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2022-06-25

REYKJAVÍK - TŌKYŌ - BERLIN

A chronologically all over the place account of my trip to Berlin
from June 16th to June 19th 2022, 
including live shows by
BJÖRK, KIKAGAKU MOYO and QUARTET BERLIN-TOKYO
(plus MANU DELAGO and MONG TONG)



Yes, everybody is looking at you and we do judge you, guys! I'm talking to you, people in the most expensive seats of the Waldbühne Berlin! You can pay ninety+ Euros for your ticket but then not prepare yourself for sitting down for the duration of the show? I know, in a location which holds up to twenty-two thousand visitors I cannot expect everyone to stay on their seats all the time. But I'm sure most of you only had the luke-warmest reasons to run around.
Is it a petty complaint? Probably. But would you act the same way at a classical concert - what this orchestra show of Björk almost was anyway? Yeah, thought so. It's a luxury complaint, but this constant movement really becomes a nuisance when it happens right in your field of view and overpowers the relatively little visual action on stage. Good that this was a show better to indulge in with eyes closed anyway.

Alright, I'm shutting up about that now! There have been worse things on my little three day trip to Berlin. Like the hotel staff wanting to open my room door on early Sunday morning, while I was preparing to leave and then asking me if I had slept in that room. Yes, that's its purpose!

What was especially annoying about that incident was the inherent déjà vu. Because when I had tried to check in on Friday their system surprised me with not having me in it. And that's why you print out your reservation! Luckily the room was still available and the problem was ultimately solved. Only the Sunday morning crew didn't know anything about it and was worried that there might be an unregistered guest hanging himself in their room or something like that. Nah, I just wanted to drive home. At least they let me have breakfast one hour before it officially opened, so I could slide out of Berlin super smoothly.


Ok, already being near the western outskirts in Spandau also helped, I guess. The car transit from Kreuzberg to here on Friday on the other hand... That had really been the most annoying thing about the trip. So many closed streets my navigation system didn't know about... it piloted me to almost every corner of the government district in loops and circles, all behind a notoriously super slow camping van, whose driver obviously had the same problems. I almost felt like cancelling my standard tourist plans for later, because I had already been everywhere.


The only thing worse - so yes, finally the really most annoying thing - was paying thirty Euro for not even one whole day in the parking garage though. But I had known that and balanced it with a cheaper hostel room (without its own bath room) than I would usually book. The place had a lot of Lokalkolorit with a view into a typical yard at least.

It probably also falls under the category of local colour, that taking this picture...


... required to find an unpaved passage between construction site fences, which looked like this:


So tourist-friendly, haha.


But why even stay in two different places? Well, as you might suspect the Björk show was my initial reason to visit the capital, just two years earlier of course. I held on to the ticket through two postponements, changing my hotel reservation just one city train stop away in Spandau accordingly.

Meanwhile Kikagaku Moyo announced that 2022 would be their last active year and I was sad, not only because of the fact itself, but also because their farewell tour didn't come anywhere even remotely near to my home. Other than Björk, who I have never witnessed on stage, despite being a fan since the early Nineties, I had at least seen the Japanese band four times since 2018 (including their jam with Earthless at Roadburn Festival), so I filed it under well, not meant to happen I guess and moved on...

...until a couple of weeks ago, when the Taiwanese mystery duo Mong Tong was announced as their support act and I suddenly realized that the Berlin show was just one day before Björk. And since I had already missed the rare chance of finally seeing Dead Can Dance just one day before Roadburn in the Netherlands this year (had I only know about that!), I sure as hell would take this opportunity!

My hostel for the extra night was only a couple of minutes from the famous Oberbaumbrücke and the East Side Gallery, which gave me the chance to explore this surrounding Kiez a little in the afternoon before the psychedelic rock show, as well as in the next morning, when the summer heat threw me out of bed very early.








MONG TONG 夢東

But back to the night prior now, where the Festsaal Kreuzberg, which holds up to thousand visitors, was already packed, when Mong Tong started!
Less based  on samples and field recordings than on their WV Sorcerer debut album "台灣謎景 Music from Taiwan Mystery", the duo's setup with bass, guitar, keyboards and a little bit of further electronics was more representative of this years' release "Orientations 向位", even though I'm not sure if they even played tunes from that one.
To my knowledge this first European tour of the experimental band was also the first time they relied that much on rock-oriented instruments, Mong Tong didn't exactly freak out wildly or something like that, yet rather manifested a relaxed Far-Eastern mood. All their pieces were based on steady, often even a bit funky bass lines over minimal electronic beats and the alternation of folkloristic keys and khruangbin style guitar licks as textures on top of it. This was neither action-packed nor a noticable display of showmanship - the two musicians playing with red blindfolds through the whole show pretty much covered that aspect -, but it was oozing with atmosphere and perfectly set up the stage for the headliner of the night. So Mong Tong really were a support act in the best sense of the word, providing a great overture and rounding up the dramaturgy of the night as a whole.

The only thing that bothered me about the show a little was the mystery, why chatty friends, who haven't met for a while, cannot chose a better spot for their conversations than in front of the stage. Seriously guys, from time to time that behaviour began to border on disrespectfulness. 



  




MANU DELAGO

The open air show at Waldbühne Berlin would see a similarly fitting support act building the atmospheric foundation for the main act.
Visually Manu Delago as a solo artist of course got pretty much lost in the scale of the stage and the whole giant amphi-theatrical place, and also musically he didn't have the full attention of the crowd, since a lot of people were still arriving, while most of the ranks were filling up. If I had to estimate Björk was later performing in front of between eightteen and twenty-thousand fans.

Right now we were still listening to instrumentals which already sounded quite björkish though, which was no wonder, since the main instruments where hang (don't call them drums!) "drums", which she has used several times -  performed by Manu Delago, who has also been her live drummer for ten years and hundreds of shows now. Tonight, as he pointed out, was the first time however he would actually be watching a Björk show without participating.
His own "steel drummy" percussive / electronic performance was just the right attunement for it, even though the break afterwards seemed painfully long, given that there wasn't much work to be done on stage. The only track of his show I found to be a little dragging was the cover of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game", which just missed the lead voice too much.



Speaking of voice...

BJÖRK
+ RUNDFUNK-SINFONIEORCHESTER BERLIN

Just how damn out of this world and magical is Björk?

I know, I'm not breaking news here. Personally I have been a fan of the Icelandic legend for decades, but never made it to see her live. Until now. Finally!

The show was fully orchestral, the only Icelandic people on stage were the singer herself, clad in a big extravagant outfit, and her conductor. The instrumentation consisted exclusively of strings, played by approximately thirty members of the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin.
Under these conditions is was no surprise that the setlist contained a lot of tracks from her string-heavy albums "Vulnicura" and "Homogenic". These albums made over half of the songs and gave a good contrast of popular hits like "Hunter", "Jóga" and "Bachelerotte" and more difficult material like "History Of Touches" or even the towering, neverending bleakness of "Black Lake". As this piece went on you could spot the old-school fans, who wanted to end it by applause at several of its long breakdowns.

But Björk had more classics in her repertoire. "Isobel", "Come To Me", "Hyperballad" were all highly welcome, just like the rarely performed "I've Seen It All" from "Selmasongs". The "Overture" from that album was also present and the logical choice as the first encore of the show, giving the orchestra a spot to shine without the singer.
"Aurora" being the only track from "Vespertine" surprised me a little bit, especially since "Pagan Poetry" would have been one of my dream songs to hear. But well, I need reasons to see her again, right?

"Pluto" as finale was a weird choice, but good weird and for sure something that stuck in your head for a while.

The effortless otherworldniness and unique class of Björk's vocal performance is beyond any description I could possibly come up with. It's absolutely breathtaking how good she has preserved her voice. And the emotions it carried (as if you could really seperate them from the technical quality), amplified by the highly dynamic orchestral arrangements, were also just mesmerizing.
It was astonishing how intimate and personal this show could get, as Björk poured her heart and soul out in fron of this huge crowd.

As a music lover who normally avoids events of this size, I must admit that the Waldbühne is quite a cozy place - for what it is. Due to that high dynamic and probably also noise restrictions for this open air stage, it for sure was easy to talk over the performance. Luckily that didn't happen near my seat.
So it was only the aforementioned pee and beer movements (or whatever reasons people had to get up and run around), which sometimes had to be blinded out by closing my eyes.

With the weather being fantastic on top of it all, this was a magical night, which will stay with me for a long long time.





Since I was staying until Sunday morning, I had looked for one more show to attend in Berlin on Saturday night, and it was rather a coincidence that I would dig even deeper into the rabbit hole of strings, because a classical string quartet was playing in the Zitadelle Spandau, which was only a twenty minute walk away from my hotel.

Already on Friday, before Björk and before the chaotic check-in, I had been to the historic district of Berlin-Spandau and to the citadel during the daytime. I was a tourist here after all and why would I pass the opportunity to take a look at these castle grounds, which included the view from the Julius Tower, which is the oldest building of Berlin?




I just had one little problem when I returned there for the concert. The whole day had been cooking under temperatures over thirty degrees Celsius and I had been back to the city with the train to explore all the usual tourist shit - or as much as I could at least.

The one thing I learned about Berlin (Before you ask: Yes, I unbelievably have indeed only been there once before over twenty years ago!), is that you kind of know everything beforehand. Berlin has such a strong presence in culture and media that your head is already filled with all the sights and clichés. And everywhere you look one of them just pops out.
When I left the train station and chose a random direction to go first, I soon landed on the Museum Island, where you can find one collonade, which has been used for countless TV productions, photographs and so on... and of course I'm spotting a photographer and his nude model there. Because of course.

And even without more incidents of such specific nature the familiarity was all around. Even the traffic-light man, which is different than in civilized Germany didn't seem too exotic, probably because one supermarket I regularly frequent uses the same signs at their checkout.




You can guess my problem now, right?

Even with a shower and a couple of hours rest in my hotel room, I was still very tired and exhausted, when I walked back to the Spandau Citadel.







QUARTET BERLIN-TOKYO
(Well, it wasn't the environment to take pictures of the actual concert.)


So here I was, in the strange unfamiliar world of the weird unwritten applause customs and rituals during a classical concert and I could barely keep my eyes open without my mind wandering to all the useless random places.
Had this been a doom metal show, a psychedlic jam or a free jazz freakout, I would have just given in to sleep and let the music work their magic in that weird space between realities. The shows of Zaäar and the Martina Verhoeven Quintet at this year's Roadburn Festival had even been enhanced by my exhaustion. But given that I didn't want to look like the completely uncultured lowbrow in this setting, I was constantly fighting and thus experiencing the whole performance in a flux between intellectual and surreal perception, while repeatedly having to pull myself back into the here and now.

But despite my ridiculous inner struggle the performance of the Quartet Berlin-Tokyo itself still managed to seriously impress me. Even as a classical noob, it was more than obvious that Ruiko Matsumoto (violoncello), Gregor Hrabar (viola), Tsuyoshi Miriya and Dimitri Pavlov (both violin) had some serious chops to show off and chosen some challenging and often quite mindblowing pieces to perform. It was Joseph Haydn's "Streichquartett D-Dur op. 33 Nr. 6) and the more obscure and for my ears atmospherically even more interesting "Streichquartett Nr. 5 D-Dur" by Kurt Hausschildt before a break, and as a stunning second half Ludwig van Beethoven's "Streichquartett B-Dur op. 130" and the especially ambitious "Streichquartett B-Dur op. 133 Große Fuge" as a finale.

Boy, am I glad that you got a programme, because otherwise what could I even have written here other than that it was really interesting and impressive - and that I was still way too tired for it?

Yes, this chamber quartet concert had proven to be a musically exciting ride, even though the stiff culture around it probably demands some habituation. The natural sound of the venue, being the Gothic Hall of the Citadel, should also be mentioned. It's always something, when you can just put some instruments into room without any amplification and it sounds just amazing.

I guess I should definitely try something similar again under more reasonable circumstances.







While this had been my last date in Berlin, there's of course still one show missing in this badly structured write-up. So lets close the circle and go back from Gotischer Saal der Zitadelle Spandau to Festsaal Kreuzberg!



KIKAGAKU MOYO 幾何学模様

What the crowd was about to witness aftter the break following Mong Tong was a masterclass on leaving on a high note. It seems almost unfathomable that a band on Kikagaku Moyo's level of chemistry and popularity can even consider calling the quits, but here we were on their farewell tour. I have seen the Japanese krautrock wizards before and all their shows had been frenetically celebrated trips of pure musical joy.

This group is remarkably beloved among its fans and nothing in the world could show the reason for it better than this show. How this band can change gears, be it in a subtle dynamic flow or by suddenly throwing you into completely different grooves and intensities, all in a very distinct way, is just sheer bliss to behold. From sugary sweet odditities to Indian-Japanese psych funk to explosive rock excesses. Kikagaku Moyo's mixture of these elements makes them one of the greatest live bands of our time.

Appropriate for this tour the setlist featured all their albums, including the new masterpiece "Kumoyo Island" (already reviewed by me on VeilofSound.com) with the wild "Cardboard Pile" or the Yīn Yīn disco style "Dancing Blue". The album was also tempting in black vinyl at the merch table, but alas I've already pre-ordered the colour variant and will excercise some patience.

It's hard to do that, because right now I cannot even listen to the stream on my computer without the risk of everything freezing. Already renewed some hardware and the problem still isn't solved. It's a shitshow. And also the course for this post coming a couple of days later than intended.
And I doubt that anyone will even read this far, haha. If you're nice maybe you can tell me that you did, I'd really appreciate that.

I'd also appreciate it if Kikagaku Moyo didn't disband after this year, but on the other hand I have seen them five times now and collected enough special memories to let the band go in peace. Thank you for the awesome music!








Ehm, ok... Here it is! The really finally seriously worst thing about the weekend: I got the Deutsche Bahn 9-Euro-Ticket. And I spend too much money by doing so!

I used the city train to get get from the hotel to Björk and back. But those rides were already included in the ticket for the show.
Then I got from Spandau to the city and back, which would have also been possible with a BVG daily ticket. And that only costs 8,80 Euro. Damn.