NEW YORK, NY—Laibach performed at the Fillmore, previously known as Irving Plaza, on the local stop of what one can only hope is their last-ever tour. Once an industrial music giant with such unique power and influence as to have actually hastened the break-up of the nation of Yugoslavia, Laibach has become a mere parody of itself. In that sense, parody of a parody.
In the bad old days of the Cold War, before the dissolution of the USSR, Yugoslavia was a stand-alone fascistic, Marxist conglomerate of five or six captive Slavic nations, a sort of mini-USSR under the rule of their own Stalinist dictator, Marshall Tito. Laibach was part of a Slovenian art movement that helped provoke rebelliousness against the regime by reinterpreting popular music (they were above all, a cover band) with bombastic, militaristic style. Knowing observers realized they were subversively mocking the totalitarian forms they were mimicking with their glorification of the state, the nation and the soil. But it was too clever for the communist authorities to see through or, in any event, to censor or suppress.
Unfortunately, in its declining third decade, Laibach by now has grossly overplayed that one theme, namely pretending to celebrate militarism and nationalism in order to oppose them. They have dwindled down to just one original member, Milan Fras, the front-man with the ultra-deep bass voice and a female vocalist whose talent is wasted on ineffectively groping for non-existent melodies. Having abandoned the practice of covering and reinterpreting other people’s songs, they clearly are not up to the task of writing original music.
As a means of disguising their boring, percussive music, they have created an elaborate background show, also uninspired, featuring paired screens on which are projected various, mostly uninteresting images of flags, symbols, words and, stupidly, the film credits for two ‘60s-era, black and white Italian movies.
Doors were at 8 p.m. There were no opening bands. Instead the audience of nostalgia-seeking industrial music freaks was made to stand around until 9:45 p.m. at which time the filler videos and DJ music stopped. What followed was another 20 tedious minutes of outright, intentional abuse: Being forced to stare at an empty stage and listen to bombastic, Slavic, martial choral songs—-seven in all!
Next was the “Star-Spangled Banner,” played straight yet with hidden contempt, displaying the American flag in video on two screens with its stars replaced by the new Laibach symbol, a stylized, winged letter “V” which would appear again and again in the graphics throughout the show.
Their entrance on stage was a shocking disappointment for those expecting the familiar cadre of uniformed, stone-faced musicians. Only the charismatic Milan Fras, bearded and wearing his signature headdress, is left of the original group, accompanied by a turbaned female vocalist, Mina Spiler, plus a drummer and some electronic accompanists.
Laibach’s work remains reasonably relevant and retains some merit only when addressing the political and cultural issues of the Slavic peoples. Two songs in the show did just that, but of these, only one, “Rossiya,” succeeded in bringing back that brilliant, ambiguous irony when, with mock-sincerity, Laibach sings of the peoples of Eastern Europe as “united and free in great Mother Russia’s embrace.” Coincidentally, it is the only song with a memorable melody.
There wasn’t much irony, and even less insight, when Laibach stumbled far out of their element to perform abstruse audiovisual critiques of the U.S.A., Israel, China, Japan, Italy and Spain, using that same worn-out ploy: Faked admiration. Thus they parodied Spanish pride over conquistadores and they made oblique reference to Mussolini’s plans for a resurgent Rome. Is this stuff supposed to be relevant? China got ridiculed with the slogan “Arise,” repeated endlessly. And Japan’s lame spoof had something to do with a wavering image of the sun on the two screens. You get the idea: “Nationalism is bad.” We hear you.