Blixa Bargeld, Vienna Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, 6 September 2013

Highly enjoyable evening of solo vocal performance from the irrepressible and multi-talented Blixa Bargeld. For those of us who first became aware of Bargeld as the emaciated, hollow-cheeked frontman of Einstürzende Neubauten in the early 1980s (see here for my own bit of backstory), it’s a surreal sight to see him onstage in an expensive three-piece suit, exchanging banter with his young daughter and some other children in a leafy Vienna park, but that was just one of the many memorable aspects of this show. The charming Anna skipped happily on and off the stage throughout the evening, frequently hugging her daddy’s legs and scattering grass at his feet, and at one point singing a sweet little song of her own.

As for Bargeld’s performance, it was not at all the kind of spoken word reading I had expected, but a far more creative and interesting animal. Bargeld’s lyrics for Neubauten have always been a key part of the group’s appeal for me. Steeped in multi-lingual wordplay and erudition, the texts revel in language for its own sake and situate Neubauten squarely within the European avant-garde tradition. In the solo vocal context Bargeld seems to use more of a Sprechstimme technique to highlight the words themselves, which are given a strong performative element through heavy use of effects pedals. There’s a certain amount of wordless vocalizing, which is then looped to form drone or rhythm tracks over which Bargeld recites in his distinctive, precisely enunciated tones.

If this description makes the show sound like some kind of dry performance art piece, nothing could be further from the truth. Bargeld is a genial and engaging performer, at pains to emphasize the humour in his work – although the vast majority of the material was in German and therefore completely passed me by. Of particular note was an extended routine that had something to do with the position of the planets within the solar system, for which Bargeld divided the audience into two halves in order to provide appropriate sound effects. It wasn’t all played for laughs, though. In one shocking and unexpected section Bargeld unleashed his legendary and fearsome scream, while elsewhere he reached far back into Neubauten history with a devastating rendition of “Negativ Nein”. Contrasting vividly with the innate good humour of much of the show, these raw moments acted as necessary reminders of the anguished and confrontational aspects of Bargeld’s work.

Ether column, March 2009

Not much doubt in my mind about the concert of the month (although work commitments mean that I can’t be there, annoyingly) – an evening of blistering free jazz courtesy of The Thing, aka Swedish saxophonist Mats Gustafsson, Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and Swedish bassist Ingebrigt Haker-Flaten. Regular readers of this column will not be surprised to learn that both Gustafsson and Nilssen-Love are frequent collaborators of the titanic German saxophonist Peter Brötzmann, Gustafsson in the all-reeds trio Sonore, Nilssen-Love in various group formats. Together with Haker-Flaten they walk the precipice between free jazz, out-there rock and garage punk. Gustafsson channels the spirit of Fire Music legend Albert Ayler in his inspirational sax playing, while Nilssen-Love attacks his kit with savage ferocity and the bassist anchors the whole edifice with his rock-solid pizzicato work. Playing in the intimate surroundings of the Blue Tomato, The Thing will surely blast the roof off the place.

If The Thing represent modern European free jazz at its most extreme, saxophonist Paul Dunmall is an example of the kind of dedicated, unsung musician thrown up by the British free improvisation movement. Where Brötzmann and his ilk picked up the sound of American free jazz and took it even further out, Dunmall was part of a British scene that went in the other direction, towards abstraction and relative quiet. Best known for his membership of Mujician, a quartet led by the formidable English pianist Keith Tippett, Dunmall appears in Vienna with a trio that is effectively Mujician without Tippett, i.e. accompanied by Paul Rogers on bass and Tony Levin on drums.

Intriguing evening in prospect – at least for those with good German, which counts me out – at the WUK this month, as Einstürzende Neubauten mainman Blixa Bargeld reads from his new book Europa Kreuzweise: Eine Litanei.  As an attempt to answer the question “what does it mean, to be on a non-stop concert tour for two months?”, the book describes the monotony of movement, interrupted by restaurants, readings and meetings. As I noted in my preview of Neubauten’s last Vienna appearance in April 2008, Bargeld is a lyricist of great skill and acuity, his texts replete with tumbling wordplay and caustic imagery. Between Neubauten activity in recent years, he has given solo vocal performances under the title Rede/Speech, in which he treats his voice with a variety of foot pedals and effects equipment. Expect this not to be a standard book reading.