It was Back to the ’80s with a bang on Friday as the KunstRasen Season 2019 kicked off with appearances by Kim Wilde and Tears for Fears. Around 5,500 people braved the extreme heat and were rewarded with great pop music from an era when MTV videos ruled and it seemed like every song had to have a synthesizer solo. A time when British bands were showing how it was done – as tonights show ably proved.
Is it really seven years since I saw Lou Reed stroll out, grim-faced, to kick off the very first show here on the edge of the Rheinaue Park? I remember it was a sunny day. I don’t remember it being quite this hot though. In those days the trees at the back of the land were Festival side of the fence. Today they are outside the perimeter and consequently there is no place to hide from the sun (and even dare one say it, the rain should it come). Unless you are a big fan of the bands you might prefer to be towards the back where there is room to spread a blanket and there are plenty of places to buy food and drink.
Front of stage it is decidedly hot and sweaty, but the stage view itself is better, and the sound is louder when Kim Wilde begins her set at precisely 6:20 pm. In case people further back don’t know who is onstage there is an early indicator thrown out in the form of Wilde’s early mega-hit ‘Water on Glass.’ I’saw the lady last year at Münsterplatz so I’m not surprised at how punchy her band is. It’s a rock-band for sure. Brother Ricky on guitar and niece Scarlet on backing vocals make it a family rock-band too, with a pleasant family atmosphere. From last year I know that Kim Wilde has some good recent material from her CD ‘Here Come The Aliens’ so it’s a bit annoying that I’m struggling to hear the music above the conversations in the audience.
It only takes the first lines from any of Wilde’s hits to suddenly stop those conversations though and concentrate on the music – just a shame though that it seems to require a ‘Cambodia’ or a ‘Chequered Love’ to stop the endless chatter. Surely people can talk to each other between songs? or before, between and after the sets? Kim Wilde is now almost as well known in England as a gardener these days, and if the mother of two isn’t the wasted looking English sex symbol that had the nerve to declare herself one of the ‘Kids in America’ she still has a great voice, a great band and is making great music at 58. When she thanks everyone “that ever bought one of my records” it sounds sincerely from the heart, and that’s where the music itself seems to come from when you hear Kim Wilde and her band.
Confession time. I wasn’t a fan of the early 1980s. BB King is proof of what was happening then musically, disappearing into total obscurity until he was rescued late 80’s/early ’90s by Gary Moore and Bono. It was a time when many a rockband struggled to find an audience. Thin Lizzy brought in a keyboard player. Days of desperation… Perhaps it’s no surprise then that a band like Tears for Fears should find success in such an atmosphere. They were a teenage angst version of the Everly Brothers and had the clean ‘modern’ sound of the time. Songs and tunes that were a cut above the synthesized multitudes around them. Indeed, the most famous one of all kicked off their set at 8:15 pm – still in hot sunshine. ‘Everybody Wants to Rule The World’ seems like it could have been written after Donald Trump stepped into the Whitehouse. It’s thump along rhythm is instantly recognizable and has all arms waving in the audience. But it’s the first number of the evening. Can the band keep those arms waving for the next 90 minutes?
Rumour has it that co-founders Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith would not even speak to each other after their 1990 splitting of the band. It’s what I’m thinking about as I’m camped out with the other photographers and holding my arms above my head, not for clapping purposes, but to take pictures over those clapping hands in front. We are quite a distance away from the stage, and when you are holding a camera at that distance you are very aware of ‘dead’ space in your viewfinder. That area where there is nothing. There is a lot of it between Messrs Orzabal and Smith. Their microphone stands are seemingly as far apart as could be possible without leaving a totally empty stage centre. We are all waiting to grab a shot of the two men together, but they rarely venture into each others stage halves. When Smith picks up the microphone to sing he invariably walks to the far stage side. This is not a photographers dream band.
The music is what counts of course, and whilst its always hard to be comfortable with songs written from teenage hearts that are now being sung by more mature adults, the duo do still have a charisma and power to their music. Clapping hands constantly re-appear in the audience. “Shout, shout, let it all out” is as popuar as ever but it isn’t really their live creed, even though the song is still a strong and welcome one. As in the 1980s I wait in vain for a searing rock guitar solo that will take it to the next level. A solo that now, as then, never comes. Rock music did survive the 80’s though with many a Les Paul and Gibson wielding metal merchant. There is no getting away from the fact that Tears for Fears wrote some of the best catchy synth-pop music that came out of the 1980s. For my money though, it was more of a pleasure to see the smiles exchanged between Kim and Ricky Wilde that seemed to make the stage smaller than the isolated performances of Orzabal and Smith that seemed to make the stage rather bigger and lonelier.
An enjoyable first evening by the Rhine then, with more good music and sunshine guaranteed.