For all bodies in flux, there are moments of motion and moments of respite. EinstYrzende Neubauten -- the pioneering German band that shattered musical instrumentation in the '80s with piercingly brittle and abrasive industrial-primitive music -- embodied both states of primordial flux in last Wednesday's performance. As they launched their North American tour, the group's usual rupturing chaos was rare, in keeping with the entropic unraveling heard on their latest album, Ende Neu.
Neubauten was born of the economic malaise and youthful ennui that ignited late-'70s Berlin punk. The band's musical and philosophical primitivism emphasized a return to raw emotions and instruments of convenience and affordability; discarded metal and concrete materials from Berlin's decrepit environment became the tools the poverty-ridden musicians employed for their aesthetic explorations into theories of communication and chaos.
Vocalist and founder Blixa Bargeld (who also plays guitar for Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds) writes lyrics focused on the ancient, perplexing questions of the cosmos, religion, death, and love -- in that order. He and bassist Alex Hacke crept onto the Warfield's dimly lit stage with little fanfare: The lights rose abruptly as the pair began Ende Neu's threadbare, bass-driven ballad "The Garden." Hacke's bass throbbed atop a chirping synth metronome, while Bargeld -- bedecked in a three-piece suit and floppy, oversized Renaissance-era hat -- commanded attention with his rigid stance, repeating an imploring coo: "You will find me/ If you want me/ In the garden/ Unless it's pouring down with rain," a rare instance in which he sang in English. A recorded orchestra coda swelled as the pale singer thrust the microphone to his lips and let out his trademark screech.
Moments later, percussionist Andrew Chudy, along with tour-support players on guitar, keyboard, and drums, filtered in to flesh out the virulent march of the title track from 1989's Haus der Luege. Then a pulsing bass drum and clanging percussion -- hammered out on the customized metal-sheet and pipe drum set -- prodded the mantric chant on the epic "NNNAAAMMM." As the nearly two-hour set wore on, the six performers casually employed such unlikely musical instruments as jet turbine percussion, metal cables, gravel, compressed air, steel tubes, and even a vibrator, while Bargeld's vocals were often run through a series of delay and tremolo foot pedals.
When members of the crowd screamed for "Fire," another Luege song, Bargeld playfully shot back, "You want fire? Go see Rammstein!" referring to the pyromaniac German metal band. Although most of the set focused on new material, Neubauten also pitched in fierce older tracks such as "Halber Mensch" and "Headcleaner." Every twitch of metal cables, every tremor of hammered oil cans, and every sigh and chant of vocals poured forth in mechanistic, primal glory. Still, the group's blasting and grinding noise was meted out in limited doses. Suitably then, they closed with the dynamic shifts between soft keyboards to clanking metal wires of the declarative anthem "Ende Neu." "We've known each other ages/ The Phoenix and I," Bargeld sang (in German), "Ending new."
Supershitty to the Max
If the five members of Sweden's Hellacopters own an album that wasn't made by either the Stooges or the MC5, they're not letting on. While they've taken one cue from the Ramones -- Dregen, Nicke, Kenny, and Robban have all assumed the last name of Hellacopter -- they're too messy, and too enamored of the beauty of pure noise, to qualify as New York City acolytes. Instead, they're attracted to Detroit's bucketfuls of cosmic slop, swallowed up by feedback, screams, and wild proclamations -- "Gotta kill that sacred cow," Nicke demands on their "Search and Destroy" homage "(Gotta Get Some Action) Now!" They're audacious, loud, kinda dumb, and kinda proud of that: Small wonder Kiss asked them to open their European tour.
All of which makes the Hellacopters little more than an amusing footnote in punk's current annals: another batch of noisy foreign punkers with an EC Comics-inspired name who've been graced with the patronage of aging hacks like Kiss, who are desperate to retain whatever credibility they can muster. So the stunning qualities of Supershitty to the Max have nothing to do with originality, just an admirable capability to keep the intensity going across an entire record. The rage and noise they produce with one, two, three chords sustains itself over one, two, 13 songs, from the rabid, terse screed of "Bore Me" to the closing "Spock in My Rocket," which squeals out so many whirlpools of red-level feedback it almost qualifies as avant-garde jazz; it's their "L.A. Blues."
With the exception of the dirgelike "Tab," the sound is martial and blaring with little stylistic finesse: lots of distortion and lots of processed vocals, though organ fills on a number of songs (courtesy of one Boba Fett) do color the proceedings. The record's real strength is in the hooks: the indelible declaration of "Fake Baby," the speedy bass thud of "24 H Hell," the way that Dregen's and Nicke's guitars interlock throughout, and the way Robban's drumming so flexibly impersonates a perpetual motion machine. They're not imitating Iggy Pop so much as they're desperate to outsludge him. That's a daring enough goal to make them originals.
The Hellacopters play Friday, Dec. 18, at 9 p.m. at the Justice League, 628 Divisadero (at Hayes), S.F. Fu Man Chu and Acid King open. Tickets are $10; call 289-2038.
-- Mark Athitakis