On June 11th Capital Cities and Claire gave an exclusive concert at Astra in Berlin as part of Yahoo! On the Road
'Just to let you know- it's gritty. It's real Berlin'
This was the introduction given to Astra, the sprawling industrial complex housing a lavish theatre space in the heart of Berlin which was the stage for Yahoo! On the Road's first European show. The site was a fantastic melding of contradictions- graffiti and broken concrete walls giving way to thick red velvet curtains and art deco bars straight out of the forties. It was the perfect backdrop for a pair of bands known for blending references and styles into something unexpected.
Opening were rising German synth group Claire. The band describe their propulsive brand of electro-tinged indie as 'neon-pop', a sound they cultivated during a three month recording stint holed up in a basement in Munich. They sound like mad scientists with a penchant for S&M doing absolutely evil things to club music, keeping you asking for more with each delicious twist of the gears. Multiple layers of percussion courtesy of a drummer and two keyboardists create a whip crack back beat that knocks you to the floor with each blast. High pitched synths crawl over your brain like tiny digital insects, burrowing their way deep into the grey matter. It's music that celebrates existence and makes you fear for your life all at once.
Yet what makes the whole package work- and this is something that can probably be chalked up to the youth of the band- is the moment the facade of performance drops. Suddenly the members swap track from steely-eyed-lip-biting groove to an almost shy joy at their current surroundings. Broad goofy grins are plastered on all of their faces and lead singer Josie-Claire Bürkle almost sounds nervous as she addresses the adoring crowd, showing the humanity underneath the roar and glitz of their gothic dream pop.
Then the performance begins again and once more the ice and leather crawls back into the presence and tone. You get the feeling that when Josie commands her audience to 'Raise your fist, open your heart' she means the latter part rather literally. Given tonight's performance, we'd happily cut open our hearts for Claire again and again.
[The Yahoo! On the Road tour comes to Europe!]
Indie rockers Capital Cities are making their second appearance on the road with Yahoo! so far with an earlier show supporting Gossip in Seattle during the US leg of the tour. Now with hit single 'Safe and Sound' at number one on both the German and American alternative charts and their debut album In a Tidal Wave of Mystery climbing its way up, the band are riding higher than ever and boy does it show.
There are many things it takes cajones of steel for a band to pull off: Opening your set with a Pink Floyd cover. Wearing matching neon lemon sport coats. Opening your encore with a Madonna cover. Capital Cities did all of this and more last night in Berlin without breaking a sweat (okay, maybe a bit of sweat but with showmanship this consummate we can forgive them).
The band opened their show with a cover of Pink Floyd's 'Breathe,' which managed to be both stripped back and booming at the same time. Banging processed beats and chugging intertwining guitar and bass lines underpinned the gentle duetting vocals of the two main men behind Capital Cities: Ryan Merchant and Sebu Simonian. The pair make a striking image, the tall and chiseled Merchant swaying over Simonian's patented trendy rabbi look. 'Breathe' was the first of several covers rolled out, including a brilliantly drugged up version of the Beegees' 'Staying Alive' which felt a bit like taking a stroll in John Travolta's iconic shoes while on quaaludes.
[fun. : Yahoo! On the Road review]
Every track explodes with personality- helped no end by the synchronized dance moves the band routinely bust out over the course of the show (just imagine five men wearing loud yellow jackets windmilling their arms while snapping and you'll get the idea). Synths bubble up like sugar rushes. Grime is slathered all over the bass lines. Fiery guitar solos morph into crunchy funk guitar. And the BRASS. In many ways Capital Cities touring trumpeter, Spencer Ludwig makes their sound and steals the show. He whirls around the stage, sliding in front of his fellow band members on vibrant striped socks with glee. With each bursting howl of his horn he painted a sunset over the crowd to rapturous roars. It's his contribution which elevates Capital Cities live show above many of their contemporaries who trade in Miami club-esque dance rock and turns it into a careening digital ‘running of the bulls.’
Smash single 'Safe and Sound' got two run throughs on stage. The first was a high octane live version which had the ceiling shaking with the sheer volume of spontaneous pogoing. The second was a pre-recorded remix which the band used to close out their show. It's a move which could have been an ego trip coming from any other group, but Capital Cities manage to make work. The band put down their instruments- Simonian even going so far as to dive directly into the throng of fans- and begin to shimmy and shake with reckless abandon.
Sure it's probably all pre-choreographed but you genuinely feel as if the band wish they were back there in the crowd, having the spell of a fantastic live show cast on them. In that moment Capital Cities level the playing field with the audience, allowing us to feel as if we are consuming and creating the performance right along with them. As the band left the stage with the strains of their hit still pounding through the speakers, the song began to take on a new meaning- not an ode to a lover, but an ode to the power of music to "show you want you want to see and take you where you want to be." And there was nowhere else we would rather have been than right there dancing alongside them.