The Notwist | 10.17.2008

the-notwist.jpeg These music-making veterans of twenty-plus years continue to reach new heights with each new record.

 

 

 

Logan Square Auditorium, Chicago

 

The Notwist have enjoyed a longstanding and successful cult following for over two decades, experimenting with their dance, pop, indie-rock, punk, and electronic roots to arrive at a musical mixing pot that’s as varied as any, yet all their own. With the release of a new album, they’ve finally hit the road again in the states, romping through the coasts, and visiting Chicago’s Logan Square Auditorium on their way west.

As the German avante-poppers causally walked onstage, an appreciative crowd warmed the small auditorium with cat-calls and sporadic applause. The group gave the first impression of average-Joes you might find running a record store, with lead singer, Markus Acher, donning his own band’s t-shirt, falling loosely over a subtle gut. Curls of thinning hair accumulated in a tuft above thinly rimmed spectacles, which neatly guarded a calm expression projected by his two contemplatively squinting eyes.

On stage left, Martin Gretschmann stood impishly behind a small console of modulators, midi controllers and moog equipment. Dark rimmed glasses and stringy curled hair contributed to an overall “crazed scientist” look. In many ways, this impression was appropriate; he was a scientist, of sound, proven by the varied manipulations of loops and samples he’d stir into the sonic mixing pot that is The Notwist. Through most of the show, Gretschmann held a Wii controller in each hand, deftly weaving them through the air to manipulate the plethora of audio blips that have trademarked the group’s unique sound. Gretschmann‘s off-kilter contributions often soared back and forth from right to left, adding an interesting and unexpected depth to the show.

The night’s set started out somewhat softly, focusing on the more mellow material from their new record, The Devil, You and Me. Soon, however, the night changed gears, picking up the speed with “This Room,” from the group’s most successful album stateside, Neon Golden. The song was transformed live from a funky mid-tempo piece to balls-to-the-wall indie-kid anthem. The crowd sang along in moments, joining Acher‘s innocent croons with a wall of slightly off-key backup. The song exploded once Andi Haberl came in on drums, pounding away at a relentless rhythm. The rest of the group kept up, as guitars, bass, Rhodes piano, and a never-ending procession of samples erupted with tyrannical momentum.

I was especially excited when the electronic droning of “Pick Up the Phone” started, one of my favorite songs (and coincidentally my phone ring). Acher squinted slightly, as if the wrinkles on face his face, exposed by a tightened brow, were in direct relation to the degree of his concentration. He flicked a semi-hollow telecaster and sung in patient, yet difficult, rhythm. The song set a good example of how the group reinvents their recorded material for a live context. Although all the parts were basically the same, and all movements remained from the recording, The Notwist found a way to push the song further and make it more immediate, more energetic, and completely infectious.

“Pilot” marked the night’s strongest performance. Its deceivingly slow start didn’t fool the audience as they erupted in recognition when Achler sampled himself singing this iconic line, “Different car and trains…” Gretschmann jerked about, tweaking noises and blips with his two Wii controllers, adding to the ambience created by Haberl rolling on cymbals. The song quickly gathered speed heading into the chorus, queued by Achler, who jumped a few feet in the air and strummed the movements’ first chord, in a definitive “rock and roll” moment. Like “Pick up the Phone,” this song was also tweaked for a live performance. The middle section stretched into infinity, revealing a free-form, jazzy breakdown reminiscent of Shrink. Achler returned to the turntable, as Haberl furiously pounded the toms. The song encapsulated the band’s M.O., catchy, chaotic, and passionate.

Playing for almost two hours enabled them to cover a lot of ground. As the night rolled to a close, smiles trickled over the group’s faces as they plucked through two encores. The encores were a good mix of new material and older stuff, much like the rest of the set list. As any band promoting a new album, they got around to most of the new material, but still managed to provide an extensive selection of tunes from previous gems like Shrink and Neon Golden. I don’t know if this was intentional or serendipitous, but it worked out well for a band who hardly tour in the region.

The night ended with a slower moment from the new record, the title track, “The Devil, You and Me.” It was a fitting, and much-needed, relief from the otherwise frothily energetic evening and a perfect swan song for one of the group’s only mid-western stops on tour. These music-making veterans of twenty-plus years continue to reach new heights with each new record. Leaving the antique auditorium, an almost frightening question popped into my head, I wondered, could they just now be hitting their stride? |Glen Elkins

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