Monday, September 7, 2009

apoptygma berzerk @ the 9:30 club

Apoptygma Berzerk changed my life. Before they entered my frame of existence back in 2004, my father's Kraftwerk LPs and post-OK Computer Radiohead were the only exposure I'd ever had to real electronic music. Yes, I -- the man whose musical entity seems practically defined by synthesizers a mere five years later -- had never actually explored the possibilities of electronica. I liked what I'd heard, but somehow my then-high school freshman self never really considered pursuing the genre any further. And then Apop happened. The album was Harmonizer, the song was "Until the End of the World." It was during those five and half minutes that my musical focus was altered irreversibly. The rest, as they say, is history.

When a full-time college student who is in between jobs spends an alarmingly large sum of money to fly literally across the country to see a mid-week concert, one damn well better expect this kind of backstory. Frankly, I can't think of another band I might have done this for. There were plenty of times, not the least of which was when I stood out of breath on the jetway after having come within five minutes of missing my flight, when I was forced to stop and ask myself, "Is this really worth it? Really?" But now all is said and done and I can look back on the experience with a definitive answer. It's not just a yes: it's a hell yes. I'd even go one step further, but children might be reading.

Now I remember why going to a concert can be such a religious experience. Now I remember the true feeling of esctacy that can take hold of you when you are physically in the middle of the music you love so much. For weeks before the show, lmc and I had discussed the logistics of finally seeing an Ultimate Band -- a band so special to you personally that few, past or present, could ever top them. As I stood in anticipation at D.C.'s 9:30 Club, I started to wonder if my lofty expectations could ever be met. Would they play what I wanted -- nay, needed -- to hear? What would the showmanship be like? Especially after having seen Apop's brothers-in-arms VNV Nation play a ridiculously fantastic show at the exact same venue in July, there was much to live up to.

The instant the band took the stage, every ounce of consternation immediately melted off my body. The next hour and a half were spent rocking out harder than I have ever rocked out at a show before. I often dream of bands playing The Perfect Setlist. In all the concerts I have ever gone to, I do believe Apop has come the closest to reaching this plateau. When I did my inevitable post-show "I wish they had played..." list, seriously all I could come up with were nitpicks. All of my huge need-to-hear songs were fulfilled, and my "oh my god I never thought they'd play that" ratio was so high that I really couldn't have given a damn. Yeah, "Paranoia" is a great song and it would've been awesome to hear, but really now.

The infallible one-two punch of "Starsign" and "Eclipse" kickstarted the evening, before the band started their journey through a remarkably even-handed representation of literally all aspects of their sound. Everything from early industrial staples ("Love Never Dies, Pt. 1," "Deep Red") to middle-period EBM/future-pop ("Kathy's Song," "Unicorn"), to their more recent synth-rock ("In This Together," "You Keep Me from Breaking Apart") was included, and despite stylistic differences, it all jelled perfectly. Probably due in large part to the fact that their (frankly kinda disappointing) 2009 album Rocket Science has yet to be released in the Americas, the selection of brand new stuff was somewhat limited. Still, they played "Asleep or Awake?" and that was the one new song I was really hoping for anyway. And yes, they played "Until the End of the World." I could have died happy.

Many of the surprises came with their selections of old school material. Since the beginning, "Burnin' Heretic" has been one of my favorite Apop songs, but it's such a "minor" track in their discography that I never would have dreamed I'd hear it in concert. Its inclusion just about knocked me over. The same went for "Non-Stop Violence," the highlight (in my opinion) of their 1996 album Seven; even though it was performed without its brilliant coda, it was tremendous. And, more recently, "Lost in Translation" has always been one of my top tracks from You and Me Against the World. Yeah, sure, it may have been one of the concert's more mellow moments, but it was a lovely inclusion.

As if this essay-length review wasn't already an indicator, this was a tremendous show for me. It surpassed all of my expectations and re-cemented the band's already permanent position in my all-time upper tier. Stephan Groth is a master performer with amazing energy and stage presence: he gives his songs the exuberance they deserve, and makes his shows as wonderful as possible for everyone present. That buzzing in my head after it was all over wasn't just from the amps being cranked up a bit too loud; it was also from the tingly feeling one can only get from witnessing a life-affirming concert.

So, to capitalize on said tingly feeling, lmc, ako, and I decided to wait outside the venue and stalk the band. Although it did eventually happen, we are very possibly the worst stalkers in history. It took us at least a half hour to realize the band had been hanging out right around the corner. Uh. Yeah.

Setlist: (slightly out of order, but complete)
1. Starsign
2. Eclipse
3. Asleep or Awake?
4. You Keep Me from Breaking Apart
5. In This Together
6. Mercy Kill
7. Shadow
8. Lost in Translation
9. Love Never Dies, Pt. 1
10. Burnin' Heretic
11. Apollo (Live on Your TV)
12. [some cover I don't remember]
13. Kathy's Song (Come Lie Next to Me)
14. Shine On
15. Deep Red
16. Until the End of the World

Encore 1:
17. Non-Stop Violence
18. Unicorn

Encore 2:
19. Mourn

mp3: "Non-Stop Violence" by Apoptygma Berzerk
mp3: "Until the End of the World" by Apoptygma Berzerk

1 comment:

LMS said...

You know it's epic when a review requires THREE photos!