Birgit Denk, Vienna, 2 February 2008

Saw my first concert of 2008 on Saturday night – an “ausgsteckt” (unplugged) performance by Austrian singer Birgit Denk and her band. This was an unusual one for me, partly because it was much poppier fare than I’m used to, but more importantly because Birgit Denk sings only in German, and therefore I had no idea what she was singing about. I knew this before going, of course, but what I hadn’t expected was that she’s also something of a stand-up comedian, punctuating the songs with lengthy and, judging by the audience’s hearty reactions, highly comic monologues.

The impassable language barrier didn’t, however, impede my enjoyment of the gig at all. In fact, it added a distinct zest to the evening. As far as I can tell, Denk sings in a heavily accented Viennese dialect, which might make understanding her songs challenging even to a non-Viennese or standard German speaker. There was a sense of being in a cultural setting made seductive by its strangeness – a feeling of comfort and familiarity (the music wasn’t anything that would frighten the horses) mixed with the intriguingly different. Plus, this city has been my home for the past two years and I welcome anything that enhances my understanding and appreciation of its cultural heartbeat.

Anyway, the concert was great. An engaging and natural performer, Denk delivered tremulous ballads, grandstanding show tunes and rollicking footstompers with equal verve and passion. Her accomplished band framed her warm and unaffected voice with infectious sounds – deft guitar work, splashes of bouzouki and mandolin, jazzy keyboard and accordion interludes. I came away at the end of the two-hour set feeling thoroughly entertained, buoyed up with good cheer and – despite my almost complete lack of linguistic understanding – just a little bit more Viennese.

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