Gig review: faUst/James Yorkston

Edinburgh Summerhall, November 29

‘There’s a woman knitting in stage!’ I remark to my +1 as I find my way back from the bar.

‘It’s Edinburgh,’ he observes.

True. This is a city where if you think you’ve just seen a pink elephant, you probably have. Even outside of August. And it’s Faust (well, faUst). Thank God for bands and places that challenge our idea of what is normal.

The evening begins with support from a solo James Yorkston. If the Scottish singer-songwriter and the legendary German rockers seem an odd pairing on paper, in the flesh it actually works. Yorkston is shortly to release his twelfth studio album on Domino, and while he admits to being nervous about doing his first solo performance in nearly a year, he is warmly received by the crowd. Like Faust, of whom he has been a fan since hearing them on the John Peel show, he is a performer who knows how to connect with crowds. It’s both focused and spontaneous; he hadn’t planned to play ‘St. Patrick’ but when someone yells for it he does indeed perform it a couple of songs later (that person was me). He’s amassed a great body of work, and it’s great to hear songs like ‘When The Haar Rolls In’ up close and personal.

I’m not sure how our knitting heroine comes on stage, but when she clocks me staring at her puzzled, she meets my eye and carries on.

This version of faUst are so spelled to distinguish them from another version of the band touring known as Hans Irmler’s Faust. This version of the band are the original rhythm section Jean-Herve Peron on bass and drummer Werni ‘Zappi’ Diermaier, joined by a guitarist cum keyboardist and our mysterious knitter. Band come on, bow a bass and guitar, while ‘Zappi’ stands and plays drums with one arm, building to a glorious crescendo.

Peron may be a little eccentric but in a good way, for after a couple of numbers, he actually reads out a list of people to thank. Somehow this seems far more sincere and genuine than  so many others doing this. James Yorkston joins them for ‘Chromatic’ and the set provides a wonderful example of what make the band so beguiling.

Sure there’s the famous ‘motorik’ rhythm that they and other bands from the German scene of the seventies pioneered – proof that repetition is not a lack of ideas but somehow the enchantment of listeners. They mix it all up with samples, rhythms, drums, motorik, drills, sparks – yes you did read that right. Not bothering with health and safety Peron proceeds to use a drill or some device (I can’t quite see but it seems to be more to do with DIY of a Homebase sort than a selling cassette tapes to hipsters-in Hoxton type thing) which produces a huge amount of sparks that fail to unsettle our knitter, nor indeed to bother the crowd. One guy seems to be determined to catch them (seriously, who  needs drugs? There’s often enough weirdness in life to enliven normality). And that’s with vocals in English German and French, too.

The term ‘Krautrock’ has been much disputed – is it offensive? should we just say ‘German progressive rock?’ (Always so much more progressive and exciting than most of its British counterparts). Faust, of course, went so far as to name a track ‘Krautrock’ and open their very fine Faust IV album with it. Live it grooves and rocks harder than on record. And, as with their latest album Fresh Air, they finish with the meditation on the sea that is ‘Fish.’

There will be those who cannot see past the noise and sparks to understand how vital and energetic Faust always were. There were no cement mixers on stage tonight, but you sense that Messrs Zappi and Peron are still so far ahead of the pack. This is one pact you should be happy to make.

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