Is Blixa Bargeld the only singer to use air quotes? He was emphasising an ironic term for the Kentish Town Forum audience, many of whom were German anyway. He also corrected the translation of 'Kater' (as in 'Selbstportrait Mit Kater') which can be read either as 'tom cat' or 'hangover'. The audience cheered the latter and Blixa rolled his heavy eyes - 'Well yes, we are in the right country for that.' He held something in his right hand for the whole performance and I couldn't work out what. It wasn't until the last number, 'Silence is Sexy', when he fired up in defiance of health and safety regulations that the object was revealed as a packet of cigarettes. In between blasts of sound the band stood waiting for the audience to fall silent, which they did.
Einstürzende Neubauten were playing the first of two nights in Camden and I went along not really expecting anything except noise and fun but they were better than that: less spectacle, more musical. North London turned out more Goth than the Berlin nightclubs I found myself in earlier this year and the band were more German than I could have dreamed: precise, earnest, dry as a bone. Blixa (black three piece suit and I think bare feet) complained about the challenge of freighting a stage set (he actually got into figures) and the EN-branded merchandise included USB sticks and organic cotton T-shirts. From their performance art self-destruct origins the band have - can I say, mellowed? - into a very Krautrock, industrial hippie style. You could hear Neu! and Can in the performance as well as the found object / music concrete funk that so influenced Australian musicians, from Hunters & Collectors to Plays With Marionettes and, of course, Nick Cave, who dived into the Berlin scene and never came back.
Einstürzende Neubauten are not funky, however. This is music from the head, played with Classical rigour, all the deconstructionist outbursts in their proper place: N.U. Unruh's dropping metal cutlery on cue (he later crumpled autumn leaves); Ash Wednesday's keyboard touches; Jochen Arbeit's perfectly dischordant guitar. The fans knew all the lyrics. I didn't, which made it more fun. At one point Blixa was singing be about cushions, and there was a three-way discussion with Unruh and bassist Alexander Hacke that seemed to be about a time a toaster caught fire on stage but I could have sworn they also said something about Molotov cocktails. (Hacke is totally Derek Smalls.) It was that kind of night: pastoral darkness veering into Dada cabaret.