New Release concerts can be rather strange affairs. Preaching to the converted, audiences made up not just of fans and friends, but also family. Listeners from 9 to 90 and all points in between. Alex Krienke, as lead singer with the family friendly Sunny Skies and the Metal friendly Killerz has naturally picked up a wide-ranging fan base. Thankfully though the music at Bonn Harmonie by his band AJK was as eclectic as the audience.
Ladies first though and Alex had found an excellent support act in the shapely shape of Cologne’s Nadine Kraemer who together with keyboard man Kolja Pfeiffer made up Johna and provided a very laid back start to the evening. Nadine has toured Canada and the USA and supported the likes of Barclay James Harvest and Jennifer Rush. Her songs, all in English, sound as good as any I’ve heard from similar songstresses on the Island itself. You couldn’t get much simpler than just a voice, a guitar and an electric piano, and in fact when the piano joined in, her compositions actually sounded sparser than when it was just Nadine and her acoustic.
There is a lot of competition where female singer/songwriters are concerned and a lot of them following in the footsteps of Nadine’s heroines like Heather Nova and Jewel. Nadine does have a voice that commands silence when she sings though, not to mention obedience when she asks us to sing the ‘Do,do, do’s’ on ‘Giving Up’. In short, if you see the name ‘Johna’ on on a concert poster anytime you’re in for a whale of a time (couldn’t resist that pun, sorry!).
The stage is bare again and Nadine’s velvety vocals have left a mellow atmosphere in the auditorium. The lights dim and there’s a slight swish of the backstage curtain. In the courtyard backstage I catch a glimpse of Alex Krienke caught in the cold air between warm dressing room and warm concert hall. He makes for a rather lonely figure in the cold blue light.
Krienke isn’t lonely for long though. One step onto the stage and there is thunderous applause. Aside from a small warm up gig this is AJK’s first time before a live audience, and they start a bit hesitantly with ‘Crossroads’ from the disc that is being presented here tonight. Being their first release you would be forgiven for thinking this would be a 45 minute set and goodnight – you would however be very wrong indeed. When I grab the set-list for a photo later I count 23 songs.
There is in fact a lot of new material on offer that is even newer than the new disc, if you follow. Indeed I was pleased to hear from Alex later that there is already a lot of material ready for the next disc already – at this rate I’m wondering if the next release could be a double album.
The set started, to my ears anyway, rather like the CD. Good but somehow hesitant. This had the positive effect during the evening though of allowing me to actually hear a band grow together over the course of a single concert. Certainly, by the halfway mark, the tracks from ‘What’s good for you’ were sounding fresher and punchier than evidenced on the new CD as I’d hoped/guessed they would in my Interview. I’d like to have heard ‘Holiday in Cambodia’ later in the set when things were more settled rather than so early on as it’s a favourite of mine from the CD, but overall no complaints in a fine evening of music. Finely crafted songs too. What wife or girlfriend couldn’t resist having a song written and dedicated to them with a line like “You’re unique in an ordinary world”. Yes, ‘Unique’ has Freddie Mercury written all over it but I think if Freddie had sung it you would have sworn he had written it as well.
The title track ‘Whats Good For You’ bops along in fine Sergeant Pepper style even without the horn section. ‘Hold On’ swung nicely too but I would have loved for it to carry a bit more of the vintage Max Raabe style swagger – here a horn section certainly would have been welcome. Maybe next time and with a bigger budget?
All in all then a rockier sound than on the disc. Anyone hoping for/expecting some metal went home disappointed though, as Krienke countered for such a request with a smile and a wink- “Wir spielen kein Rock – zu Primitiv!” It certainly wasn’t for the lack of Metal experience, guitarist Andreas Ballnus plays in the Band of ex-Iron Maiden man Paul Di’Anno. Tonight though he was playing much more in the mode of Brian May and I can well understand Alex when he said in our interview that he loves the sound Ballnus brings to the band – he manages to give the Jazz, Blues and Swing a slight Rock edge yet still keeps it melodic. A fine balancing act. Perfect for the bands sound in fact and he seemingly even brought along his own fan club judging by the calls from the audience. When it came to the simpler numbers like ‘The Day I stopped Loving You’ and ‘Think of You’ Krienke showed his skills as a pianist and had me wondering why he never sat down at a Sunny Skies show. Now, with AJK, I found myself wishing he would stand up and leave the piano for a while. Maybe alternative song arrangements could be found for a couple of numbers that allowed this.
The last third of the show really showed how much promise there is in this band though. Lots of smiles and enjoyment of the music onstage as much as off. I love their take on ‘Revolution Calling’ and the jazzy re-working of UFO’s classic ‘Doctor, Doctor’ is an indication of the imaginative and intelligent music that these guys can bring to future releases.
AJK have the imagination and musicianship to be up there with the best that Bonn/Cologne has to offer musically. It’s early days yet but when they get their refreshing style and sound played in they will be a must see. Certainly Alex Krienke’s friendly and unassuming stage presence is strong, the Band is a very capable one, and the music is intelligent and enjoyable. There are live shows penciled in already for next year and on the evidence of this release party AJK will be grabbing attention from local music fans, not to mention the music industry, very soon.