Star Plaza; Merrillville, IN; 07/27/01
Reviewed by Shelly Harris
This Rammstein gig was billed as the "show that downtown Chicago
couldn't play," and though, sure enough, this venue was in the burbs in NW Indiana, I'm not sure that it was so much the band's
shock value that kept it out of the city, as much as it was finding a venue of the proper size that
had enough insurance and stage space to accommodate its constant pyrotechnic effects, including
Roman candle-like fireworks shooting straight out of the costumes of various band members. (Deep
apologies to Godhead and Crossbreed, but a prior appointment kept me from reviewing their
abbreviated opening sets.)
Which is not to say Rammstein don't live up to their shock rock reputation - au contraire. And I say that from a perspective of someone who is not easily "shocked" - at least not by live rock performances. Even back in the early '70s when I was as innocent and unsophisticated as any hayseed country girl, I still found Alice Cooper's groundbreaking stage antics and stunts to be over-the-top amusing, and I well understood the crowd-pleasing and attention-getting assets of such blatant, theatrical envelope pressing/daring/aplomb.
Of course, 30 years later, what will sufficiently hair-raise an audience of teenagers and twentysomethings who have essentially seen and heard it all with regard to sex, drugs, and even horror onstage does raise the stakes to an almost unattainable degree. Certainly anyone who's tuned in has either seen or heard about all the Marilyn Manson ploys over the years, including one of the few acts that can still disgust even the most liberal of the baby boomers: the desecration of the American Flag. (For those who haven't heard, Manson has been known to blatantly wipe his miniscule derriere with the Stars and Stripes onstage, amongst other "outrages.")
And Rammstein do employ a bit of the same "up-yours" and horror related tactics in their shows, there's no doubt. In a Rolling Stone piece they were said to have human body parts in jars of formaldehyde onstage (although a photographer who was in a better position than me to see at this show confided that the body parts they had in their jars were "fake"). Moreover, they were also rumored to have opened their show, in support of current CD "Mutter" ("Mother"), in their less-censored German "Motherland" by sliding nude from the bottom of a gigantic onstage uterus. (Cool, but not necessarily anything to get your panties in a twist about.)
But, beyond that, whether you love them or hate them, Rammstein are indeed
disturbing - and riveting - in more ways than one. I will say that I had never heard one of their albums complete
before attending this show, but it didn't matter. Their music is hypnotic even when its thunderous
industrial rhythms are carbon copy repetitious, since that is a big part of the intoxication
anyway. They also employ just enough unusually arranged classical touches in their "soundtrack" (it is
sometimes hard to determine just which sounds/instruments are live, and which are Memorex) to
accentuate the drama and keep the melody mongers like me interested. (Whatever classical
composers they borrow from most, please tell me it isn't the Reich-favorite Wagner!)
Moreover, it doesn't matter, either, that unless you are fluent in German or have a translator, you don't know for sure what any of the songs are really about. What you do know is that they are subversive as Hell, and you can also see that the guttural, harsh sounds of their agitated German enunciation are precisely the right fit for the Alpha Male shout-sing that accompanies the Rammstein machine. And that is exactly what they strive to evoke: a monstrous, well-oiled, brilliantly efficient, inhuman machine.
I can't say for certain if Rammstein, with their obvious complete mastery and knowledge of the importance of a topnotch theatrical production (including lighting, timing, pyrotechnics, and the nuances of dramatic, well-timed stage movements), are actually trying to present a social statement which mocks the current state of genetic "engineering" and the techno-industrial inhumanity of man in the 21st Century. (FYI, the great H.G. Wells once did that first and best over a century ago in his classic book, "The Time Machine."), But, if they are, I have a feeling the irony of such a message may be lost on the bulk of their mesmerized, lemming-like followers.
apocalyptic - those are just some of the adjectives that start springing to mind from
the first song - so, whatever their intended motives, there is no doubt whatsoever that this band is a
demented skinhead's delight. Of course, it is also no accident that all the band
members - consummately Stormtrooper buff and also clad in SS reminiscent black -
evoke what Der Fuhrer would have found to be the perfect Aryan master race. (Please note the use of a particularly
evocative "cross" in their name logo.) Now that, in itself, is just one thing that is still a
bona fide and unsettling spectacle for anyone who knows their 20th Century World History
well, but, making it even more, well ... nauseating ... is the fact that most of
the audience didn't seem to be getting even a single goosebump or morbid thrill out of the blasphemy and the balls of a
German band, in particular, presenting such insolence!
Indeed, what was most frightening (shocking?!) to maybe a handful of those in attendance is just how precisely the scenario resembled one of Goebbel's expertly executed crowd control/mass hysteria publicity campaigns which worked its black magic on the ripe and ready, decadent Berlin of the mid-1930s. Yes, it is the lump-in-the-gut, creeping horror of Cabaret revisited, sans its more homespun early 20th Century charm, especially when all those crowd echoed straight-armed salutes punctuate nearly every Rammstein song! But, of course, charm isn't the point here, disgust and trepidation - by way of a kind of ruthless anarchy evocation - is.
And that is where I must reluctantly take my hat off to Rammstein. The primary goal of any serious artist is to leave the patron moved in some pointed way along the spectrum of human emotion and intellect. Since long gone are the days when it took mere pelvic gyrations, dead animals, crotchless pants, or even S&M simulations to do that in its more insidious formulations, Rammstein are merely raising the bar another notch - and executing it with malignant perfection.
Certainly, some will be mesmerized, some will be intoxicated, and some will be sickened and disturbed. All I can say is if religion is essentially dead in Western society, and this is the new opiate of the masses, Mutter help us! But maybe I am overreacting ... because it really won't give you more than one night's worth of insomnia ... unless you begin imagining that Rammstein actually keep a copy of Das danken wir dem Fuhrer! ("We owe it to the Fuhrer") tucked away somewhere under a pillow on their tour bus.
Find out more about the enigmatic Rammstein at www.rammstein.com.
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Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:16 -0400.