I can remember hearing Nitzer Ebb for the first time in the late 80’s. Someone had left a copy of “That Total Age” in my car. I didn’t know what to think initially. It was raw, sexual, aggressive and minimalist. As the years followed, the albums grew in texture and a variety of styles and sounds from the MTV industrial rock track “Godhead” into a live band sound “Flood Water” and then a more polished mixture “Down On Your Knees”. There have been countless remixes, side projects and the often overlooked EP “As Is”.
I interviewed them on the “Industrial Complex” tour ten years ago in New Orleans, La (see this article to read more on that). I drove to Houston, Texas to catch up with them and see how their live show had evolved.
Bon Harris and Douglas McCarthy performed without David Gooday and Simon Granger as they were not able join due to visa issues. Hopefully we’ll see them on the next leg of the US tour when they return from Europe in September. The lack of personnel didn’t impact the performance in the slightest. Daniel Meyer set the mood with a complimentary and mood provoking set under the moniker Liebknecht. He transitioned through his set seamlessly with the occasional vocals setting the stage for the men from Chelmsford.
Doug and Bon took the stage shortly after Liebknecht with “Come Alive.” In retrospect, I don’t think they could’ve picked a better song to start with as the slow groove set the mood for what was to come. Doug prowled the front of the stage delivering the lyrics with conviction while Bon manned the helm of the Nitzer Ebb musical command station in the center of the stage. He alternated between digital percussion, triggered samples, filters, and a selection of other electronic equipment and instruments.
The set ranged from “That Total Age” (1987 3 songs), “Belief” (1988 4 songs), “As Is” (1991 1-2 songs if you include Family Man) and Ebb Head (1991 3 songs). Curiously, no songs from any later albums or side projects were played.
The choice and combination of songs proved to be a perfect representation of the songs Nitzer Ebb are most known for.
The set continued with “Ascend” followed by “Blood Money” and didn’t stop. What followed was almost a medley of sorts. They performed across songs without pause or announcement. Familiar synth sounds, drum beats and samples initialized the transitions as their heavy beat flowed out of the speakers and kept the energy of the set consistent. I kept thinking to myself that each song sounded like a remix or a new version that had been reimagined or reinvented to bring about a new level of relevance while maintaining familiarity. You could’ve pulled any section from the set list and dropped it into any film today and it would evoke the same feeling of energy and tension that it did 30 years ago.
I couldn’t say that any song stood out or outshone the others as the performance of each built on the strength of the previous. “Captivate” moved the audience as much as “Join in the Chant.” They drove through the set at sweltering pace building tension with each drop of sweat that fell on the floor as the heat and humidity rose in Numbers. I think the audience neared collapse by the the last note of “murderous”. Bon and Doug departed the stage for a much needed break to the benefit of themselves and the crowd. After a few loud minutes of the Texas crowd yelling for more, they took every last ounce of energy from the house with “Godhead.”
I met up with Bon after the show to just say hello and ask a couple of quick follow up questions from our interview ten years prior. When asked about the possibility of a new album any time soon, he replied that it could get too “political” and that it would take too much time. For the moment they were enjoying the performance aspect and reimagining their back catalog of Nitzer Ebb Produkt on the stage. Any ancillary ideas and concepts had been put into their new group Black Line and other side projects.
There’s still a chance to catch them in the US and Europe on the remainder of the tour. You will not be disappointed.
TooDark is the Executive Producer of the MK Ultra Sound Podcast and has been a writer for MK Ultra since 1998. He has a background in music journalism, multimedia production and also performs and records with his own groups.
Set list from “Numbers” in Houston, Texas May 25th, 2019
Hearts and Minds
Fun to Be Had
Join in the Chant
Control I’m Here
Let Your Body Learn
Encore – Godhead