Faust, Vienna Szene, 23 September 2010

Incredibly, this was my first visit to the Szene for 2½ years – a fairly damning indictment of this venue’s generally shoddy programming since its takeover by Planet Music (for more on which, see here). It’s more than a little ironic, too, that this particular duck was broken by a visit from one of the two extant versions of Faust, this one being the line-up featuring two original members of the group, bass player and vocalist Jean-Hervé Péron and drummer Zappi Diermaier. Ironic, that is, because one of the reasons why the Szene’s current programming is so woeful is its over-reliance on ’70s relics, tribute bands and nostalgia-trip artists. Now, I realize this is a contentious point but watching Faust last week it occurred to me that they have become a simulacrum of themselves.

I was talking about the Faust schism before the concert with W., who knows much more about the tortuous history of the group than I do. When I put to him the crucial (to me, at least) question of which version of the group was the more authentic, he replied that they were both authentic. In my view, however, you can’t have more than one ‘real’ Faust (“I’m Spartacus!” “No, I’m Spartacus!”). Ultimately, if both of them are authentic, then neither of them are.

What we got last week, then, was a performance that ticked all the boxes of what a Faust performance should contain: a hypnotic motorik groove from Diermaier, chilling vocals by Péron and the requisite amount of diverting onstage business. An oil drum was roundly abused as a percussion instrument and brought into contact with an electric sander to make industrial quantities of sparks fly. This was all highly entertaining stuff, but it was unfortunately accompanied by too much of what the kids these days would describe as “meh”. There was rather a lot of aimless noodling and pointless axe heroics from the electric guitarist situated stage right. Péron and his female co-conspirator also let their vox and keyboards wander more than was strictly necessary. At one point they even gave a reading, for heaven’s sake, while at another the ivory-tickler came down from the stage onto the floor and proceeded to execute a low quality word painting on a sheet tacked to the wall.

Péron and Diermaier are figures of heroic stature, greatly to be admired for their dedication to keeping the mystery of Faust intact. The hulking Diermaier is an incongruous sight in his sandals, socks and orange shorts, but there’s nothing bizarre about the way he anchors the whole edifice with the miraculous forward motion of his drumming. For his part Péron is a malign and forceful presence, constantly breaking up the flow of the music with his arsenal of disruptive measures. And yet somehow the spark (excuse the pun) one expects from Faust, given their legendary reputation, was fatally absent.

A quick word on the opening act, the duo of Primordial Undermind mainman (and Jandek bassist) Eric Arn and Stefan Kushima. Their slot was mesmerisingly effective, all the more for being delivered on the floor of the hall rather than onstage. Arn drew huge waves of psychedelic riffage from his electric guitar, while the crouching Kushima flayed his devices mercilessly. The warped and tangled vortex of sound that resulted was a synapse-searing delight to behold.

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