Four days, eight bands, and no expectations. What expectations can you have for names like ‘Navel’, ‘The Chuck Norris Experiment’, ‘Flowerpornoes‘ and certainly not least ‘And you will know us by the trail of Dead’? You have no choice but to go into the sweaty cauldron that is Harmonie on Rockpalast Crossroads nights with both eyes and both ears open. Let’s head down to the bar now, grab a cool lager and a spot near the stage before the cameras start rolling.
ROCKPALAST CROSSROADS FESTIVAL 20 – 23 MARCH 2013
What tables on the floor for a Rockpalast? That can only mean one thing – there will be oxygen in the hall this evening, Hurrah! . Well it is a Wednesday evening after all, and this evenings bands are interesting, but interesting doesn’t put feet in halls. It is shall we say, a ‘comfortable’ crowd that greets Swiss grunge punk band Navel. I was a bit wary after the internet labelled them ‘Doom-Noise Rock‘ but the ear-stoppers remained in my pocket. They clearly loved feedback too. At one point guitarist Jari Antti seemed to be using a radio aerial as a slide. He survived to tell the tale, as did I. They seemed a bit loud – little did I know what was coming to my eardrums on Saturday though. Not quite my cup of tea live, but the CD ‘Loverboy’ is much rockier in the mold of bands like The Clash. They very cleverly left their instruments on high pitched feedback at the close, thus insuring loud calls for an encore and subsequent eardrum relief.
The eardrum relief continued for the entire set of second band ‘Flowerpornoes’. This is a band that was formed in 1985 so they must have something going for them to still be playing 27 years later. What they have is some very subtle and thoughtful lyrics, which does not make for great Rock Theatre. Tom Liva is an excellent poet but the band don’t hit home. Symbol on the bands CD cover and their equipment is a fly, and just like their logo they start to irritate a bit after a while. It’s not their fault that they were put on AFTER a ‘Doom noise rock’ band of course, and whoever chose the running order shares some blame. A band that goes better with a glass of good red wine after a hard day than a grunge punk rock evening.
No tables today and by 7.30pm it’s getting warm – by 8.30 decidedly sweaty. Kick off band is a British quintet from London headed by Cornwall born singer songwriter Rich Thomas. Brother & Bones are definitely worth a listen for fans of Folk, of Rock and most of all Folk-Rock. They start off like Bert Jansch protégés with the elegant ‘Here comes the Storm’ but quickly develop into ‘Richard Thompson on steroids when the bands two drummers kick in to give the rhythm a hefty kick up the you know what. An early frontrunner for best track of the Festival is the strident ‘Don’t forget to Pray’. My favorite Prog-Folk Band already. Okay, so the only one I’ve heard too. Very much worth a listen though.
Classically trained multi-instrumentalist Konstantin Gropper from Mannheim leads ‘Get Well Soon’ and it takes a good 30 minutes to set up all the instruments alone – the whole band seem in fact to be multi-instrumentalists. When Gropper gets going his black hair isn’t the only thing onstage that’s slick. There’s a lot of Film soundtrack intro-ing that reminded me of Caro Emerald at Kunst!rasen last year. Unlike Emerald though the music didn’t quite seem to jump up a notch dynamically. Maybe it was the fault of my retiring to the balcony steps to catch the set where the sound was a bit patchy. Pacing myself for the coming days of standing up I found myself cursing that I didn’t have the foresight to bring my own seat cushion like the gentleman plonked comfortably beside me. I was half expecting him to produce a flask of coffee and offer me a taste – but alas no. Onstage I could see a young lady clashing two cymbals above her head with great effort and seemingly oblivious to the fact that on the other stage-side a drummer was clashing a cymbal at the same moment and she could have spared the energy. Rock n Roll is theatre I suppose. Excellent sound and musicianship but it rang too much of 1980’s New Romantic technopoppy forefathers like Depeche Mode and Howard Jones. If you like them you will like ‘Get Well Soon’. There was an air of disillusionment about the songs but the only real disillusionment I felt was that the Harmonie didn’t have thick carpet on the stairs and their beer glasses do not refill automatically.
This evening had promise. Sold out weeks ago and two bands that had excellent press.
True to form it was solidly packed from the moment Hong Faux took the stage. I don’t know what I expected from a Swedish Rockband but I didn’t expect a singer with the build and gestures of Phil Lynott and a touch of Bob Geldof in the face. Indeed ‘Jack of Clubs’ could have been a cut from Lizzy’s ‘Jailbreak‘ disc, certainly the swirling lights and siren sounds seemed familiar. This is a band I really liked and I would happily have gone happily home after seeing just themfeeling I’d got my moneys worth – but then I would have missed the best band of the Festival…
I already had a copy of ‘Head Down‘ the 2012 release by Californians ‘Rival Sons’ and liked it. I even agreed that there was a whole lotta ‘Yardbirds‘ era Britpop in there. When guitarist Scott Holiday took the stage he was right out of mid-sixties Carnaby Street with his cap and dark glasses. What the CD didn’t prepare me for however was THE VOICE. I’ve seen Coverdale and Gillan in their heydays and Jay Buchanan could have stood in for either man and still sent the crowd home in raptures. Punchy PopRock songs as they used to be with strong hooks and pumping rhythm. Like every Rockband worth it’s salt they have a beautiful slow number to take it down too – ‘Jordan‘ is about love and loss like so many other songs in the festival have been, but it builds and climaxes and builds again with the slowbreathing rhythm of all classic Rock Blues. For the most part we’re in 70’s Rock territory and every song is a winner, but the driving refrain of ‘Wild Animal‘ pushes it first past the post as my song of the Festival and indeed Rival Sons as my band of the festival. If you’re my age and miss the great 70’s rock sounds of yore this band is for you, and if you are one of the very many youngsters that this band is attracting then start working back today and in 10 years time you’ll be searching for obscurities from Muddy Waters.
I can’t really believe that anyone will better Rival Sons at this Festival, but today’s two bands are certainly not going to lay down and die musically. The audience too is expected to be lively, so much so that a barrier has been added front stage. Is it to protect the cameramen/woman from us or us from their huge and heavy weapons of mass media? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, a first for the Harmonie in my long experience – a photopit.
When The Chuck Norris Experiment step onstage with black ‘Lone Ranger’ masks and blood dripping from their ears it seems the barrier is indeed to protect us. Actually though the Band don’t quite pull off being scary, even when lead singer Chuck Ransom screams out over and over the warning chorus “The roof is about to cave in. It’s a shame you gotta die like that!”. I’m thinking too of a fairly recent concert tragedy featuring a collapsing roof and wondering if this might not be the best of taste. If you’ve ever played Motörheads ‘Ace of Spades’ on a tape loop for an hour you’ll have a good idea of what the set sounded like. Even Springsteen’s ‘Hungry Heart’ got the Lemmy treatment. Maybe it would all seem different if they had a slow ballad in there somewhere. Maybe.
“We wanted the longest band name there is” That’s how bass player Autry Fulbright II explained “And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead”. It’s not as if they are quiet butterflies in need of grabbing attention though. Singer Conrad Keely has some exceptionally fine Art Prints for sale in the foyer that is not your average Rock n Roll souvenir for example. Another example would be the band’s onstage antics. Somewhere on their Band bio there is a description of the music being based on “Deconstruction, Construction” and it’s as well that the Harmonie road-crew took that to heart since when I say that mid-set there was a crash of drums I’m speaking visually and not audibly. A ten minute delay until everything was taped into place and the band was ready to turn up the volume and replace the fake blood in the ears of Chuck Norris and Co with the real thing. Visually grand Theatre of course and if I hadn’t feared for life, limb and Nikon down at the barrier I would maybe have relaxed and enjoyed the chaos more. Fulbright was back for the encore in just his underpants, the rest of us had to sweat it out for another twenty minutes of mayhem and did I mention how great a cool beer tastes after a hot night of music?
The Festival is over, Chuck Norris Experiment Bass player Chuck Dakota is telling me that the band is actually named after a Blues Singer not a film star, and I’m thinking it’s time to go home. You never know who you might meet at the Crossroads, Robert Johnson didn’t know the half of it.
My nomination for Band of the Festival: