Show Review: Rammstein at the Oracle Arena, May 18, 2011
Rammleid | Bückstabü | Waidmanns Heil | Keine Lust | Weißes Fleisch | Feuer Frei! | Wiener Blut| Frühling In Paris | Ich Tu Dir Weh | Du Riechst So Gut | Benzin | Links 2 3 4| Du Hast | Pussy
|| Encore 1|| Sonne | Haifisch | Ich Will
|| Encore 2 || Engel
There’s little to say about the Rammstein live show that hasn’t been said before: explosive, fiery, mesmerizing, unique, terrifying, hilarious. Terrifying as an aesthetic monstrosity: the four-tiered metal stage looming over the audience, the band fanned out across the stage like eagle’s wings with lead singer Till Lindemann’s weighty presence front and center, stomping, head-banging, and sulking to the beat; his voice deep enough to scrape the bottom of the ocean, the german words menancing as though he’s Tilled up thousands of dead bodies from the sea-floor, words long dead in English, reimagined as melody.
It says something profound about Rammstein that their music, superficially simple as it is, has been around for 17 years. It says something more that the band hasn’t had a hit stateside since “Du Hast,” and yet this May Rammstein returned to the U.S. for the first time in over 10 years with a sold-out arena run. It’s clearly not just the pyrotechnics that keep listeners coming back (their 2009 album Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da sold 93,000 copies in the US and charted at #1 in Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, Finland, Holland, Czech Republic, Slovenia and, most surprisingly perhaps, #4 in Mexico).
The answer, it seems clear, is the band’s masterful ability to craft song after song after song that manages to reimagine the Rammstein formula: to move between Till’s guttural growls and choral anthems, to creatively layer the sound below his voice with broad orchestral synthesizers and a two-guitar distortion attack that prods, jabs, and pounds listeners. When Rammstein hit all the right notes, you’re left with a song that is frustratingly catchy, considering that presumably well over half the band’s listeners cannot make out a single lyric.
That’s sort of the unspoken secret for Rammstein fans: that the intriguing, violent, and often strangely mythical song lyrics are merely an additional bonus—we’re here to listen to the rise and fall of Till’s voice merge seamlessly with the swelling, bombastic arrangements. There’s character to Till’s voice, his tongue a shrewd actor jumping deftly from role to role: the deranged half-laughter, half-whisper of a cannibalistic murderer (“Mein Teil”), the barking of a general on the front lines (“Links 2,3,4”), the forlorn crooner (“Klavier,” “Seeman,” “Roter Sand”), and, most frequently, the angry, impatient lover of “Du Hast” or “Ich Tu Dir Weh.”
On Wednesday night, Rammstein emerged from behind a 30 ft. black wall. Guitarists Richard Kruspe and Paul Landers knocked a hole out of the wall with their axes (see, Rammstein have a sense of humor) and stepped through onto the stage. Soundtracked by the eerie choral introduction of “Rammlied,” the opener from Rammstein’s newest album Liebe Ist Fur Alle Da, Till kicked down a door in the middle of the stage, and sauntered towards the crowd. The song begins softly with its first verse, Till’s voice booming across the arena, a playful melody with only an orchestral backing:
Wer wartet mit Besonnenheit Whoever waits patiently
der wird belohnt zur rechten Zeit will be rewarded when the time is right
Nun, das Warten hat ein Ende Now, the wait is over
Leiht euer Ohr einer Legende Lend your ears to a legend
“Rammlied” is the band’s new anthem, their rallying cry, obvious enough when the chorus is the same as your band’s name, rammstein. After a ten year wait to see the band live, the opening verse becomes even more fitting; our reward, the transition to the first chorus, is a beautiful and stunning wave of distorted guitar, made even more massive by Till growling “Rammstein” overtop.
In case you missed the symbolism, we’re talking about an East German band bursting through a wall while touring in America. The sheer number of fantastical ideas that map onto such a spectacle is a significant part of what makes Rammstein so interesting. Are we seeing a dramatic reinterpretation of the neo-nazi vision of Germany bursting through the western wall and reclaiming its rightful spot as global hegemon? Or is the wall simply a literal encapsulation of the language barrier Rammstein have so mercilessly collapsed? Or is the wall actually the four-sided box that the band first fought to remove themselves from during the Sehnsucht era, when they were compared to now defunct pop-ohne-substance neu-metal bands like Powerman 5000, Korn, and Limp Bizkit.
I’ve mulled this over before and yet again I’m reminded of the stage show antics during “Buch Dich,” when Till would simulate anal rape on-stage by draping keyboardist Flake Lorenz in chains and pulling a massive plastic dildo out of his pants. Then, too, was the live show spectacle more than just shock and awe—the band literally wore the chains of that infamous fascist German generation, and perhaps more subtly the weight of the neu-metal box that nearly suffocated Rammstein as it did, not without good reason, the rest of the genre.
(Finding anything more than a cursory resemblance between Rammstein and the extinct neu-metal bands of the late 90’s is simply lazy.)
When I was a child, unable to speak and barely managing to piece together half-broken syllables, my father would grab me off the floor with his thick, warm arms and hold me there in front of a framed picture in our kitchen, an illustration—as I remember it—of a table setting, knife, fork, spoon and plate with the title printed in white letters beneath it. As he pointed to different letters in the title, I would name them, d-i-n-n-e-r, in English and then in German.
Despite his best efforts to raise me as a bilingual child, he soon gave up, confronted with the additional challenge that my mother spoke no german and that staying consistent was an overwhelming process. Time wasn’t on his side.
But the effect has lingered. I followed in my father’s footsteps, studying German in college and going abroad to Berlin in the spring of 2008, almost 30 years after he flew to Cologne from Penn State—when a new generation of Germans were still recoiling from the collective effects of World War II, Adolf Hitler, and the Holocaust. Germany was not perceived as popular or glamourous European country in the 1970s. The dynamic has shifted somewhat today, but even my program in Berlin included only eight students, whereas trips to Spain and Italy average three or four times that amount.
Point being, I suppose, is that Germany isn’t cool, popular, or a sought after travel destination for most Americans. Our collective memory still imagines a cold utilitarian country painted in black-and-white, covered in blood and seduced by fascism. German glamour, to most, is the pinnacle of oxymorons.
And then there’s Rammstein, who take this claim and flip it on its head to create a sound and image that is distinictly German—the rigid, simple beats, the calculated guitar strokes, the pounding lockstep of the band on every album—and glamourous in an entirely new way; their instrumentation is, as I said before, tight, lockstep, calculated, in other words—stereotypically German. Their stage presence, however, with an abundance of fire, sparks, strobe lights, and explosions is the industrial factory, the center of labor and production, turned into concert spectacle. And what could be a better encapsulatation of this new German glamour than the reappropriation of the factory setting, the means of controlled, endless production unexpectedly turned into something alive and sexualized when Rammstein takes the stage.
I still remember handing my father my portable Walkmen CD player with a burned copy of Rammstein’s second album Sehnsucht playing and asking him to listen. I would wait intently by his side, crooning my neck to hear the tinny whispers of the songs and listen along. My father listened mostly to acoustic folk music, John Prine, Phil Oachs, Steve Goodman, so it was always a little bit of a surprise after a few minutes when he would turn towards me and grin, taking off the headphones and translating bits and pieces of the lyrics, all the while remarking on Till’s tendency to speak clear, precise high German.
It’s a bond I continue to share with my father. He texted me after the concert to ask in German (Till war toll?) if Till was awesome. Ja, naturlich — I had been anticipating this show since I was 12 years old, since the Clinton administration, I grew up with Rammstein and, besides Black Sabbath perhaps, they were my first favorite band that meant something real to me—the connection to my father, the German that I identified with even if I didn’t yet understand it, the heavy, distorted guitar sound I had already taken a fondess for in Black Sabbath.
When I bought the Live Aus Berlin DVD in 8th grade and watched the band’s spectacular live show for the first time, I was floored. Rammstein’s sense of humor and dedicated stage presence were already fully formed by 1998 and, as far as I was concerned, it was the greatest combination of songs and stage performance I had ever seen. I longed to see the band live in person, to have the heat of the flames warm my face and sing along in German. On May 18, 2011, when Rammstein took the stage at Oracle Arena, I had already waited twelve years, or half my life. On May 18, 2011, for one hour and forty-five minutes, I existed in the strange state of euphoria that comes only from an emotional release held for years, a desire from childhood unexpectedly fulfilled, an impossible dream suddenly more real than I could ever imagine.
Dankeschön, Rammstein, dankeschön.