Thursday, April 12, 2012

Laibach @ HMV Institute, Wednesday 11th April 2012

Oh lordy, how do you do justice to a Laibach gig eh? Somehow I’d got them pidgeonholed as some kind of death metal outfit (the same oddball misunderstanding that made me think Justin Bieber was a porn star...yes, I know) whereas they are, as any fool knows, / industrial / rock / synth / insert any one of a number of genres here band from Slovenia. Founded over 30 years ago arguably they’re most famous, or infamous perhaps, for their cover versions, putting a truly unique spin on stuff from everyone from The Beatles and The Stones through to Queen and Status Quo. Seriously. Oh and they’ve been accused of being both far left and far right extremists too. Not quite sure how that works? Perhaps some folk have construed their military uniforms, decision to sing in German and stomp around in jack boots as a sign of Nazism. Actually the whole point seems to be the opposite of all that (it’s that whole big subverting the obvious thing) but you can sort of see where all the misunderstandings come from.

Unusually there wasn’t a support band this evening. Instead the audience (including one or two people who’d well and truly dressed for the occasion in fetishist style military uniforms, not the kind of thing you’d get in Primark) were treated to some stirringly Wagnerian warm up music. Different...

Coming onstage to stark black and white footage of some huge machine slowly grinding into life synth player and co-vocalist Mina Spiler (dressed as the sort of lady who just might have a cellar full of gimp masks and nipple clamps) barks at us down a megaphone and, for a second or two, you could almost imagine being surrounded by machine gun toting soldiers and bundled into a gas chamber. It’s an odd feeling, but I guess that’s the point. Laibach are masters and mistresses of messing with you, twisting and subverting imagery and lyrics and their performance - part gig, part rally – brings this all home. She’s soon joined by lead singer Milan Fras and the second he opens his mouth half the audience immediately disappears down the back of his throat. Boy, that dude has a deep voice...makes Barry White seem like a soprano. It’s so deep it takes several days to get to the bottom of it. In fact James Cameron is rumoured to be planning an expedition down there any day now. True story. Of course what comes out of it is, unless you speak fluent German, often a little difficult to understand but the track in question, Boji, is an ominous, menacing thing. Taking several minutes to kick into gear it ends in a wild cacophony of noise, pounding drums, deranged piano and Milan’s frankly terrifying growl. File under uneasy listening.

If that was all there was to Laibach you’d probably go bonkers and run screaming from the building after half an hour. Happily it isn’t. In fact they eins zwein drei vier/veer wildly between punishingly stark industrial anthems and twisted house music beats to a remarkably sweet (albeit sweet with a hint of menace) cover of The Beatles Across The Universe beautifully sung this evening by Mina. Elsewhere, clearly demonstrating a sense of humour that some people miss about the band, they cover Queen’s One Vision, retitled Geburt Einer Nation. It’s as camp as tits and, for me at least, an improvement on the original (heresy, I know). Cover versions aside tonight was also a chance to hear some of the soundtrack from new movie Iron Sky, an everyday tale of a bunch of Nazis who hid out on the moon after World War II (hey, it’s a comedy too!). It’s difficult to think of a better band to soundtrack this admittedly bizarre proposition than Laibach and, although it’s an older track, B-Mashina perfectly captures the mood of thousands on menacing Nazi flying saucers descending to the earth. Now there’s a reference you don’t get to use in most gig reviews.

Would Adolf approve of all this industrial pomp? I doubt it, I always had him down as more of a reich n’roll lover...

Aside from the covers Tanz Mit Laibach got one of the biggest cheers of the night. As fine a slice of industrial disco as you’re ever likely to hear it’s like the Gestapo equivalent of Village People’s YMCA. Genius.

Audience interaction or acknowledgement for that matter was minimal, except for a few bows of gratitude towards the end of the show, but it wouldn’t work half as well if Milan had broken character and chatted in between tracks. A Laibach gig is about immersion, from the bleak black and white back projections and retina scorching lights through to the kidney rumbling climax of encore Leben Heisst Leben (aka Europe’s Life Is Life).

Dig deep and you’ll get all sorts of hidden meanings in the imagery and lyrics or just Laibach and enjoy the spectacle, whatever you choose to do they’re not a band you’re ever going to forget seeing and that’s something that’s all too rare these days.

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