NEW YORK, NY—A brisk and damp Friday night on Manhattan’s East 23rd Street saw a collection of die-hard industrial music fans gather outside the Gramercy Theater to worship one of the earliest and most eccentric pioneers in the style, the English band, Nitzer Ebb, on tour to promote their new album named—what else?—Industrial Complex.
Dating back to the genesis of the industrial scene around 1983, these boys present a theatrical image in keeping with their weirdly unique brand of music, complete with pseudo-Germanic and pseudo-militaristic affectations.
In that sense they resemble another band from that era, Laibach, known also for counterfeit German and military affectations. One major difference is that while Laibach worked from revisionist versions of cover songs, Nitzer Ebb does mainly original material consisting of harsh, repetitive, mantra-like lyrics shouted over pitiless electronic percussion and the absence of melody. The very name, Nitzer Ebb is an enigma, evoking a kind of dismal, hard feeling, but with no particular meaning, and in fact, no consistent pronunciation.
They have managed to maintain a surprisingly high profile, touring with such big names as Depeche Mode and contributing to the soundtrack of a recent horror flick, Saw VI.
In Nitzer Ebb’s heyday, frontman Douglas McCarthy used to appear in military jodhpur pants and knee-high jackboots, but this night he greeted the New York crowd warmly, in shades, a suit, white shirt and tie, and in stark contrast with the punkish bandanas, mohawks and construction-booted attire of the audience.
The show opened with the rapidly paced “Promises” from the 1989 album Belief. Next, “Let Your Body Learn” from 1987’s “That Total Age,” similar in style, followed. Dancing, gyrating and strutting around frenetically on stage seems to have kept McCarthy in superb shape.
“Shame” from the 2006 compilation Body Of Work had a funkier rhythm but increased the brutality index. “Lightning Man,” too, had a sinister sound, emphasized by the hollow, deep, clangy bass-line heard on much of their music, and was livened up with a repeated jazz riff that sounded like it came from a robotic clarinet.
McCarthy’s jacket came off as the performance intensified with song after song featuring their ruthlessly repetitious signature sound. The crowd seemed intoxicated with McCarthy’s angry, barking lyrics and the mesmerizing, motorized cadences. “Godhead” had McCarthy growling to a rapid-fire swing beat.
Gramercy Theater provided a spectacular light show throughout the hour-long concert of around 15 songs, through “Murderous” and “Control I’m Here,” to the climactic closing piece, for which this band is best known, “Join In The Chant.” After a brief intermission, they returned for two more songs climaxing with the finale, “I Give To You.”
Nitzer Ebb certainly pleased the audience with their unique formula of maniacally repeating brutal lyrics (“lies, lies, lies, lies…guns, guns, guns, guns!”) over monotonous, thumping mechanical rhythms.