Wim Wenders’ 1987 film Wings of Desire features a scene that both crystallizes the Berlin underground of the 1980s and also acts as a strong example of live music as religious experience. In terms of danger and feeling, Crime and the City Solution’s rendition of “Six Bells Chime” manages to overshadow even Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ performance of “From Her to Eternity” later in the film. Crime frontman Simon Bonney may exude a similar devil man/holy man presence as Cave, but his movements seem more controlled by other powers, his presentation more mysterious; during the reunited Crime and the City Solution’s show at Music Hall of Williamsburg on October 22, Bonney moved little and spoke less. He and the side men and women making up this Crime and the City Solution incarnation seemed overcome by the music and images they were creating, the results of which amounted to an entrancing evening of sight and sound.
Thanks to coming up at the same time and in the same region as the aforementioned Cave, Crime and the City Solution have been consistently overlooked in their time as an equally dark, passionate band. A similar appreciation for the American South either musically or thematically and some shared affiliates—not to mention both acts recruiting members of Einsturzende Neubauten for guitar dexterity—could lead some to view Crime and the City Solution as a lesser version of the Bad Seeds. Although there are a number of reasons for which this supposition is a false one, in a live setting both groups reveal their professionalism in very different ways.
Music Hall of Williamsburg’s stage that October night was populated by eight individuals, each one a master of his or her trade. There was a crazed violinist (longtime Crime member Bronwyn Adams), a wallflower bassist (The Witches’ Troy Gregory), an enigmatic guitarist (Alexander Hacke of Einstürzende Neubauten), an intimidating drummer (Jim White, on loan from the Dirty Three), a nonchalant keyboardist (Bonney collaborator Matthew Smith), an enraptured projectionist (Daniella di Picciotto), David Eugene Edwards (otherwise known as Wovenhand), and Bonney himself. In such an exhausting repertoire of talent, it’s hard for one person to stand out, but Hacke narrowly earned the night’s MVP title through maintaining a dastardly air at all times, even when introducing the other seven band members and throwing out a winking “see you at the merch table!” at the end of the night (he really did come down to the merch table).
Fresh intensity breathed life into older songs, such as set opener “The Bride Ship”. Although the newly released An Introduction To…—a Crime and the City Solution primer, if one overlooks the fact that no Room of Lights songs are on it—is a decent enough compilation, on record the songs still sound somewhat thin. In the live setting, all musicians play loud enough to give a sense of fullness without resorting to overwhelming an audience with noise. The added element of projections also worked in the set’s favor, with familiar album cover images being plucked out of context and planted somewhere more unsettling. For newer songs, of which the band played three, photographs of dilapidated homes and other reminders of the current state of the country (for a new song entitled “American Twilight”) were employed.
Although the respectably-sized crowd remained enthusiastic throughout, the set’s middle, particularly Bonney’s country tribute “I Have the Gun”, and end won attendees over; there were no gimmicks or fan service gestures to be found here, just powerful music unfolding in a mighty way. “The Last Dictator (I and II)” was especially soulful, with a brief but endearing back and forth between Bonney and wife Adams, who played her violin as if she were wholly possessed by it. Bonney’s presence, as always, seemed to take on a similarly otherworldly quality. His hand gestures and general otherworldliness seem more shamanistic or soothsayer than preacherman or orator.
Upon returning to the stage after an encore break, the band broke into “Six Bells Chime”. Although the act of recalling an indelible moment from the past threatens to be a bad decision on a seasoned band’s part, little was felt to be lacking in this case. With the band’s plans to release new material next year comes the hope of a larger US tour. Crime and the City Solution may not have as strong of a congregation as some of their Australian peers, but this hardly makes them less genuine. With hope, a few more converts will show their faces next time around.