dvd / 2 x lp // NE + HH Live At The Markthalle
NE + HH Live At The Markthalle is Nitzer Ebb‘s first live concert DVD and was released by Major Records, a German imprint, in late 2012. The film captures the trio of Doug McCarthy, Bon Harris and Jason Payne at the Markthalle in Hamburg (Hamburg’s city code on car registration plates being HH, hence the title) on 30 December 2011 as part of a worldwide tour to promote Industrial Complex, the band’s first album since 1994’s Big Hit. The DVD was released as a limited, numbered edition of 500 (mine was #479) swathed in a black sleeve with bold, This Total Age packaging and a booklet of photos and credits.
Nitzer Ebb have always had a very definite image, mostly through their sleeve designs and use of simple but bold logos, and there’s something about the way the trio are dressed on stage that doesn’t quite seem to fit with that. Doug is dressed in a suit and tie, slim-fit white shirt and sunglasses, looking youthful and effortlessly cool, like he’d walked into the Markthalle straight from a Ferrari parked on the curbside after a long day of directing a movie in LA; Bon and Jason on the other hand are both wearing baggy slacks and braces, for all intents and purposes looking a little like extras from The Untouchables. What’s most remarkable is that Doug manages to keep his tie and shades on for the whole show – I have to loosen my tie just from the exertion of sitting at a desk writing emails all day, let alone leaping about a stage for nearly ninety minutes.
Throughout, Doug stalks the stage menacingly, every word delivered with an aggressive confrontational air; Jason casually bashes out percussion and percussion like he’s not really concentrating; Bon smacks pads and various percussion instruments with the same rude grace that a kid would approach a toy drum, waving his sticks aloft and generally looking like he’s having a lot of fun.
‘Let Your Body Learn’ is all aggressive, faithful urgency while ‘Shame’ has a real sense of the emphatic, even if it seems a bit lightweight delivered straight after the set’s opener. ‘Hearts And Minds’ becomes a minimal electro funk track, with Doug pointing a finger at the crowd every time he he shouts the word ‘you‘. Industrial Complex‘s ‘Once You Say’ includes synths that sound like pure electricity, blended with a tight rhythmic strictness, Doug and Bon commanding the crowd with the lyric ‘move that body‘ like they needed any more encouragement.
Alongside a particularly energetic ‘Control I’m Here’, two of the set’s highlights are the classics ‘Lightning Man’ and ‘Blood Money’. ‘Lightning Man’ sounds as noir as ever, the jazz / latin fusion and aggressive chorus at the centre still sounding unexpected after the muttered prose of the verses. ‘Blood Money’ is approached with a much harder edge than the album original, with Doug appearing to be taken over by the sampled religious talk of spirits toward the end, body jerking manically, just as it does on the cynical ‘Payroll’, only here interspersed with lewd gestures when he sings ‘you better suck it‘. The same sense of sexuality appears on ‘For Fun’ with Doug emphasising the point with some dubious hand gestures and by holding his crotch for most of the song.
‘Ascend’ is given a plaintive, emotional reading but the dense build of the music seems a bit lost as Doug’s vocal is just a little too loud. Most of ‘Join In The Chant’ is true to form – a series of shouted motifs over a thudding drum track, metallic percussion and a sluggish, funky bassline – but it’s spoiled by some percussion sounds at the start and end that make it sound like a PWL pop track; I genuinely thought it was going to open out into ‘The Locomotion’ by Kylie. Perhaps it was intended as a tongue in cheek reference to PWL mixmaster Phil Harding having worked with the band on This Total Age, but despite my reservations, the crowd clearly love it.
After a very long wait for an encore, we’re rewarded with a storming version of ‘Getting Closer’, Doug and Bon prowling the stage and flinging their lines out into the audience like cluster bombs, followed by ‘I Give To You’, which sounds as majestically sinister and harrowing as ever.
My only criticism of what is an otherwise good film is the over-emphasis on crowd footage. There are so many shots of the tall blonde woman in the front row that I’m starting to think she’s actually part of the band. Overall though, it’s a small gripe for what is a good, if not lavishly-produced, document of Nitzer Ebb on stage.
The DVD also includes murky versions of ‘Let Your Body Learn’, ‘Shame’, ‘Hearts And Minds’ (sounding a little like a proto acid house track) and ‘Lightning Man’ recorded at the Blackfield Festival in 2008. Doug – complete with military jackboots – appears to have been in a bad mood that day, and only really seems switched on when delivering a particularly emphatic version of the last track (though he also seems to miss some of his cues to start singing). Also included is an interview with Bon, Doug and Jason sitting on the end of a bed in someone’s very basic hotel room. Bon and Doug do most of the talking, and subjects vary from stuff about how demoralising it can be to go out on tour, to how chilled out it is to live and work in LA, and to Bon and Jason’s then-current work developing characters for stop-motion animation. The most interesting chat comes when they discuss how various tracks on Industrial Complex came about, including an amusing deadpan comment from Doug about roping Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore in to do backing vocals on ‘Once You Say’ because they wanted ‘a big, busty black woman sound’. There’s also a frank acknowledgment that trying to write a song like ‘Down On Your Knees’ in the style of ‘Let Your Body Learn’ is really difficult and that it’s ‘hard to regain that naïvete again in the studio’. Bon goes on to admit resignedly that it took two months to come up with a simple bassline for the track.
Since I started writing this, it’s been announced that Emmo.biz/Kompuphonik will release a limited-edition audio version of the Markthalle gig as a double LP in February 2012. According to the press release the album will be released as a limited edition of 500 copies in a gatefold sleeve, 400 of which will be pressed on transparent vinyl while the remaining copies will be issued on red vinyl inside a box containing a t-shirt, flag, badge and poster. Undoubtedly one for the Nitzer Ebb completist only.
Thanks to Hayo at Major Artists for the review copy of the DVD, and also to Jürgen for the vinyl press release and for reminding me about German number-plates.
2. Let Your Body Learn
4. Hearts And Minds
5. Once You Say
6. Lightning Man
7. For Fun
8. Hit You Back
9. Blood Money
13. Down On Your Knees
15. Control I’m Here
17. Join In The Chant
18. Getting Closer
19. I Give To You
1. Let Your Body Learn
3. Hearts And Minds
4. Lightning Man
1. Jason Payne, Doug McCarthy and Bon Harris interview
A2. Let Your Body Learn
A4. Hearts And Minds
A5. Once You Say
B1. Lightning Man
B2. For Fun
B3. Hit You Back
B4. Blood Money
C3. Down On Your Knees
C5. Control I’m Here
D1. Join In The Chant
D2. Getting Closer
D3. I Give To You
First published 2012; re-edited 2015
(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence