Teho Teardo & Blixa Bargeld, Howard Assembly Room, Leeds

Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld
Live review: Teho Teardo & Blixa Bargeld perform as part of the Bradford/Leeds multi-day Recon Festival on the 26th September 2014.
The Howard Assembly Room is an almost-perfect setting for the sounds of the collaboration between German-born Einsturzende Neubauten frontman Blixa Bargeld and Italian electronic-music composer Teho Teardo. The structure built around the stage has an almost apse-like feeling to it – consider this alongside the high ceilings of the assembly room and it’s not hard to compare the room to a church. And just how is a church a suitable setting for the music of someone like Bargeld you may ask, whose music was once the very embodiment of ‘Vernichtung und Chaos’ – destruction and chaos. Nowadays Bargeld’s music has mellowed and matured, much like the man himself. Gone are the days of crashing scrap metal and sharp screams, instead you can expect a much more elegant and refined sound.

This collaboration is a dark one: the lyrics are a touch acerbic at times, but this is softened by Bargeld’s unmistakable voice and Teardo’s experimentation with strings and drum machines. The music is swathed in cloaks of grey, but there are muted colours that shine through: in the Howard Assembly Room the air feels hung with flecks of gold, invisible to the eye but their presence is felt. It’s a close full house, the audience well-behaved and quiet – very few can be seen singing along. Tonight is a spectator sport – musical expertise takes prescedence over showmanship.

With lyrics in English, German and Italian, there is a lot to take in – from the strange story of the “Axolotl”, a type of salamander, that won’t grow up, to “Mi Scusi” in which Bargeld sings in Teardo’s native Italian about his unsteady grasp of the language, seemingly apologetic and half-amused at the same time. Both Bargeld and Teardo seem comfortable with the music, how they playfully twist and turn the songs in directions you wouldn’t expect, such as the sudden innuendo of “Come Up and See Me”: “Is that a gun in your pocket / Or are you just pleased to see me?”.

In the encore, we are treated to a grandiose cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ 1969 hit “Crimson and Clover” (more famously covered by Joan Jett in the early 80s). Translated into Italian, it has a completely different feel to it as Bargeld’s expressions switch between intense sincerity and humour. At the end of “Defenestrazioni”, the musicians leave the stage to energetic applause and a fairly light amount of cheering, the church-like feeling never entirely going away – it’s a wonder no one was looking for their prayer-book or hassock to put away.

“Still Smiling”, Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld
Official website of Teho Teardo
Official website of Blixa Bargeld