One day, this was about a decade ago, I got a call from Mick Farren, the hard-living British rocker/journalist and counterculture legend who was at that time writing a TV review column for the LA City Beat.
“Mick! How are you? I was just reading about you in the new MOJO.”
“That fucking Pink Floyd thing?”
I grunted in the affirmative. Mick was the doorman at the UFO Club in the 60s, the acid-drenched psychedelic London nightspot where the Floyd, Soft Machine and his own group The Deviants, had gotten their starts.
“That article was really depressing. Written by someone in their twenties who wasn’t even born then, who got it ALL WRONG and then it gets published in the glossy pages of the high-falutin’ MOJO magazine and now it’s the official fucking history. It’s all wrong, of course, but now that’s the way it bloody was!”
“We’re talking about an event that took place 40 years ago, and most of the participants are still alive and they can’t even get it right. Imagine if we happened to be a pre-literate desert-dwelling tribal society relying on oral histories being passed down for hundreds of years? How accurate can the Bible possibly be if MOJO is this bad?”
I’ve never forgotten that conversation. This morning, I was reading Einstürzende Neubauten’s Wikipedia page when I came to this bit, about their third North American tour, taking place in 1986:
On the tour, the group’s experimental and improvised live performance style occasionally caused difficulties with venue management and law enforcement. A performance at The Palladium in Manhattan ended 30 minutes into the set after an improvised pyrotechnics display. The band ignited lighter fluid in a couple of metal pans, and management stopped the performance and cleared the venue.
This is inaccurate, and hardly descriptive of one of the more notable—not to mention completely insane—concert going experiences of my life. It doesn’t even mention the date, which was May 29, 1986. In the spirit of historical accuracy—at least to a certain extent—here’s what I remember about that night…
Neubauten’s gig was part of the Palladium’s “Midnight Concerts” series (Tuxedomoon had played the cavernous nightclub the week prior). I’d already seen them play before and knew that you wanted to be right up front to properly appreciate what they did. Neubauten’s shows were intense. Demonic. Scary. Violent and very, very unpredictable. The only group who could rival them in the evil onstage astonishment sweepstakes was the Butthole Surfers and only them. If you were too close to the stage at a Neubauten gig, there was an ever present danger that you could get hurt, like being in the audience at a Survival Research Laboratories event. And not just from a flying hammer or power drill. The members of the band themselves seemed more than potentially homicidal and glowered with a murderous hatred towards the audience, especially F.M. Einheit (“Mufti”) the muscle-bound Hulk-like percussionist who looked like he could break a heavy chain with his bare bands. Or your wimpy eggshell skull. Their stage act at the time might’ve appeared to the uninitiated like a leather clad speedfreak who’d cut his own hair with a knife screaming his head off like a dying hyena as some of his miscreant Kraut buddies banged on metal, plunked elevator cables like giant bass strings and hurled around chainsaws—and they would be correct to a certain extent—but in actual fact, Neubauten make a kind of harsh modern classical music for the late 20th Century, the druggy progeny of Karlheinz Stockhausen and Faust.
What a thrillingly savage thing it was to witness.
I was no more than three to six people back from the front of the stage, which, it being a discotheque, was not very high off the ground and so I could see everything—the action and all their weird equipment and infernal gear—from where I was standing. (Club MTV was shot there at this time, so if you have a memory of that show, then you know what the Palladium looked like inside. It was the same stage on the main dancefloor.) The Wikipedia entry says that Neubauten played but half an hour before being yanked off by the club’s management, but this is not how it happened at all.
First, they played an entire set. They did closer to 90 minutes and the “riot” happened at the very end. They pulled the pin out when they wanted to. That part, at least, was planned ahead, for right before they walked offstage and I don’t think they had any intention of doing an encore.
There was something else they didn’t plan for: During their set a young woman of what used to be called the “yuppie” persuasion did something pretty outrageous. The rise of Manhattan’s “young urban professional” class was by then starting to push bohemian downtowners out of the cheap neighborhoods, but they were still a novelty to a certain extent, in a nightclub until the massive Palladium was forced to offer a more egalitarian door policy and let in anyone with money.
This chick was in her late twenties, with blonde flipped-back, 80s looking, curling iron-styled hair. A string of pearls, a cardigan—conservative clothes—she was not someone hip. Apparently a WASP “good girl” to look at her. Her four male companions were all basically Wall Street types and around the same age. You can only imagine what the audience of an Einstürzende Neubauten concert looked like in 1985. They were starkly out of place, and stood out like particularly uncool sore thumbs in their khakis, button-down collar shirts and blue blazers drinking, as all good yuppies did then, Rolling Rock beer.
They must have been quite drunk, or at least she was, because at about the midpoint of the show, overcome by the darkly pagan ritual she was witnessing she climbed onto the stage, with Mufti’s help, and started dancing around taking her clothes off as the band played. She took her sweater off, then her blouse and then her bra before one of her friends, after much nervous deliberation (remember what I said about how homicidal the band seemed) got up the nerve to jump onto the stage, covering her with his jacket and whisking her back into the audience.
Keep reading after the jump…