Naked Lunch, Vienna Stadtsaal, 11 April 2011

I was hoping this would be a proper Naked Lunch concert, but unfortunately it didn’t turn out that way. What we got instead was a kind of showcase for their latest project, soundtracking a new theatrical adaptation of Franz Kafka’s novel Amerika. The full production is currently underway in the group’s home town of Klagenfurt; I’m not sure what the deal there is exactly, but I assume they’re playing along to the action much as they did when they performed their live soundtrack to the film Universalove. Those of us in Vienna will have to make do for now with this curious hybrid, at which the group performed only the nine songs from the play, accompanied by a cast of walk-on guests and preceded by a lengthy reading from the novel.

It was great, of course, but it was also a touch insubstantial, and I really hope that after this second successive audio-visual project Naked Lunch get back to being a rock band again. It’s been four years since their last masterpiece This Atom Heart of Ours, and a new album consisting of full band versions of the new songs Oliver Welter premiered at the Radiokulturhaus last year is sorely awaited around these parts. A brief word with Welter after the gig confirmed that such a thing is on its way later this year.

Anyway, tonight’s performance confirmed my long-held view that Naked Lunch are a highly creative outfit with a spiky and uncompromising approach to songcraft. The opening song of the piece, “Let Me Walk Upon The Water”, sets the melancholy tone, with Welter’s haunting and troubled voice framed by Stefan Deisenberger’s desolate keyboard melody. “Fight Club” sees the group hit an angry and convulsive seam, Welter’s vocal swelled by urgent choral backing.

It’s that razor-sharp interplay between voices and instruments that makes this music so compelling, and this was never truer tonight than on “The Tramp”, with its smart lyrical flourishes and impertinently perfect chorus. I have no idea if the English-speaking world will ever wake up to the brilliance of Naked Lunch. As I’ve said before, though, their loss is very much Austria’s gain.

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