Sorry Zaz, but on Wednesday you won’t be the first musician on the Kunst!rasen stage to have played at the Rheinau before. Wolfgang Niedecken’s BAP played at the 1979 Bundesgartenschau here as one of the band’s first ‘outings’ away from ‘Kölle” (Cologne) and thirty four years later they were back on the banks of Father Rhine in Bonn.
‘Viel Passiert’, to quote a BAP standard. What hasn’t changed though is the place this band has in the hearts of the local public – and it’s not hard to understand why when you see them in action.
“We came onstage, and at least no one left the building or booed” – How Niedecken described the very first, late 70’s, BAP concert in his autobiography ‘Für ‘ne Moment’. Now he and the audience are old friends. Midway through the powerful set on Saturday evening the bands charismatic frontman brings around 7000 fans to complete silence. Niedecken, now 62, announced quietly that he was never particularly religious “But with age you start to think more of these things”. This next song is my way of showing my belief in God, for everyone who cared, who went so far as to even pray for me”. He was referring of course to the blocked blood vessel that had him knocking loudly on Heavens door only a few months ago, and the National outpouring of concern that followed. A time when seeing the man watching shows here (as he has so many) seemed unlikely, let alone leading his band rocksteady through three hours of the best of German Rock music.
The opener is a lie: ‘Halv su Wild’ (Half as Wild) they are not. Naturally they don’t rush round the stage energetically as in those famed 70’s Rockpalast days but emotionally the intensity still bites as sharply as ever. The best of Niedecken’s lyrics are the very personal ones and the best of all is one of the first singles ‘Verdamp Lang Her,’ his 1981 quest to find peace with his Father. If Niedecken senior had realised what his son would achieve through music perhaps all would have been different between the two. Niedecken senior though was a businessman with a shop and memories of hard times and a harsh War. Times that his son would recall in another early BAP classic the desolate ‘Krystallnacht’ and he can still bite politically as with the song ‘Arsch Huh’ (Get up and speak out’) with its attack on racism and neo-fascism.
My last visit to Kunst!rasen was for another mega-succesful Kölschrock band ‘Brings’ and the two bands couldn’t be more different. Where the Brings audience and band was largely clad in tartan and partying BAP are dressed, like most of their audience, in denim and celebrating in a far more low key manner. The man onstage has often been the man in the audience here and even onstage he is still that man. I noticed how as a spectator at the Bob Dylan concert last year Niedecken seemed to spend half the show chatting to people in the audience – seemingly without complaint. In short, Wolfgang Niedecken is a man of and for the people.
If I’ve written too much about the BAP frontman it’s for those who don’t know him or his music. It’s very easy when you’re surrounded by 7000 people who virtually sing entire songs without the singers help to forget that the English speaking music world doesn’t know him too well – my only reaction to that being: their loss!
On to the show show and since there are many ‘locals’ who do know him well, the atmosphere at a BAP show is a cross between political rally and football game. The greater part of the set is a rock one of course with it’s nods to Niedecken influences like Springsteen (although ‘Hungry Heart’ doesn’t get a work out today), Dylan, and the Stones to whom he re-wrote a whole batch of songs in ‘Kölsch’ dialect on ‘Leoparde Fel’. An early favourite is his re-working of ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ with Niedecke chiding: “Ich bin der Lucifer…” which matched his straggly white hair and short beard rather too well…
The highlights now are largely the highlights from 25 years ago. ‘America’ with a swirly organ solo courtesy of Michael Nass or the jaunty ‘Ab und Zo’. That the current line-up still cut a fine edge as a rock band is very much down to the guitar playing of Helmut Krumminga. His gritty guitar soloing on numbers like ‘Alexandra, nit nur do‘ and especially his steel guitar forays were highlights for me.
Even the hardest rockers have a slow song in their set of course and BAP save the romance to last as Niedecken points out “To show we CAN be romantic”. ‘Du Kannst Zaubern’ (You can do Magic) saw the cigarette lighters and sparklers out in force. The encore ‘Jraduss’ was a fitting way to both end the show and describe our hopes for the man behind it:
“Bleib da, wo du bist, halt dich irgendwo fest
und bleib so, wie du warst, geradeaus”
(Stay as you are, hold on somehow. Stay as you always have been – a man of integrity)
The sombre tones of Johnny Cash promising “We’ll meet again” were ringing in our ears as we headed for home. Let’s hope it’s not just in front of the Kunst!Rasen stage that we have the chance to greet Wolfgang Niedecken in future but also on it again. As a football fan he will know that ‘Home Games’ as he referred to this show are regular occurrences!