On June 13th the Yahoo! On the Road tour rolled into Munich, Germany for a rocking performance from Seeed and James Hersey at Circus Krone- one of the oldest and biggest circuses in Europe.
Before we begin I want you to take a moment and watch this music video. Finished? Okay, now a question: how much of a barrier is language for you when you listen to music? Personally I'm in favour of looking at the human voice as an instrument in its own right. Of course lyrics are important but a voice's tone, rhythm, and energy are all integral parts of a performance that can transcend the literal meaning of the written word and create their own emotional resonance and narrative. Which is a very long winded way of saying that dude in the video sounds both angry and cool at once and you don't need to speak German to take that away. On that note- tonight's headline act Seeed, a twelve piece dancehall/reggae/hip-hop collective from Berlin who have been wowing their home country since 1998, were one of the best live acts I've ever seen even though I didn't understand a single word.
The evening began under the bigtop in Circus Krone with Austrian singer songwriter James Hersey. Accompanied by a drummer and guitarist clad in matching white t-shirts and grey jeans, Hersey lead the crowd in a feel good set of gently rocking reggae-tinged pop. His sound is a mixture of UB40 ready raked chords, heavy rock guitar solos, club ready beats and a heart stuck right in the 90's. Hersey's drummer in particular deserves a nod for pulling double duty on his synth-pad cranking out shuddering drum cracks and rubbery bass lines at once lending the whole group a pleasingly offbeat swagger- a bit like palm trees being slammed into the ground with each booming pound.
Hersey himself is a charming and talkative front man- amongst the topics he touched on were the history of the venue ("Did you know The Beatles played here in '66?"), his feelings on selling his music ("Download it for free because everyone deserves it,") and the internet ("It comes from outer space.") His music is the perfect summer afternoon soundtrack, especially the jangling slacker-power pop of track 'Running Out.'
Even looking around the stage prior to headliners Seeed actually arriving is exciting. There are three tiers of platforms, each filled to the brim with instruments. A row of saxophones, trombones and trumpets ready and waiting for the four piece brass section. Two full drum kits- one a standard dub kit the other a whirl wind of world percussion instruments and chimes. There's a full DJ desk, bass and electric guitars, and multiple stacks of keyboards (with attached theremin). When the enormity of this musical machine kicks into gear you almost don't know where to look- but no matter where you do settle you're instantly rewarded.
This kaleidoscopic and bombastic mayhem is headed up by a trio of charismatic MCs- Peter Fox, Boundzound and Eased. Each member of the trio have a unique look- like a team of musical superheroes tied together by the two-tone suits adopted by the band as a whole. They move around the front of the stage busting out expertly choreographed maneuvers which come off a bit like slow motion swing dancing before dropping into extreme head banging. It's a powerful effect helped no end by their stack of ten massive bass subwoofers- each explosion of sound and light punching straight into your chest before being wrenched back out.
The group bounced through a fourteen song set including several Seeed-y reworkings of some modern pop classics such as a brilliant take on M.I.A.'s 'Paper Planes' mixed with their breakout single 'Dickes B.' Another highlight was a multi-part run through of Peter Fox solo song 'Alles Neu.' The group opened the number with a relaxed reggae run of its first verse and chorus before introducing special guests Cold Steel, a fantastic four piece drum line who whirled onto the stage in a flurry of day-glo drum sticks and machine gun fire percussion. It was then the classic Shostakovich sampled strings began to bleed from the speakers and the song proper was performed (only with the extra layers of EVERYTHING that the full Seeed band adds to it).
It's almost impossible to know how to describe the performance because I wind up wanting to tell you about every song, which is a good problem to have in a way. Perhaps I'll let Seeed themselves help convince you for a moment via the dirty brass blasts of 'Schwinger':
It was a spine tinglingly good show, and all I was left thinking is Good Lord we need to get these people outside of Germany more often. The last time they came through the UK was at Glastonbury 2005 where they received a commendation from The Times for having one of the best live shows of the whole festival despite performing on the much smaller Jazzworld Stage. It's the kind of performance that grabs you by the heart, feet and balls all at once- creating personal and propulsive stories out of fantastic music and visuals you won't forget any time soon. Needless to say, you don't need to understand a word of German to know that we're all speaking the same language here.
Here more of Seeed on Spotify!