.
Bands like Tocotronic or Blumfeld (not the most famous bands here either) appear only because of the EOY-Lists that derive from german magazines like Spex, Intro etc.
Hello, tfguenter. Of course, the problem in Germany is the same as any other non-English speaking countries. First, the artists that achieve notoriety in its own homeland often are not so original (I mean, who wants to hear a Hungarian imitator of Bruce Springsteen?) but in other cases the language barriers lead to criminal under-recognitions. And secondly, the ones that broke the barriers are products that, even deeply rooted in their own countries, are able to offer something that the occidental consumer can appreciate in some cases by means of fusion (I’m thinking of Youssou N’Dour from Senegal, Ali Farka Touré from Mali, Bob Marley from Jamaica or Kraftwerk from Germany). Anyway, the language barrier seems not to be a problem in such garbage as Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias or Shakira. In fact, the music that sounded in the German store that day was in Spanish, and could be included inside this crappy “latin” style.
By the way, a friend has send me a list of good record stores in Berlin. Of course I supposed that there are many terrific record stores, but on Sunday there were all closed and on Monday we didn’t have time enough. But here’s the list: L&P classics, Knesebeckstr 33-34, World of music, Augsburgerstr 36-42, Hans Riedel, Uhlandstrs 38. He told me also that there are mainly in Kreuzberg quarter.
He send me another review of the Steely Dan show, with opposite appreciations that I could get in some aspects, especially in audience response:
“Steely Dan – Berlin report
Venue: Zitadelle. Audience: approx. 2000. The fortress which is the oldest remaining structure in Berlin was the perfect place for an intimate outdoor concert. The sound was spotless and you could hear all 12 band members perfectly clear. Unfortunately the crowd was a little slow, maybe due to the temperature of 30+ degree Celsius. People didn't really get up until the last song.
Donald: He opened with: "Hallo Kinder". Big laughs. He's seems to become more and more cool and confident on the stage and at the same time acting mysterious and intriguing. He's really taking control and one could actually hear him playing the Rhodes as well as the added melodica. Great. His voice was really good though he tend to cut a lot of sentences a bit short.
Walter: His playing is a lot more aggressive that earlier. Nice attacks on some of the solos and less over all noodeling. Probably shouldn't sing Divorce but something else. He told his Tequila-story with: "you bring your bratwurst" and "your Deutch Mark or whatever kinda money you used back then". Very funny, charming and eloquent!
Keith Carlock. Wow! The rumours were true. The guys is a monster. His grooves are perfect and everything he does seems interesting. Great sounding drum set. Close to stealing the show at times. I'm so impressed!!!
The others: I like Herington but he seems to be making it hard for himself, trying difficult things instead of just playing it melodic, as he should with Walter as the subtle player. Maybe he's been in the band to long playing the same solos? Jeff Young was great and the Hammond B3 sounded fantastic. The horn section was tight and the girls hot and vibrant. Great band!
Highlights: Best version of Babylon Sisters I've ever heard. Carlock really nailed it. Two Against Nature turned out to be a perfect live song. Carlock amazing… Again. So great. The over all sound. Don and Walters relaxed attitude - they were truly enjoying it.
Lowlights: The beer drinking audience. No Deacon B. or Black Cow.
Setlist – Berlin (the show lasted from 8.15 – 22.15. 16 songs):
Time Out Of Mind
Two Against Nature
My Old School
The magic came instantly. When we were entering the Festival, a familiar whistled melody came to us. Young Folks!! Come on, hurry, we’re late. Just in time to listen the final four songs of PETER BJÖRN & JOHN show, including “Up Against the Wall” and last year anthem, “Young Folks”. Next decision was between Albert Hammond Jr. or CSS. Having seen The Strokes last year I thought that Hammond won’t be better so I’ve decided to follow Henrik indication and go to FiberFib Stage to see CANSEI DE SER SEXY. Unfortunately it seemed that everyone had the same idea, so it was impossible seeing something. And listening …, well, for me CSS is over-hyped and its success was related to look and attitude more than to the music. A breakdown on the power supply forced the interruption of the show after the third song and it was the perfect excuse to go looking for one of my favourites of this year. SONDRE LERCHE and the FACES DOWN displayed a great show for the (relatively) few people that gathered round the FibClub Stage. An organic performance based in electric power-pop but with a wide range of abilities, from the crooner to the singer-songwriter, with brief notes of bossa-nova and even rockabilly.
A brief break for eating something, while seeing three or four songs of the performance of THE MAGIC NUMBERS (good, nice harmonies but nothing special for me) and we headed FibClub to see CAMERA OBSCURA, with Tracyanne Campbell leading a band dressed more appropriately for a Sunday mass than for a rock festival. We listened only a handful of songs exquisitely played, mostly from the previous album. Sadly for missing “Lloyd Are You Ready to Be Heartbroken” but needing party hard we headed to the show of !!!, that offered a non-stop dancing party with and irresistible groove that made all the audience jump and dance. Nic Offer (dressed with a bathing suit!) and John Pough were tireless showmen and “Heart of Hearts” or “Pardon My Freedom” were highlights of the show.
The party had to continue, so we went to see THE B’52’S in the main stage (Escenario Verde) but at the beginning was slightly disappointing, with a strong backing band but with the 3 singers quite static. But after some songs the thing began to grow, achieving a peak with “Love Shack”, “Planet Claire” and “Rock Lobster” in a row. Anyway, before the most expected performance (Arctic Monkeys) we went running again to see THE HUMAN LEAGUE at FiberFib. Oddly, without having changed a single note of the songs (the arrangements were exactly the same as the 25 years-old records), Human League are trendy again. I don’t care of trends but I’ve enjoyed a lot a set full of classic hits (“Mirror Man”, “Sound of the Crowd”, “Lebanon”, “Open Your Heart”). With no time to wait to “Don’t You Want Me”, we ran again, finding time enough to listen a song from NAJWAJEAN (an interesting Spanish duo with actress and singer Najwa Mimri and producer Carlos Jean) on our way to the main stage.
And here there were, THE ARCTIC MONKEYS, in front of a 40.000 people, delighting everyone specially the Brits (maybe 50% of the audience, every year the F.I.B. attracts more non-Spanish European people, I think that this year probably 2/3 of the people weren’t Spanish). The Arctic Monkeys are one of my wife's favourite bands, and since Saturday one of mine too. The show was vibrant and intense and featured an inspired Alex Turner (lead vocalist, composer and also lead guitar player; another band that is really a leader backed by some friends, like every other band in fact) and an awesome Matt Helder on drums. The set of songs included more songs from the second album that I haven’t listened yet. But, as I could see, it was the situation of the majority of the audience, as the more celebrated numbers were from the first album, “The View from the Afternoon”, “I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor”, “Fake Tales of San Francisco” and especially “When the Sun Goes Down”. Not everything was perfect: the time between songs were absurdly long and the band were quite static on stage (nothing to do with !!! and Franz Ferdinand last year). Anyway, a nice set that made us forget how tired we were. More than six hours dancing madly and running from one stage to another.
So we rested a little in the grass and then headed home. This year only one of three days (we’ve missed Wilco, Rufus Wainwright, The Pipettes, Calexico, Animal Collective and lots more). Not our better moments in FIB (these are reserved to Björk in 1998 or Radiohead in 2002) but nice moments to remember. I recommend to all European AM posters to come in future years to the F.I.B., I bet you all look good on the dancefloor…
I saw The Cure playing live yesterday. It was the first time I saw them live despite they’ve played in my city many times. Some positive aspects and some negatives. First the negatives:
- The sound was quite bad. The location was beautiful (The Science Museum) but the acoustics of the place were awful. Moreover the band got no keyboards and the (absurd) sound mixer left the main guitar player in an almost inaudible level. So the details that you can hear on the records got buried by a thunderous but monotonous sound of bass and drums. Fortunately the voice of Smith could be heard quite well.
- The cold: it was a windy and quite cold night (well, in Valencia’s terms, 5ºC approximately). This, and the fact of playing in Wednesday, made us go home without listening the complete encore.
- The look: frankly I can only qualify the look of this fat Robert Smith as pathetic. Just see this. The expression of our Rocky Raccoon came often to my mind: “dude, you're like 40-something now, enough with the ridiculous makeup and hair”. But what surprised me the most was to hear my wife saying that she found him very attractive. Women…
And the positives:
- The repertoire: The Cure got so many splendid songs that it’s impossible to fail. You can find the setlist here. From 1979 (“Boys Don’t Cry” to three new songs (“Please Project”, “A Boy I Never Knew” and “Freak Show” . The highlights were the songs from “A Head on the Door” and “Disintegration” (“Lullaby” sounded glorious) but some early songs as “Primary” or “A Hundred Years” were good too.
- The attitude: The Cure, despite its musical evolution, are well aware that his own roots are the goth-rock and the overall sound and the look got obvious debts to that style. Moreover, they tried not to completely please the audience and played a lot of obscure and new songs.
- The bizarre contrast: during the first half of the live show a couple of two young goth girls were kissing and caressing just in front of me. I know that I sound like a dirty old perverted, but I must admit that it was refreshing (and absolutely exciting, why not admit it?) but bizarre. Just in front there was the passion of the young lovers and looking slightly up there was Robert Smith, his weird hairdo and his strange songs.