It all began in the WDRstudios of Cologne’s Südstadt in 1976, and now it’s very latest edition is being recorded – in Bonn Endenich. ‘Rockpalast’ has of course become a Worldwide Rockmusic institution that has the ability to make(and possibly break) bands into a higher league on the success ladder and touring circuit. The venue is Bonn Harmonie and the bands experiencing a mix of anticipation, excitement and maybe nostalgic goosebumps under the blue neon ‘Rockpalast’ signs tonight are ‘Chain’, ‘Lisa & The Lips’ and ‘Imperial State Electric’.
As usual for the Annual ‘Crossroads’ Festival at Bonn Harmonie it’s a mixed bag of a line-up tonight. Kicking off is Chain a local competition-winning band fronted by three young ladies singing gentle Country tinged Folk. Coming up after a short break is Lisa Kekaula from the States with her Spanish Soul/Funk/Rock band Lisa & the Lips. Last, but volume wise certainly not least, is another project inspired band (this time by a former death metal merchant Nicke Andersson) with the name Imperial State Electric.
The first band up lulled us into a sense of calm and peace. At one end of the band ‘Chain’ was a male bassist and at the other was a male drummer but they tended to be no more than musical ‘bookends’ between which were three young and attractive ladies – Samira Ueltzhöffer, Kira Heimbach and Helena Betz from Cologne, who landed this top-notch gig by winning the Schoolband Competition ‘Planet Rock’. There was a ‘rabbit caught in the headlights’ moment when they first went out onstage but despite retaining nervous faces the music calmed down to a pleasant Country-Folk/Pop sound that reminded me a little of Madison Violet, which is no bad thing. The girls certainly have charisma in spade-fulls and a commercial ear for a tune (all songs in English). A nice start to the evening, and even if it’s a bit early to call them stars of tomorrow they are certainly worth keeping an ear out for when they have built up a solid body of songs. I see mention of a support slot with Ana Popovic here in Germany so any of my Ana Popovic friends be ready to give these girls a listen I think you will like them!
I said we were lulled into a sense of calm, but that lasted only until the first urgent notes of next band onstage Lisa & The Lips. Lisa Kekaula is from Los Angeles and was a part of the Bellrays, whose motto apparently was “Blues is the teacher, Punk is the preacher”. Truth to tell I didn’t hear too much Punk in the music and Blues was not of the twelve bar variety either. What I heard was a whole lot of Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner.
They moved around so much that a Band-member count was hard. A picture at the end shows eight sweaty bodies waving sodden towels at the equally sweat soaked audience. I have seen many concerts in my time but not too many that outstrip this outfit for pure energy and commitment. Generally they were as frantic as the nutty boys Madness. Constantly jumping around. The music was pretty urgent too. ‘Mary Xmas’ sounded more than a little like ‘Nutbush City Limits’ in it’s build up, ‘Troubled Mind’ has a Stax sound about it and ‘Blackboard’ curiously enough made me think of Lynyrd Skynyrd. “It’s getting hot in here” sings Lisa, and she isn’t kidding as the band launches into ‘Stop The DJ’ with a heavyweight dose of Funk that just keeps pumping.
As the band got increasingly frantic and seemed to rush from one stage side to the other several times in one song, I began to feel like someone in the backseat of a car watching the driver put pedal to metal and powerless to stop them. My brain started looking anxiously for a break.
The said break finally came after they had blazed through a song that had Lisa pushing each one to ‘Work’ and ‘work’ for Lisa meant not just playing an instrument but seriously sweating as it’s played. In fairness she did plenty of sweating herself. At one point the microphone totally slipped out of her sweat drenched fingers. When the band actually took a break they did so lying down – literally. Only boot-tips were visible until they were all back up and responding to a song with the urgent title of ‘Push’ and storming funk melody. “It’s Saturday night. And if you can’t get crazy on Saturday night, when CAN you go crazy?” shouted our heroine, Yes indeed.
Swedish rockers Imperial State Electric seemed of a similar opinion. The band is a project of vocalist/guitarist Nicke Andersson who was previously with Grammy Award winning band The Hellacopters. Andersson claims it’s not a project but a real band of equals and certainly they have a cohesiveness about them that suggests seasoned musicians who all feel a part of a team. It’s a sound hardened by tours with the likes of Guns n Roses and Kiss. Theirs is a slightly curious sound as if they’ve made a list of all the genres that Lisa & the Lips have played and decided to fill in the gaps. There’s certainly a lot of Status Quo/ Motörhead rock and metal in there. There’s also a late sixties pop sound that’s been toughened up but is still recognizable – like a hard rock version of The Beatles. I enjoyed the show and the energy, but just as with Lisa & The Lips I felt I was hearing soundbites of things that have gone before. Even so, the only one that I could pin a confident name to though was ‘Route 66’.
There’s no denying the energy that both Lisa’s and Nicke Andersson’s bands put into their shows this evening. I hadn’t managed to make it to any of the other Crossroads dates this time. If I had, I suspect that this evenings offerings would been the straw that broke my live music back and would have left me an exhausted and crumpled wreck by 10pm. But hey, as the lady said, It’s Saturday after all!