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Monsters of Spex

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It’s always worth going to Köln. Particularly as many of my friends have moved there by now. But with the considerable effort of getting there, I like to combine these trips with visits to some gigs which might be on. And as Köln is – or at least used to be – the music and media city in Germany, there’ll be many. There used to be the music industry trade show Popkomm in Köln at this time of the year. But it has been moved to Berlin because it’s bigger and blander or so. So, in an attempt to keep the whole music thing rolling in Köln, they started a new ‘conference’ type happening in Köln recently which is called c/o pop and had cool posters this year.

c/o pop poster While I don’t particularly care about the electronic pop music mentioned in their title and I care even less about the music business conference stuff, it also included the Monsters of Spex with a number of bands. It was organised by German music magazine Spex which sometimes has good CDs and consistently has the worst and most obnoxious writing you could imagine. But that’s the music press… now on to the music:

Hot Hot Heat (CAN)

Ages ago I stumbled across some of Hot Hot Heat’s songs and finally got more records. And they’re great. Noisy, powerful and positive. I really wanted to see them live and this was a great opportunity.

Hot Hot Heat Playing

Their singer turned out to be a big grinner. Smiling broadly throughout the gig. Which was fun. They played songs from their various albums but failed to be as energetic and noise as on those records. But I’m pretty sure that this might have been mostly a fault of the PA they used there, which sounded pretty poor to me – the kind of sound that gives you a headache and that you get from cheap amplifiers. Apparently it had been even worse for the very first gig and it improved slightly later on for the [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Arcade Fire (CAN)

Only recently I raved about the Arcade Fire and how great their music is. So I was really happy that I could see them. But at the same time I was a bit scared because of the open-air festival setting. Could that perhaps spoil their music which I always thought of as being cool in a concert hall or cathedral or so?

Arcade Fire playing. Many people, many instruments, a bit blurred.

No. It couldn’t. In fact, this was one of the best gigs I’ve been to. They were just phantastic. With their mildly untypical instruments – violins, accordeon, helmets and eight people they just blew everything away. It wasn’t just that they played well and even rocked. It was much better. With band members switching instruments between songs, giving this impression of a band where everybody is comfortable about what s/he does but everybody’s having this big plan and picture as well. With it being clear which sound came from which of the many instruments. With violins suddenly looking natural on the stage and not just like a way of showing how different they are.

Very cool. I want to see them again. Highly recommended! [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

part of Arcade Fire playing

part of Arcade Fire playing

Interlude

After Arcade Fire there were still Dinosaur Jr playing. Apparently an old band who also played at the very first incarnation of Monsters of Spex over a decade a go and recently reunited. I didn’t like their music and didn’t even think they sounded good otherwise – 80s hard rock stuff or so. Later I heard that even some of their fans didn’t like it and it was said that a fan started crying because he was so disappointed. But I didn’t stay to witness that but rather went back to my friends’ place to not spoil the truly phantastic experience of the Arcade Fire and leave it at an all-Canadian day of music – even wearing my Glenn Gould shirt.

The Rhein with a ship on it and some ugly buildings on the other side

Let me use this break to write more about the festival. It took place at the Jugendpark in Köln. On the ‘wrong’ side of the Rhein (Rhine), Germany’s big river, just at the river itself. With the park giving you the opportunity to walk right to the water. Not too pretty but still nice. Unfortunately it looked like they didn’t sell as many ticekts as they had expected and the park kept looking quite empty. When Hot Hot Heat played this even spoiled the gig a bit as people were standing to loosely to get the crowd going. They had also hired the slowest and most annoying/stoned/drunk people they could get for selling drinks. They were so bad, it was almost funny. To top things off there was also some Indian guy selling the most German of dishes – Bratwurst. And to make a final negative point, they sold band T-shirts for €25 a pop. That’s too expensive.

Hard-Fi (UK)

But on we go. The first band I saw on Saturday were Hard-Fi, a new band from England as far as I can tell and one that has already seen some hype there and is started to be hyped through the music magazines here now. Their rock/pop music is sort-of catchy and bit too 1980s for my taste. So I didn’t expect too much. It turned out that – apart from the crappy sound system – they played quite well and the gig was fun. In particular they didn’t sound all that 1980s when playing live and, as a bonus, they played a cover version of The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army. One that had enough different bits in it to be worth the effort. (Yikes! I quite liked that cover version and thought it was a nice extra for gigs. But no! It’s on their album when you buy it at iTunes but not on the proper CD. That sucks. I paid for the CD and I’m not getting the full deal. Am I a second class customer of what?)

Hard-Fi playing

Stars of CCTV cover art One thing did irritate me, though. Their album is called Stars of CCTV and has a cover that looks like it should be electronic music or something like that. It’s title track is Stars of CCTV as well and they sing that with British accents. Long letters, ceh-ceh-teh-veh rather than short and sharp CCTV which I’d find more appropriate for the topic. [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Tomte (D)

Next up were Tomte, a German band I don’t particularly care about. They played OK, but they’re a bit dull, just like Kettcar, say. And their singer did by far too much talking during the gig. [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Tomte Playing

Maxïmo Park (UK)

While I’m not a big fan of Maxïmo Park, they are starting to be quite popular and their gig was all right as well. They looked very ‘professional’ and dressed up and their singer definitely does too much waving with his hands. His hairdo also looks to much like John Cleese or some Hitler impersonator. And he read the lyrics for Once a Glimpse from a little notebook. I wonder what that was about. [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Maxïmo Park playing

Saint Etienne (UK)

The final gig was by Saint Etienne from London. Shiny slightly electronic pop with girls singing. Not my favourite but not bad to end the evening with. [Buy at amazon .com, .uk, .de]

Half of Saint Etienne

Conclusion

The sound system wasn’t good. The Arcade Fire rocked and made every minute worth it. The second day wasn’t strictly necessary but was a nice bonus.

August 27, 2005, 23:42

Tagged as live.

Comments

Comment by d.w.: User icon

Ah, a shame about Dinosaur Jr. — though they would seem to be well past their prime now, there was a time way back when (really worth the 99 cents/ .99 euros, btw) when they were pretty good. Their best album, Bug, landed about the same time as Sonic Youth’s Daydream Nation, and they were both fantastic records.

I’ve always been fond of Saint Etienne and their brand of Swedish pop from England. :) If you’re going to make that sort of music, then you could do worse than to do so with really nice arrangements and often clever lyrics.

August 30, 2005, 1:46

Comment by ssp: User icon

Ho-hum Swedish pop :)

As luck has it that song isn’t available in the German iTMS…

August 30, 2005, 10:47

Comment by T-Shirt-Boy: User icon

Just for the record: The shirts have been as expensive as THE BANDS wanted them to be sold. Not the festival organizers.

Good review.

October 23, 2005, 20:02

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