It’s funny: Based on the standard reaction I get from almost everyone to whom I mention German industrial metal band Rammstein – mostly a few rapid chants of the outfit’s lone stateside (kinda) hit, 1997’s “Du Hast” – you’d think the sextet’s popularity petered out before the turn of the millennium.
Yet, given the massive American audiences the group has attracted while touring behind the retrospective Made in Germany 1995-2011 – including the diverse throng that turned out for a crushing coup at Honda Center on Thursday, a year after a Forum blast that marked Rammstein’s first Southern California appearance in a decade – it’s clear there’s still plenty of fuel behind this fire.
Fuel and fire were undoubtedly keywords for this Anaheim gig: the band’s vocalist, Till Lindemann, is a licensed pyrotechnics expert, so some sort of explosion or fiery stunt permeated nearly every song on the set list.
Sure, there were plenty of devotees (of German origin or otherwise) who knew all the words and sang along heartily throughout the performance. But it’s really the grand display – a meticulously orchestrated and executed metal opera, complete with frequent set changes and theatrics as comical as they are shocking – that accounted for Rammstein’s ability to continuously captivate the crowd this night.
Considering everything that went down, it’s hard to determine which memorable moments to single out first. Sparks were (literally) flying from the get-go, initially from the sides of a giant, sci-fi-style steel bridge, which the band crossed during the intro after it was lowered from the ceiling and spanned the space between a mid-floor platform and the main stage area.
Next, during the pleasantly melodic chorus of opening track “Sonne,” alternating flame plumes burst from both the floor and ceiling. On to the third track, “Wollt ihr das Bett in Flammen sehen?” – translation: “Do you want to see the bed in flames?” – which began with a deafening firecracker burst and finished with Lindemann twirling two spark-flinging devices while keyboardist Christian “Flake” Lorenz hammered home some of the evening’s most manic sound effects (to coincide with his own zany, treadmill-enhanced shuffle).
Most impressive among the production’s many fantastic features were the red, blue and silver (substituted for white) confetti blasters for the finale of the sardonic “Amerika” and a run-through of “Mein Teil” bolstered by Lindemann, in a soiled chef’s hat, wielding a flame-throwing Gatling gun that he used to jokingly attempt to torch Lorenz, who was situated with a keyboard inside a giant metal cauldron on wheels. Toward the night’s end, the frontman donned giant, metal, fire-spurting angel wings for the encore’s appropriately titled kickoff, “Engel.”
Still, though spectacle played a significant role, there were many purely musical elements that impressed in their own right – like the Guns N’ Roses-inspired heroics of monstrously muscular axemen Richard Kruspe and Paul Landers on the rousing hard-rock intros of “Ashes to Ashes” and “Du riechst so gut,” or Lorenz’s undisturbed composure during his solo on “Du Hast” as Lindemann playfully flung water bottles in his direction. Drummer Christoph “Doom” Schneider provided militant pounding for “Links 2-3-4”; the mightily impressive chug of bassist Oliver Riedel drove fans into a moshing frenzy while the band performed “Mann gegen Mann” from a raised platform situated at center ice.
Then there was the band’s run-through of “Ohne dich” on that same downsized stage, a mournful love song driven by Lorenz’s soaring key lines and Lindemann’s sorrowful yet genuinely pretty crooning. That proved the band’s deftness at finding gentle finesse within their generally bone-crunching catalog. Yet, though the music was enjoyable on its own, even that show-within-a-show portion was preceded by a dramatic bit that underscored the band’s shock-value antics packed with undertones of anti-censorship.
The group reached that mini-stage, for instance, via the same bridge that started the show – only this time they were on their hands and knees, bound by collars, harnesses and masks, and whip-led by Schneider, who donned a Little Bo Peep getup, replete with flowery dress and curly blonde wig.
It was a blatant reenactment of the highly controversial 2004 video for “Mein Teil,” where a similarly cross-dressed Schneider holds the other five members by leashes as they roll in the mud. Parallel to that scene – made even more explicit by Lindemann grinding the backside of Lorenz as he crawled in front of him – was a message to harsh critics: this band’s sense of artistic irony will not be limited by conventions of taste.
To drive that point home, at the show’s climax Lindemann mounted and straddled a hulking, pink-toned canon on wheels, which unrelentingly soaked audience members with thick, white foam as it rolled from one end of the stage to the other.
That finale was a bit jarring even for my forgiving mind. But that also suggests Rammstein achieved its goal here. Lindemann and Lorenz were once jailed overnight in Worcester, Mass., after using a liquid-ejecting marital aid on stage. Thursday night’s production was essentially that stunt on a much larger scale, amounting to a big middle finger toward authorities.
Old-guard music fans may balk at all that. But nearly two decades in, Rammstein’s unblinking daring has made them a must-see wonder of contemporary music – an unbeatable sex- and metal-infused Cirque du Soleil.
Setlist: Rammstein at Honda Center, Anaheim, May 17, 2012
Main set: Intro / Sonne / Wollt ihr das Bett in Flammen sehen? / Keine Lust / Sehnsucht / Asche zu Asche / Feuer frei! / Mutter / Mein Teil / Du riechst so gut / Links 2-3-4 / Du hast / Haifisch
B-stage set: Bück dich / Mann gegen Mann / Ohne dich
First encore: Mein Herz brennt / Amerika / Ich will
Second encore: Engel / Pussy
Original source: Orange County Register
Photo and review: David Hall