Nitzer Ebb Show Creates Dancing Machines

LIVE: Nitzer Ebb
December 1, 2009
Mod Club
Toronto, Ontario

Pioneering industrial dance group Nitzer Ebb’s connection to Toronto runs deeper than you’d expect.

The reformed Chelmsford, England band’s music was the anchor for no less than a half dozen major alternative/electro club nights in this city about 15 years ago, and that scene’s survivors — the hardy misfits who still wear black, or shave the sides of their heads, or aren’t afraid to go out on a Tuesday night — were witness to a Terminator-efficient performance that was vital, vicious and without any taint of retro kitsch.

Local dance rockers OPOPO had their work cut out for them as openers. Perhaps it was because they felt too much like The Shamen or Ned’s Automic Dustbin — comparative softies from back in the day that Ebb fans would’ve defined themselves against — but the arms-crossed, shaved-headed crowd mostly no-sold the band’s high energy set.

Credit the band for continuing to barrel through, though. Neither did it hurt when vocalist/guitarist Bryan Sutherland put his hands over his eyes to shield them from the stage lights, looked out into the crowd and assured, “Hi, we’re OPOPO. We’ve got a couple songs left” mid-song. It was self-aware and self-deprecating enough that it at least softened the audience to dish polite applause for the remainder of their stage time.

The Mod Club crowd was still a little cold when Douglas McCarthy, Bon Harris and live member Jason Payne bounded onto the stage, but that would change in very short order.

During the pulsing take on the Belief album’s “Hearts & Minds” the character of this show really began to show itself. Slowly but surely, bodies started moving as McCarthy flung himself across the stage in his suit and tie like a sinister Max Headroom while Harris and Payne pounded away at dueling drum kits.

Showtime‘s underground classic “Lightning Man” further elevated things. Hundreds of raised fists matched McCarthy’s shouts of “Baby! Come to daddy!” as a strange sort of hive mentality broke out on the Mod Club floor. It would be too gag-y and ravespeak to say there was a sense of “unity,” but as the band pushed on through “Blood Money” and “Godhead” the audience felt transformed.

No longer was it about the individual fan as much as it was about the interlocking mechanical parts that were the bodies that were moving, punching and stomping along to a fascinating machine language. If this was a collective synesthesia, the participants weren’t seeing colours, but instead phantasmal hammer strikes, gear shifts and piston firings as the band pressed on.

By the time the Ebb unveiled That Total Age‘s “Murderous,” McCarthy had lost the jacket, skewed the tie and the industrio-trance was in full effect.

There had been very little in the way of stage banter up ’til that point and there would be very little as the band continued. Besides, McCarthy was already saying all the important things he wanted to say in his songs — which mostly involved commands for people to get on their knees.

Nobody actually did drop down, but there were a few who were surely close during the surprisingly anthemic “Control, I’m Here” and the not-as-bad-as-I-remembered “Ascend.”

The only logical choice to close their set was dark club banger “Join In The Chant” and, sure enough, pretty much everyone did in fact join in the chant. Somewhere in there, McCarthy lost his shirt and that mechanical trance broke down into chaotic flailing, those machine parts oscillating so wildly that overheating was inevitable.

The Ebb’s short encore concluded with McCarthy doing his best Dave Gahan for an arms-wide-open take on “I Give To You.” Having made so many demands of all the little machines all night, it was the perfect gesture to give something back. It was a decidedly human way to end the show, but it felt a bit like a warning, too, and left little doubt that Nitzer Ebb would be back.

This story was originally published December 2, 2009 via Chart Communications.

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Filed under Concerts, Music, Recollections

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