One of the ways I’ve been spending my time (my evenings anyway) is by checking out the local Berlin nightlife. No, no, I don’t mean discos. I’m not certain if I will ever be interested enough in going dancing at the clubs (at least the ones that don’t play indie music). But I have been going to various venues and checking out bands, both local and touring. This is mostly out of necessity for my “job” (freelance music journalism) but also because I love live music, and have since I first began going to shows.
There are a few observations I’ve made about German concerts, thus far:
1) Shows don’t begin on time. Even when I am an hour or two late, they still haven’t begun. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I think this is wonderful, that German shows are slightly less punctual than I am.
2) Guestlists are never a problem. I can’t even recount the number of times I’ve been promised a guest list spot at a concert in America, but arrived to not have my name on the list. Sometimes this is the fault of the venue, sometimes the PR people, sometimes the band manager. But not once (so far) have I had this issue in Germany. I don’t know if it’s just luck, or if they are just that on top of things. But I haven’t had to dig up emails on my phone and show them to people to confirm that I am supposed to be on the list. My name is always there, printed clearly, and it’s never a hassle. I can definitely appreciate this.
3) Concert photography is a pleasure. Venues don’t seem to be as strict about photography with Digital SLRs, and crowds are incredibly accommodating. There is nothing worse than having to shove my way to the front of a crowd at a venue, pissing off people and being elbowed, in order to get my first three songs worth of photos. Not so here. Everyone has moved out of the way for me, and in most cases, there has not been a huge crowd of people overrunning the stage, making it easy for me to move around up front and get photos from different angles.
My first concert experience was at a little place in my district (Neukölln) called Bei Roy. One of my first Berlin acquaintances sent me a random message a couple weeks back, informing me he was going to be at a show. Some American bands (Best Friends Forever, The Middle Ones, The Wiggins) were playing, and I figured “why not?” I mean – I am a natural extrovert, but being in a new city (and a new country) has made me a bit shyer than normal, mostly because I don’t know how to go about making friends in a new language. It’s not exactly unintimidating, although I’ve been lucky enough that every time I’ve gone out on a limb, socially speaking, I’ve been met with positive results. Even the most seemingly-uncomfortable of situations have been good in the end.
I was a little bit late to the show itself, namely because a few hours before, S. (a friend of J.’s from Köln, who I have met twice in the past two years) called me up and asked if I wanted to meet him and a friend for drinks. He is good people so naturally I agreed, and found myself sharing in beer and conversation over candlelight at another NK haunt, Ä. Coincidentally, this place also hosts the occasional show, one of which I will be attending this week for the first time. Anyway, after an hour of two of chatting, we all parted ways, and I began the long (ish) walk to Bei Roy. I could have taken public transit, but lately, I am all about the long route… I really want to learn Berlin.
Once I arrived in the general vicinity of the venue, it took a little bit of exploring (mostly following the sound of the music) to find the place, which is probably the least legitimate venue of all time, but still super rad. It’s nestled in an industrial spot, and reminds me a lot of warehouse venues in Oakland. I climbed far too many flights of stairs and eventually made my way into the venue, just as the headlining band took the stage. The experience itself was more interesting to me than the music, because I got my first glimpse of the Berlin “scene” – lots of drunk kids dancing while clutching bottles of Club-Mate, no doubt infused with vodka. After the show ended, I didn’t feel particularly social, so I headed to the train station, where I was somehow just buzzed enough to lose my transit pass. I’m annoyed at this, because it meant I had to drop another 74 euros on a monthly pass, two weeks premature. But I am consoling myself with the reminder that I used it past its worth in the two weeks I did have it. And now I am guarding my shiny new pass with the utmost ferocity.
My next show experience came a week later, when I went to see Sebadoh at Festsaal Kreuzberg. Although I had interviewed Lou Barlow prior to the show, the actual event was a significant for me: I have always enjoyed this band and never thought I would see them play live. F. and I had been planning on attending the show for months. Prior to arriving at the venue, the two of us sat alongside the river pregaming – actually, I had thought about giving my liver a rest, so F. drank beer while I mostly just hung out. I did bring some vodka in case I changed my mind, but that was confiscated at the door.
The show itself was quite a positive experience. I enjoyed the venue – intimate enough but still spacious, and they seem to bring in a lot of good acts. The opener was some German band I don’t know the name of, but I liked them just the same. F. spent the set hanging out with his “concert buddy” (a guy he regularly runs into at shows) while I met up with Mikala, the Sebadoh press contact, who was in Germany for the first time.
I took a breather from shows for a few days until the weekend, when the Flink Festival occurred. I ended up interviewing four of the bands performing there, so it only made sense to check out the music – an eclectic but interesting mix of musicians. Most of them were German, although I was introduced to an amazing Polish band, How How, who came from Warsaw for the night, just to perform.
The venue itself, Lovelite, is kind of sketch looking, in the dirty punk rock way. The outside area is where people can hang out and drink and smoke and such. Since it was a day-long event, there was food for sell and a festive atmosphere. The actual venue inside consists of two rooms for performance, with a hallway connecting them.
I returned to Lovelite the following evening, when Lemuria and Cheap Girls, both of whom I interviewed, were playing. The two had been on tour in Europe for about a month, and were supposed to play with another band, which had to cancel. So the show started late, but it was excellent. Cheap Girls are one of those bands I learned I enjoy even more during a live set. Lemuria was good, but they played their songs faster than I expected, which bummed me out a little bit. All in all, though, a good night.
To Be Continued…