The empty stage at the Harmonie is suddenly filled with “Blümchenknicker“. Who or what, you might well ask, is actually Blümchenknicker?
I later discovered it to be a loose musical co-operative of young Bonn people forming a group which can contract to two or expand to thirteen or more, according to moods and circumstances. Tonight there seems to be nine of them on stage and as far as I can ascertain they are all barefooted and devoid of shoes and socks, apart from the cajón player, who is only wearing a sock on his right foot, for what ever reason. Blümchenknicker seem indeed to be somewhat of an enigma, as their name alone could possibly have more English interpretations and connotations than there are musicians on stage. Is it a little flower bender? Small flower underwear perhaps? A floret folder? Or a cantankerous old skinflint who is fond of little flowers? Or all or none of the above?
Blümchenknicker. The mystery doesn’t stop with the name, the front man, the main guitarist and singer, and doubtless main composer and probably head chef and chief bottlewasher too, is known as “Bender Flowers” and his middle name is “Corleone”. The rest of the band have similarly bizarre names like “Mr. Noisy” and “Bonsai” to name but a couple. This light hearted, tongue in cheek attitude pervades everything they do and what Blümchenknicker do very well is play live music and they have fun doing it. Having fun is a bit like smiling, and tends to be infectious, and so it’s no wonder that the young crowd in the Harmonie are smiling, enjoying themselves immensely and are well, simply up for it.
“Warenwelt” is the first song, and continues in the same idiom of saying one thing, but perhaps meaning another. It is based on a pun of the German word “Ware”, meaning commercial goods, and “wahre”, which is pronounced the same, but means real or true, so it’s an ironic take on the real modern world being dreadfully permeated with commerce rather than truth. It’s good time, uptempo music but still conveying a thoughtful message.
With “Glaubensfrage” the band count themselves in, but they’re certainly counting nothing out, and the title, meaning a question of (religious) belief, already prepares us for some more deep lyrics. The song is based on a gypsy swing tune and is a masterpiece of simple sophistication and epitomises what Blümchenknicker do, good home spun dance music, and as if they needed any further vindication, the song asks, “What would Jesus do?” to which the answer is, of course “Dance!” The group may or may not have a lifelong ban from entering confessionals, as they profess and sing in this song, but their question about Jesus, far from being sacrilegious, merely cleverly answers well and emphatically one of those several unanswered questions with which institutionalised religion so often stumbles and fumbles. The hypnotic music invites one to join “Jesus” and well, simply “dance”. When Blümchenknicker are singing and dancing their way through the flower beds, they certainly do not shy away from grasping a few nettles along the journey, which is in stark contrast to much of the trite and often trivial modern commercial music on offer nowadays.
“Kopfkino” keeps on topic and has the endearing joyful refrain,
“Come on baby dance with me”. “Scherbenmeer” a sea of pottery shards is also uptempo and has similar danceability but also posseses a deeper meaning in the lyrics, this time about the fragility of roses and modern life. “Das Leben ist ein Ponyhof” continues the tongue in cheek irony which pervades so many of the band’s songs. It means life is like a pony riding stables and nice and even desirable as this may appear to be sometimes, real life just isn’t like that. There are rude awakenings in store for those who believe it is.
There’s more than a little bit of vaudeville about Blümchenknicker’s act. There’s a strong element of skiffle about their music and the band just exuberates fun and vitality from beginning to end. Sometimes there’s a cello, and/or a second violin and a clarinet but tonight there’s a violin deftly played by Fransi in a style which reminded me at times of “East of Eden” and a trumpet, which just added that extra “je ne sais quoi”, which would have been missing otherwise and allowed some counterpoint to the wall of sound of the other instruments and percussion.
I was rather sad when it ended, it was a nice set of refreshing, pulsating fun songs with poignant German lyrics burning with energy and enthusiasm which demanded, and also received, a high level of audience participation both with singing and dancing.
Playing this sort of music and being a member of such a large ensemble is not a career decision driven by the imminent hope of massive personal pecuniary betterment, but rather a great labour of love, that’s a lot of fun, and provides great joy, even if they do have to probably sometimes dip into their own pockets for subsidising travelling expenses at more distant gigs. It’s certainly not for the faint hearted, so it’s all the more pleasing to see them all playing and performing and singing with such gusto and joie de la vie.
The group are very open about their music, inviting fans to join them for practise sessions and to make suggestions about the music. They also busk when the fancy takes them and the pavement is well renown for being one of the hardest, and least forgiving, stages on the planet. Their approach to music is refreshing and almost revolutionary in wanting to bring the music back to the people instead of being spoon fed regurgitated Muzac from the large record concerns. This desire to legitimise street music and put back the pleasure into performing and presenting live music is also shared by another Bonn group Cynthia and Friends and represents a form breaking resurgence of new, thoughtful creative music which should be both welcomed and encouraged. Plus it has all the intrinsic shed loads of fun of a skiffle band.
The top act this evening had come all the way from Berlin and were not on their home turf like Blümchenknicker but nevertheless Lauter Leben had a fair share of their own fans here tonight. A tight four piece rock band who started off their act with “10,000 Meter” with front man guitarist and singer Nico at the front playing an acoustic guitar and singing whilst the other guitarist and the bass player picked up drumsticks and joined the drummer behind. This would normally have been quite a spectacular opening, except for the fact that the support band had already played with three percussionists throughout their entire set earlier on. Lauter Leben treat this as mere water off a duck’s back and certainly live up to their name of a “noisy or boisterous life” when they man their normal instruments and cut loose into “Dein Leben ruft” a high energy number which is a single from their current CD and means “your life is calling”. A warning calling song to get up off the couch and out into life and see the world. The dance theme is continued and the band soon have everyone bouncing up and down in unison.
“Es ist soweit” starts off somewhat quieter and has a catchy “Guten Morgen Leben es ist soweit” (not unlike the conversation Ledbelly had with the Blues at breakfast time “Good morning Blues, good morning how are you?”) but meaning here in this song “Good Morning, it’s time, we have so much still to see” and that, as in “Dein Leben ruft” is a wake up call to get up and venture out into the world. They are impressive well crafted songs and Nico’s (Nicolas Rebscher) voice comes over as mixture somewhere between Herbert Grönemeyer and Mick Jagger.
As if to prove that the opening song with the acoustic guitar was not just a gimmick Nico, with his perpetual twinkle in his eye, straps on his Lakewood acoustic guitar and lets the rest of the band have a breather while he gives us a solo acoustic rendering of “Festhalten” which means “hold on”. A slow moving ballad, and one of Nico’s earlier songs, which blossoms and shines with his minimalist solo accompaniment. He is joined by Tobi on guitar for the next song “Vorhang Auf” / “Curtain Up” which is to be an acoustic duet, albeit with the acoustics plugged in to the P.A. system, when fate deals a blow and Reiner Zufall is in control. The channel for Tobi’s guitar is a as dead as the proverbial dodo and not even a potholing excursion by a technician under the drumner’s raised platform is of any avail and the sought after plug was simply not to be found. How to solve the dilemma? After briefly pondering whether Tobi should perhaps play the lead part on his electric guitar Nico suddenly has a brainwave and pulls the jack plug out of his own semi-acoustic guitar and they thus both played both guitars totally unplugged and totally acoustic in the Harmonie. Something that I have never seen done before, and something that Lauter Leben have never done before either. Surprisingly, it not only worked, but it worked very well indeed. The audience were a little bit quieter than usual, and lo and behold acoustic unplugged magic ensued. Wonderful! “Out of adversity, comes opportunity, as the old prophets and sages do say!” A rare and unexpected treat, and all the better for it. It certainly brought a Gabriel Oak of a smile to this particular face.
Back with the band at full strength and full volume the set continues with “Ohne Mich” / “Without Me” which is a catchy number with nearly all the audience joining in the vocal refrain. “Abtanzen” / “Dancing” is true to its name and has everyone on their feet and bouncing as if the Harmonie is some giant writhing bouncy castle. “Richtung Morgen ” / “Towards Tomorrow” is a dynamic song features some impressive bass and guitar work from Nico, showing us that he is no slouch on the guitar fretboard.
Suddenly there is a loud repetitive “Tic Tac” and I feared for a brief moment to be in a commercial for small popular peppermints until I remembered that German clocks make a different sound to British ones and go “Tic Tac” instead of “tick tock”. We are in fact into the song “Bombe” / “Bomb” and the bomb is primed and ticking. Lauter Leben
have brought something extra along tonight. and it’s certainly not peppermints!.
One of the amazing things about Lauter Leben was not just that they had, to everyone’s surprise, including their own, played a blinding 100% unplugged acoustic song in the Harmonie this evening, but that they regularly select songs from their set, apparently at random and when the fancy takes them, and perform them either as solo acoustic or as acoustic duets in the middle of their rock concerts. This is an eminently astute thing to do as it brings completely different dynamics into the band’s performance and thus makes it much more interesting for the audience to listen to. It is also underlines just how well crafted their songs actually are, that they are able to strip them right down to the bone and perform, what are basically rock songs, in such a minimalist acoustic way, almost as, dare I say it, “folk” songs. For lesser performers and with weaker songs it could have a dangerous tendency to just not work well, but they master it wonderfully with great accomplished aplomb.
Hats off for that Lauter Leben! Nico and the band are almost giddy with pleasure whilst performing their songs and their enthusiasm comes over with the audience who are more than happy to follow Nico’s instructions for vocal and dancing participation. Their songs are all self penned with well created German lyrics and certainly none the worse for that. Music with style and great swathes of fun, thoughtful inspiring lyrics, that truly rocks, no matter where the plugs are. Check out their web site:
and if you get the chance, pick up their current album, which I just happen to know is entitled, “Richtung Morgen” / “Towards Tomorrow”.
Moreover, do go and see them live if you get the chance, and I’m sure you’ll be as pleasantly surprised as I was.
Well done to “Couchrocker” for promoting such a fine concert of complementary and refreshingly harmonious live talent in the Harmonie.