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The Notwist at The Henry Fonda Theater, Sunday June 15th 2014

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The Notwist

The Notwist is one of these bands I had never heard of despite having been around since 1989! To my defense, they are from Germany, they don’t tour much and they have been through several different musical incarnations, from heavy metal to indie rock to something much more influenced by electronica. On Sunday night, I saw them play under their last complex incarnation, in all its glory, at the Fonda theater, in front of a attentive and quiet crowd,… Although the crowd was thin at the beginning of the evening, it soon grew bigger proving that more people than I have ever thought knew about them; probably because they have just released ‘Close to the Glass’ and joined the Sub Pop’s roster this year, probably because they have a cult following as many of these types of bands have.

The funny thing is that, back in November 2013, Sub Pop teased fans by announcing it had signed a mystery band and by releasing a very short song snippet made of a falsetto over some electronics,… which led 90 percent of people to guess they had signed Radiohead! It was ‘just’ The Notwist. This story tells a lot about their sound, although singer Markus Acher doesn’t keep this same falsetto all the time and doesn’t really sound like Thom Yorke otherwise.

By the way, Jel – alt hip hop producer, rapper and co-founder of indie label Anticon – was opening for them and he was hilarious. Musically, he was tapping on his beat pad as fast as he could have done it on a typewriter, while producing sound waves, drum beats and distorted noises, building what he kept calling ‘songs’. True, he was sometimes rapping along his gritty beats and samplings, but I must admit that it was his extremely funny and smart on-stage persona,  that I did enjoy the most. After listening to Jel who had encouraged everyone to steal music online — because after all nobody makes money anymore except people who work at Live Nation – the five members of The Notwist took the stage.

First, I had noticed a stage full of equipment (guitars, drum sets, keys, electronic pads, scratch decks,… ) and everyone looked right away very absorbed by the music, beginning with a super quiet and ambient soundscape, quite catchy but bringing unique bits of electronic weirdness. Now that I know a bit more about their bio, I can see why their multiple previous musical alleys could explain their complex compositions. They sounded sometimes very poppy with melancholic vocals, then they were escaping into explosive guitar-work mixed with synth-keys-electronics. I got a few times the Mogwai-fronted-by-Death-Cab-For-Cutie impression, but even this doesn’t completely define their sophisticated sound. There also was repetition, some krautrock-y feeling without being totally krautrock, these guys were definitively really hard to pigeonhole, and this is why they were interesting. Post-rock soundscapes, dark indie pop melodies, pulsing electro beats and abrupt freak-out orchestration, their music was multi-layered and multi genre, making the crowd vibrate and resonate at each of their musical detour.

I was new to The Notwist, hardly able to read anything on the tiny handwritten setlist hanging on one of their synths, so I was beginning to get lost, adventuring in new territories, which at the same time sounded vaguely familiar, not because I had heard them before, but because their atmospheric soundscapes were not too far away from that of Radiohead. There was indeed a certain connection when they played the title track of their last album ‘Close to the Glass’, with electronic glitches, infectious trance-like beats and mournful harmonies. Nevertheless, I didn’t get overall a strong Radiohead vibe during the show, The Notwist were about something else, and now that I think about it, they had also something from Grandaddy. In particular Markus Acher’s both emotional and detached vocals reminded me of Jason Lytle’s.

‘Kong’ was probably one of their catchiest songs with its falsetto and anthemic tendencies, while ‘7-Hour Drive’ was a furious fuzz fest with a violent start and a layered sound bringing guitar-chaos à la Built to Spill – yes Built to Spill was another indie band they reminded me of – and ‘Run Run Run’ sounded like a weird electronic lullaby, bringing unexpected noises, peaceful but sad harmonies dying in a krautrock-y melancholia.

Most of the time they looked like mad composers, almost each of them siting behind one of these several synths on stage, manipulating sounds while playing guitars or keys, and the most amazing part of their music was that, when you thought you had figured out a song, it was suddenly something else, going from intimate moments to rock-out stadium sound, stretching a song into a new level before letting it slowly die into a tempestuous cacophony.

There was an encore and they gave to their last songs an even more accentuated electronic dance beats, bringing energy and making people move. It was a memorable set, full of surprises as they seemed to reinvent their songs in the moment, and looking like the best kept secret from Germany.

Setlist
They Follow Me
Close to the Glass
Kong
Boneless
Into Another Tune
Pick Up the Phone
This Room
7-Hour Drive
Gloomy Planets
Run Run Run
Casino
Gravity

Encore
Neon Golden (Neon Golden)
Different Cars and Trains/Pilot

Pictures of the show here.


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