June 7th, 2012

Loopster Live: Rammstein: These Go To 220

Walking into Toyota Center, the police parking lane up front was filled with a couple of large tractors, each bearing multiple generators. I knew Rammstein was heavy on pyrotechnics, but what was the additional power for? I was a little concerned that Houston, once famous for having some of the most restrictive pyro rules in the country – at least until Great White performed an unplanned cover of Rock Master Scott & The Dynamic Three’s classic – had forced the band to rely upon lighting effects alone. My fears were misplaced.

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Several fireball blasts later, I was nodding and grinning, my inner-pyromaniac’s adrenaline was pumping, and it was clear that with the level of danger this band incorporates into their show, the need to keep the equipment standard was apparent. The band had shipped all of its staging from Europe, no local rentals for them, and German engineering required special generators to provide twice the voltage. These go to 220.

Walking in, I admittedly knew little of Rammstein’s music besides their top two songs; that their shows have been legendary for nearly two decades; and that a band named after an airshow disaster wasn’t too worried about public perception. The fireworks and flame spectacle overwhelmed at first and a crowd chanting along made me question how hard I had really studied in two years of high school German.

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Random observations:
The area in front of the stage is commonly referred to as “The Pit”. Rammstein’s release called it “The Trench”. We were kept to the side during the major frontal flame bursts, but even there, the heat was impressive. I can’t imagine what it would be like with sustained bursts over the crowd during a Summer festival as they are allowed to have in Europe.

The Music: Ah yes, the music. I make no claim to knowing the genres of metal, but what struck me was the odd mix of thudding bass and, let’s admit, fairly simple guitar work combined with a lot of keyboard work. I am admittedly inclined to hear Kraftwerk in many acts, particularly in a German one, but I was surprised at how easily it was identified as a component.

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The Band: Rammstein clearly has a sense of humor about things, some of it is seemed intentional, such as the play on words in their songs (Du Hast’s, as an example, being sufficiently documented elsewhere.), some of it perhaps more tongue-in-cheek. The band has a devoted following that takes the music and lyrics seriously, but with some of the antics (one band member performed a wedgie resulting in torn underwear that was thrown to the crowd), I half expected the band to stop and declare, “Now is the time on Sprockets when we mosh.”

The Crowd: Houston was recently named the most diverse city in America. That was not the case at the Rammstein show. The number of actual Germans (skinny, dressed in black, confiscated Gauloises), not just ethnic Germans, pumping their fists in the air in unison had me looking about for Riefenstahl and her film crew.

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The Staging: It was like nothing I’ve seen before. A variety of headgear that enabled 20 yards of flame to be blown across stage or water to be sprayed on the crowd as the lead singer stared them down. Jets of flame – up, out, back towards the band; showers of sparks raining down as Till Lindemann never flinched; fireworks every which way (including one pair of bottle-rocket sized bursts aimed directly into the crowd!?!).

I often recreate a set list to play back when writing a review. Rammstein didn’t win me over that much. I have, however, found entire concerts of theirs on YouTube and watched the insanity a couple of times since. I would go again in a heartbeat, and would love to see them outdoors or in Europe.

I do wish there had been a little more spoken interaction. I am left very curious about the band members. Their over-the-top performance and sadistic elements juxtaposed with a very polite and almost formal “Danke schön. Thank you very much,” as they exited the stage a final time.

— Alexander

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