All good things must come to an end, and so it was that a shower of glitter from the handheld keyboard of Markus Schinkel and a shower of rain from the Heavens marked the final night of the final weekend of this year’s marvellous Stadtgarten Season down by the Alten Zoll in Bonn. The music over the two nights from MT Wizard, Missine+Tripstoic, Dad’s Phonkey, Jin Jim and finally Markus Schinkel Voyager IV was always varied, always high quality and rewarded with an audience that stayed in large numbers throughout, come what may musically.
What a varied bunch we had to enjoy. Kraut, Tripo, Solo-a-cappella, Modern and progressive. Five band’s – five musical styles. The audience took them as they came, and so I will introduce them that way…
What exactly is ‘Kraut-Rock’? In my 1970’s youth, I thought it was Doro Pesch and The Scorpions. Thankfully, after Friday night’s performance by Krautrockers MT Wizard, I found Rolf Sachsse in the audience. He was involved in the Bonn Kraut Rock scene in the early 1970s and kindly explained it comes from England, as a term to describe German bands who were playing Rock music at the time that avoided the general Folk-Blues influence that drove many bands in that period like The Stones and even the early Beatles.
In the case of MT Wizard, it seems to have centred around a very Antipodean influence – the didgeridoo on stage was too big to miss. Certainly, this was the real thing. MT Wizard are celebrating 50 years making Kraut Rock. A grungy sound with vocals sort of growled into the microphones that were usually not quite audible enough to make out any words and so were very much there for effect. Despite its deliberate avoidance of bluesy minor keys I liked it. I still prefer Doro Pesch and The Scorpions though, so no wind of change there on my part (pun intended).
Missine+Tropic were brought to us by Institut Francais. ‘Triporock’? Another new genre to my ears. I didn’t find anyone to explain this one, but the music was self-explanatory. It sort of had a melting quality. If you can imagine the sound a lava-lamp would make if it could be audible – it would sound like this. The duo certainly had a large section of audience winding arms and legs slowly up and down to their sound. With additional drum support (crouched on the floor in front of various bongo style kits) from Lépolod Huguenin, this was certainly hypnotic stuff.
Missine on vocal was no lightweight but seemed still to float gracefully around the stage with ease to the rather dour-faced trance-like rhythms of Tripstoic’s electric guitar. There was a synthesiser sound coming from somewhere that gave the final rhythm and bite to most of the tracks but I couldn’t trace where it was coming from. Maybe a result of the hypnotic music? A night when finishing at 10 pm seemed cruel on both audience and musicians.
The same final commentary can be said on Saturday’s curtain-closer. I never got round to asking Christian Padberg why he goes under the name of Dad’s Phonkey. The JazzTube website describes his music as “solo-a-cappella-loop-improvisations. No instruments, no songs, no lyrics!“ which would seem to suggest Padberg just stands onstage for 45 minutes in a straw hat. Actually, he is kept very busy with tape-looping and improvising pretty well everything. Not quite my cup of tea I must admit. Tape-looping a-la Ed Sheeran I find rather magical – seeing/hearing a sound being built. I didn’t quite get the style of Dad’s Phonkey. That said, I missed a lot of the set – including a surprise appearance by headliner Markus Schinkel. My judgement on Mr Padberg is therefore suspended.
I already knew what to expect from the next act Jin Jim. The band’s ‘Weisse Schatten’ disc has been played quite often on my CD player and still seems as fresh as the first play. Daniel Manrique-Smith’s flute playing tends to catch both the ear on record and the eye on stage but this really is a collective effort of the highest standard. Johann May was fresh from a JazzTube appearance on Friday but clearly enjoying making more noise with an electric guitar “We like to play loud” he admitted at one point in tonight’s show.
BanTai Trawinski on double bass knows how to put out a punchy jazz solo too, as does drummer Nico Stallmann. The band are also behind the compositions they play. For my money the best modern jazz quartet in Bonn right now, with abilities to match their musical imaginations – which makes for a potent and enjoyable evening of music, whether on record or onstage.
I was wondering if perhaps two potential headliners on one evening was a mistake. Stadtgarten organizer Hajo though, as always, knew better. He pointed out later that the key to Stadtgarten’s success is that the audience is mostly happy to come down to the Alten Zoll with a blanket and hear whatever is played. Certainly very few seem to pack up and leave when the musical style changes – as it often does within one evening.
Markus Schinkel’s jazz style is very different from that of Jin Jim. “I alway wanted to be a rockstar” he confided early on, and he found the last ‘piece’ of the jigsaw in vocalist Johannes Kuchta who seems to live every note that his vocal chords painstakingly create. His hands flow downwards as his voice drops in an octave, to sweep majestically up again only to swiftly rise back up with his voice. Something one would associate more from an operatic performance. Markus Schinkel & Voyager IV are really a super talented collective for this project.
If you are getting the impression this was a ‘dry’ and clinical musical execution of works from Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky that were most famously brought to life by Emerson, Lake & Palmer in the early 70’s you would be very much wrong. There is always a mischievous glint in the eye of Kuchta, and there is almost always a huge grin on the face of Markus Schinkel. ‘Pictures’ is an ambitious project that needs top musicians and has them not only in Schinkel and Kuchta but also in Belgium’s ‘Drummer of the Year’ Wim de Vries and virtuoso six-string bassist Fritz Roppel.
Around half way into the concert, a balmy late Summer evening suddenly took a downward turn with a swirling wind and shower of rain. It’s what all those bands who plead in vain for the audience to come closer dream about I suspect. Swept up in the rush forward I find myself right under the stage where Markus Schinkel is holding a giant hand-held keyboard out almost as if to vacuum up the sudden storm. I feel like I’m on the stage with him and the band and I feel in particular the atmosphere of four musicians who are loving every minute of their own music – and quite rightly too.
MT Wizard – Celebrate 50 years of Kraut RockThere’s a smoke machine that was expected to blow across the stage but is now blowing across the front row of the audience. Tomorrow there will be some sore throats, but today is for the music and who cares about tomorrow when Johannes Kuchta is singing so ‘Talk to the Wind’ so beautifully? By ten o’clock we have barely scratched the surface of ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’. Like the laser harp that remains in its box this evening due to the strong wind – there is still more to experience. Probably another hour and we would still only be a little nearer to hearing everything this band and this project is capable of… Make a date therefore in your diaries for the band’s appearance at Bonn Harmonie on 30 January next year.
The original material for pictures from Mussorgsky was interpreted by Ravel 100 year’s ago. ELP released their version almost 50 years ago. It seems like there is a half-century cycle of interpreting this music. It has evolved from Classic to Classic Rock and now, with Markus Schinkel’s Voyager IV to Classic Rock Jazz. A don’t miss experience for lovers of all three genres, Classic/Rock/Jazz and a magnificent end to the Stadtgarten Season 2019. Thank you Hans-Joachim Over, JazzTube, PopCamp, Institut Francais, Hotel Königshof and all the backroom staff at the Stadtgarten for what was very probably the best Stadtgarten Season yet. If audience figures and musical interest are any judges – the Stadtgarten Concert Season will be back next year as proof that Bonn can more than hold its own with the big Cities down the River when it comes to providing great live entertainment with a unique flair.