The Harmonie stage looks strangely bare considering five musicians have set up on it. There’s only a single Fender Telecaster propped up in front of a battered speaker cabinet for Henrik Freischlader himself. Over on the merchandise stall, there is no sign of t-shirts, back-catalogue cd’s or signature Stetson caps. Just two cardboard boxes – one with the new release as cd and the other with its vinyl counterpart. Travelling Light could be the Tour motto.
If you’ve bought the latest CD ‘Hands on the Puzzle’ then you will indeed have your hands on a ‘puzzle’. Last year saw the erstwhile German Blues-Rock Boy Wonder back in his element with members of the Gary Moore band in a tribute to his hero, and it seemed that, following an announced retirement from live music in 2016, Henrik Freischlader was back on the Blues track. The new CD though, whilst being described as a ‘back to basics’ one is actually far from basic in its lyrical quality. Not a boy meets girl and falls in/out of love song to be seen in fact it needs repeated listens on disc to reveal its strengths, but here we are waiting for the band on a live stage…
Whilst it’s true that I became a Henrik fan through his Blues Rock abilities ala Gary Moore, I’ve stayed one because the Man does what he wants and not what the music industry would otherwise dictate. For this reason I’m eagerly awaiting music from the musicians standing in a row on the stage. Everyone gets equal billing so to speak (well okay, equal after the man in the cap!) Most noticeable to me when things kick off with the funky ‘Community Immunity’ are two things: the absence of a Gibson Les Paul in Henrik’s hands stage right, replaced by a Telecaster, and the presence, in the hands of Marco Zügner, of a saxophone stage left. Both will play an important part in the sound of tonight’s show.
The set is, not surprisingly, very heavily weighted towards the new disc. So much so in fact that, at one point, Henrik semi-apologizes and says that maybe next time they’ll play a greatest hits concert for us – “…but possibly some of these songs will be in it”, he says with a wink. One of the new tracks that would very likely make it onto that hits tour would be ‘Animal Torture’. A cuttingly bleak song textually, but when Zügner picks up the melody, his sax really takes the show into that realm that comes along maybe once in a half dozen concerts. That moment when the music transcends time, space and venue. I could see by Henrik’s concentrated smile that he was in no hurry to close this number down – Is it always around 15 minutes I wonder? or did musicians and audience alike not want it to ever end?
Freisschlader has certainly put together an excellent quartet for the album and tour. There were heavy jazz overtones amongst the funk, particularly when Zügner’s alto-sax and Roman Babik’s keyboard got into their stride. Full marks awarded to Armin Alic for his bass phrasings and particularly for not just keeping cool under pressure when his amp seemed to die on him, but even managing to smile through it all. Moritz Meinschäfer kept a splendid beat even if he did seem to dwarf the pared-down drumkit in front of him.
An excellent band for certain, but I noticed that many of the old crowd at Freischlader shows seemed to have stayed at home. The new CD ‘Hands on the Puzzle’ really is a quantum leap from the former electric Blues style. Which direction that leap goes in is of course down to the listener – and there was a good-sized crowd to suggest he has a good following still.
It’s not just a musical change though – there may be smiles on the band’s faces, but these are some heavy duty lyrics of world-weary dis-satisfaction. If ‘Hands on the Puzzle’ is a peep into Henrik Freischlader’s soul then there isn’t too much going right in the World right now:
“By the time you buy it, it’s already in the trash. Because the energy drink economy eats up the sleepy cash” – Rat Race Carousel
“Innocent Children disappear, thinking they have grown. What did we really learn from our teacher?” – Where do we go?
Perhaps most tellingly of all are the words from ‘Animal Torture’:
“Close the curtain. Feeding time is over. Leave me alone. Ain’t got no more tricks to show… Yes, I know you paid to get in Wish I could pay you twice to get out…”
Are we talking about a tortured animal in a circus, or on a stage (with a guitar?).
Whilst the strength of Freischlader’s new disc really is in it’s cutting lyrics, he is clearly both talking the talk and walking the walk. “Deactivated my Facebook, and my Twitter too” he chides on ‘Those Strings‘ and indeed, his Facebook page has gone. When the Telecaster goes out of tune between songs, Henrik calmly takes his time getting it sorted, as he does so mentioning that “You can get electronic things that do this in null comma nix. But not me. patience is human (Geduld ist Menschlich)!”. Yes, he smiles as he says it – but means it very seriously you feel.
It’s well over an hour into the set before we get anything really up-tempo with ‘Winding Stair‘ and one of two Johnny Guitar Watson numbers ‘Ain’t Life a Bitch’ that’s good for a sing-along. Watson’s music is visited again later on with the simple Blues of ‘Cuttin In’ but it’s a pyrotechnic of a Blues number that the band close out with: ‘I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know’ starts with a smoulder, working it’s way into a musical display of perfectly controlled guitar soloing to fade slowly out into a whisper. It was, of course, played out on Henrik’s Gibson Les Paul. A welcome brief re-appearance of the old Henrik and his trusty Les Paul. Powerful magic indeed, and watching the dust swirling around in the overhead spotlight, I’d swear that for a moment I saw the shape of Gary Moore’s face – and yes, he was smiling.