[31 May 2011]
A birthday finale at the end of a concert is pretty routine — when you’re crammed into a bus eleven months out of the year, a “happy birthday” sing-a-long is probably the best a touring musician is gonna do. But at a Rammstein show, you’d figure the traditional celebrations would be left to commoners; lit birthday candles are mere child’s play compared to the G.I. Joe fireworks and dazzling pyrotechnics that notoriously dominate a performance from the German nu metal industrialists.
Not to be outdone, birthday honoree and drummer Christoph “Doom” Schneider threw his champagne glass to the ground, marking a blazing end to an incredible hour-plus performance that included in no short order: LED-lit clown masks, chainsaws, simulated sex play, steam explosions, fireworks, rifles, sequin jumpsuits, gasoline, laserlights, falling baby dolls, treadmills, an inflatable boat, red cannons and soapy confetti, and FIRE.
With rings of green flames to combustible mouthpieces to boomerang lines of fire that ricocheted over the heads of the audience from towers onstage and behind the sound booth, it’s no wonder that fans have tagged the band with “other bands play, Rammstein burns!”. To even think what the insurance rider would be on a Rammstein show… But to get a tangible idea of the massive setup, fans pointed out the 18 semi trucks lined in the parking lot. Those same fans left the Allstate Arena on cloud nine having witnesses a show that could marvel the deepest recesses of Dante’s ninth circle.
Rammstein pride themselves on being showstoppers. Possibly even heart stoppers - as the Gestapo-looking line of medic and peace officers circulating the outside corridors would have you believe. What could be seen by novices as a horror show is actually just the perfection of the craft of suspense and indulgence. For a band that sings predominantly in their native German tongue, it is an unfathomable feat to be able to sway the attention of their English speaking audiences for 90 minutes. With no subtitles, the only context in a Rammstein show is derived from the maniacal stage antics and gestures, and to turn away even for 30 seconds would be a great pity to fully appreciating the whole package.
From their inception in 1994, Rammstein (named for the famed German airbase and site of the second deadliest airshow disaster in history) is one of the few bands who can claim retention of their original lineup: vocalist Till Lindemann, lead guitarist Richard Z. Kruspe, rhythm guitarist Paul H. Landers, bassist Oliver Riedel, keyboardist Christian “Flake” Lorenz, and aforementioned drummer Schneider. In total, they’ve sold over 15 million records worldwide with their popularity crossing over American borders when Trent Reznor chose two songs, “Heirate mich” and the eponymous track for inclusion on the soundtrack to David Lynch’s Lost Highway. Shortly after, the sextet began a national trek with Korn on the 1998 Family Values tour only to then find themselves in the midst of a scandal as the band was booked on an indecency charge for a simulated sodomy act in Massachusetts — perhaps one of the reasons the band has not returned to the states in nearly 10 years.
After a one-off show at Madison Square Garden in December 2010 sold-out in nearly 15 minutes, the band added more dates including this Chicago stop to the delight of hardcore devotees. In the 10 years that have passed, Rammstein have only pushed the limits of their show even farther, Lindemann is now a licensed pyrotechnician and more composed sentimentalist whose thundering baritone is as deep as the thought put behind the execution of his lyrics. In one of the evening’s more subtle yet equally evocative moments, Lindemann bent down over an antique Victrola lit by an accented living room lamp and serenaded the audience against a Metropolis-utopian background that bemoaned the cresting downfall of modern man. Rammstein’s songs, although foreign in tongue, all express formed opinions on real-time events such as the Iraq War, America’s superfluous consumption, and the vast history of Eastern Europe.
As this performance proved, there is hardly another living band that puts on a more thrilling performance without toeing the line of ridiculousness. From the opening sequence of “Rammstein” where the sextet literally claws their way on stage to the final moments of “Engel”, which features Lindemann bearing inflamed angel wings before poetically receding into a deep downstairs cavern, Rammstein proved there is much more than birthdays to celebrate, but rather a second coming that is even greater than the first.