How quickly time flies, Dylan’s proverbial jet-plane in fact. In front of me lays a crumpled booklet for Kunst!Rasen 2015 proclaiming ’11 top quality shows, offering a wide spectrum of contemporary music in under three weeks’ and finishing with the motto-cum-warning that ‘Kultur lebt davon, das Mann hingeht’ (The existence of Cultural Events is dependent on people visiting them).
How did Kunst!Rasen 2015 on stage actually match up to the Kunst!Rasen on paper? Here’s my look back…
I have to admit to some scepticism when the new season was first announced. There must be huge difficulties in booking major acts when you have a time window of barely three weeks to fit them into during a World Tour. Revolverheld may be great one day, but that day has not yet, in my humble opinion, arrived. Max Herre and Passenger are not my musical cup of tea. Angus & Julia Stone are pleasant easy listening Folk-Rock but didn’t look like an act that would electrify listeners on a live stage. For me, the saving graces seemed to come later with the additions of veterans Alice Cooper, Status Quo and Joan Baez to give the Season, and the venue, real credibility.
Let’s start at the very beginning though with a sunny 18th of June. If memory serves, there was a huge crowd for this one (some 8,000 mostly young people or extremely young people accompanied by adults). There was nothing innovative on offer and a feeling of ‘choreographed’ enthusiasm from the bands to my mind. What ultimately mattered was that this one show contributed hugely to the total number of visitors for the season of 37,000 and thereby it’s financing. A similarly good turn-out happened for Max Herre – described as a ‘word-acrobat’ in the programme and accompanied by a 20 piece orchestra. I missed the show so I can’t comment musically, but certainly a solid choice financially.
Next up was Rea Garvey and this turned out to be a pleasant surprise. His involvement in German Talent shows (as also his co-star Mark Forster) did not excite me beforehand but I had reckoned without his being Irish, and as the evening increased so did his Irishness and he delivered a show with plenty of genuine warmth and some great songs. as well as the first vocal from a camera platform that I’ve witnessed. I was even pleasantly surprised to find that, if not musically my thing, Mark Forster turned out to be a pleasure to photograph as he hopped excitedly around the stage.
There was a marked lack of hopping by either Angus or Julia Stone. Both seemed pretty much chained to their respective microphone stands. They certainly played the 10pm shut-off rule very safely indeed, turning in the shortest set of the Season. On the other hand though Julia’s sultry ‘You’re the one that I want’ was a surprise highlight of the year.
For a 70’s rocker like me Status Quo and Alice Cooper had to be a highpoint – even in 2015. Why 8000 people would come to see Revolverheld but only 2500 to see Quo & Cooper is less to do with music and more to do with ticket prices I suspect. These are two acts with their own very seperate fan bases and either would have had more fans prepared to pay 40+ Euros to just see one or the other rather than pay 80+ Euros to see both. A shame really because a lot of the people who came to see Revolverheld (and the bands on that night too) could have benefited from seeing the sheer enthusiasm of Quo and the professionality of Cooper’s theatre show. An interview I read with the latter complained that too many youngsters these days don’t realise you have to give 100% to every song in a set, not just the last encore. This was 100% effort from start to finish.
The Classic Picnic arrived on the crest of a heat-wave and was perfectly placed by the Rhine’s cooling waters. The Beethoven Orchestra Bonn put together a perfect set for new-comers to Classical Music too – it was just a shame that sound levels were squeezed so heavily that whilst The James Bond Theme bounced around the majority of the picnickers in a lively fashion, the Schindler’s List theme violins didn’t really penetrate beyond the front row of blankets.
I missed Passenger, which on this occasion was not a group but a person (from Brighton) named Mike Rosenburg who had a good turn-out, good reviews, but still had to keep the volume of his lone acoustic guitar down and be gone by 10pm.
The return of Zaz meant the return of the rain (same procedure as every year) which never bothers anyone because her sheer enthusiasm always means that when the skies and umbrellas open, the faces under them are smiling come what may. If the weather at a Zaz show has become somewhat predictable then the music this time was at least a little surprise – breaking from the ‘hits’ shows of previous visits this was a homage to Paris and with a lively set of musicians and singers of this quality who cares about the showers?
Hubert von Goisern mentioned at one point that the music had reluctantly been somewhat ‘castrated’ by the volume constraints, but his was, for my money, the most interesting and diverse show of the season by far – and the appearance of a huge Alpine Horn made it as memorable visually as it was musically. Accordian driven Rock? Bring it on!
If you want to impress prospective future musicians to come to Bonn then Joan Baez is a good name to throw out. There are not many iconic figures out there these days, but hearing Joan sing about Dylan, Diamonds and Rust brought goosebumps. Does she still care about being heard? You could hear a pin-drop when she abruptly stopped mid-song to remonstrate with an elderly man walking directly between front row and front of stage: “excuse me. Would you please not do that!” Yes, clearly the music is the message still after all these years for Joan Baez – and good so!
Odd then that, for all it’s apparent fire-power the closing ‘Classic Rock Night’ didn’t seem to have the real emotive power of a woman in her mid-seventies. Lots of metal style posing by Britain’s Haken and particularly Canada’s Devin Townsend but all the smoking guitars and flashing lights couldn’t hope to surpass a simple lyrical line like Joan’s “Well I’ll be damned, here comes your ghost again”. Dream Theater did what they did very well indeed,they are clearly fine musicians in the mould of Deep Purple who can blend in with an orchestra or play as a superb Hard Rock combo with ease. It certainly can’t be easy to offer an evening of progressive rock music when even an errant acoustic foot pedal can have neighbours screaming law suits at you and they certainly brought Kunst!Rasen 2015 to a majestic close.
Three weeks over then. I still miss in past years being able to stand on the hilly side of the arena with a great view and cover from the sun (or, in Zaz case each year, the rain). There seemed to be unnecessary objects blocking audience sight-lines from further back and a bit more diversity of food/drink would be great – thank the Lord for the Indian Food truck. The fact that there is an event here at all of this size though is in itself quite amazing considering the limitations and pressure both socially and time-wise. I take my metaphorical hat off to Messrs Nötzel and Hartz for getting Kunst!Rasen built and running especially in such a short time-span, and I wish for (hope for?) a future where decibel limits can be a bit more flexible. Where the so-called ‘Lärm-Motzkis’ can perhaps show the willingness to compromise that the promoters have shown.
So there you have it, from my perspective anyway. If you disagree with me then I’m fine with that, as long as you do so after having attended some of the concerts. To return to that tattered programme I had in my camera bag and back pocket for three weeks for my final words – Live music only happens if someone is there to see it.