For a Neubauten album that I've never really considered a particular favorite (my all time favorite remains 'Haus der Leuge' with 'Drawings of O.T' a close second!) I've certainly enjoyed a long and intense relationship with it. It was on a tour in support of this album (or, at least, playing music from the album, since it hadn't even been released on a US label) that I first saw Einsturzende Neubauten twenty-two years ago this month! I was certainly very aware of their work before then, and had even owned the compilation 'Strategies Against Architecture' since its release, and as much as I was into all things German I must admit that 'Strategies...' just scared the f*ck out of me! It used to freak me out and make my teeth hurt...and that was the me in my early 20s who would put on the most abrasive hardcore punk, or the most gruesome heavy metal and enjoy it. By 1986 I was warming up to them, and you couldn't go to any decent dance club in late '85 and early '86 without hearing "Yu Gung"! So, when my first Austin girlfriend, Laura #1, said she was going home to Houston for a few days and I should take the bus in so we could go see Einsturzende Neubauten I was interested, but still a little worried. I was still recovering from my broken foot from my Husker Du concert mishap, and I was dirt poor (as always), but somehow I got on the bus and into Houston a few hours later. Laura met me at the bus station and proceeded to give me her own tour of Houston, showing me her favorite haunts and introducing me to Frenchies fried chicken and cajun dirty rice. Houston had always seemed such a huge, impersonal, city to me before then, but this was the first time I came to realize that it did have a certain...something.
Laura#1 grew up on the outer fringes of metro Houston, in an area called Bunker Hill, not too far from the shadow of the imposing (yet elegant) Transco Tower. The concert itself was actually just down the street from the Transco Tower on Westheimer St. in a very odd area of town for a loud nightclub. The club was called Phideaux's and it had only been open a few months. It was in a building which appeared to be a converted muffler shop, and right behind it was an upper middle-class suburban neighborhood that had a strong sense of entitlement and zero tolerance for any kind of counter-culture invasion into their neck of the woods. So, even though the club had to compete with the considerable noise of a major road like Westheimer, the rich, conservative, neighbors called the cops on the club every night as soon as the bands started. In fact, the club has been raided by the cops and shut down when Husker Du played there (the night before the fateful Austin show!). So, as we stood in the line waiting to get in, the talk was whether the show would be over by the 10 PM noise curfew. We could already hear the band doing soundcheck inside, and the soundcheck wasn't finished until 9 (the doors were supposed to have been opened at 8 PM for a 9 PM show), after which we were quickly let in. The PA played some really loud music for a half hour while there seemed to be some kind of problem with the equipment or the band's set up on the small stage. Finally, at about 9:40 PM the five of them came out on stage as the taped voices of "Halber Mensch" blasted through the speakers. Blixa tried to sing along with it the best he could but the PA wasn't completely co-operative, cutting out, and they stopped several times trying to correct it before just blasting through to another song, their frustration adding to the level of menace already present in the room. By the time they got through "Z.N.S" and launched into "Yu Gung" there was an almost unbearable intense feeling to the room, like a huge black cloud has descended upon the room. Suddenly, at exactly 10 PM, the house lights went on mid-song and the PA was switched off and the band banged away on their metal shopping carts, steel heating ducts and whatever else wasn't electrically dependent until they realized what had happened. Blixa was cursing out the soundman in German (he was their soundman but the club's sound crew had hit the switch) and suddenly we noticed there were cops by the back stage door. The band briefly tried to start another song before somebody from the club stopped them. Suddenly the crowd realized that the show was over and there was a loud collective moaning of boo's. I was still pretty much just in a stupor over the amazing spectacle I'd just witnessed, but Laura was sitting next to me on the picnic table (the club's decor was picnic tables on a concrete floor) and she said, loudly enough that E.N's soundman could hear it as he walked past us, "I guess they didn't want to go to jail or something!" to which he turned and looked at her and said "OF COURSE THAY DON'T WANT TO GO TO F*CKING JAIL!!!"
I was still in a stupor when we got into Laura's mom's car (she was borrowing it for the summer because my car had broken down a few weeks earlier) and started our late night drive home to Austin. We were listening to Rice University's college radio station and, as we got further from Houston, reception got a bit hazier. When we got to the outskirts of La Grange it started cutting out, but we suddenly heard "Halber Mensch" and realized that the band members were at the radio station. They answered a few questions and played a song by Diamanda Galas and we pulled off the road in La Grange and sat in a bank parking lot listening to as much of the show as we could hear, since reception was almost completely fading out.
Suddenly, I woke up the next morning a changed person, and I was a complete fan of Neubauten's work from then on (though my interest in their last few albums has waned). In the spring and summer of 1986 I had seen a string of amazing shows, from Sonic Youth and the Butthole Surfers through to John Cale and Siouxsie and the Banshees, but the nearly twenty minutes of Einsturzende Neubauten was, perhaps, the most memorable of all. I got a copy of the album and it seems to be one of the better studio representations of the intensity of the band's live shows. It also seemed to be the point that the band transitioned from a group that assembled noise into music to a band who played music with elements of noise within it. There was an almost conventional feel to some of the songs, especially "Yu Gung." This was the group at a point where I could finally listen to them (with or without pain) and hear a rhyme and reason to what had previously just been interesting noise. They had, by then, influenced a ton of start-up industrial bands who couldn't really play but sure liked to bang on shit (Boy Dirt Car comes to mind), and this was the band taking a step beyond all of that. The fierce operatic elements of the title track have an eerie elegance to them, and, in watching the movie made at the same time as the album years later, I realized that there was also a strong theatrical element to the band that I hadn't considered at the time. Luckily, this first show wasn't the only time I'd get to see them. There were five more times at least. This was, however, the show I'd come to remember the most vividly. A lot of shows could claim some degree of change upon my being, but I think that this particular show had the most profound effect upon my evolution as a person, and it prefaced an even greater greater immersion into Germanic culture (the second trigger would be seeing 'Wings of Desire' two summers later!).