Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Tangerine Dream: SingAlongaTangs

First published in Sounds, 6 November 1976

Tangerine Dream were a great band to spend time with; almost the polar opposite of how you imagined Kraftwerk to be. They liked drinking, they liked laughing, they liked playing very loud. There were maybe three or four bands at the time making music that sounded like it came from the future and they all seemed to be German. Only The Tangs toured on a regular basis and each time I saw them was in a different country. It was fascinating to see the different reactions. This concert was the best.

 YOU WANT a picture of prosperity? Take a look over there, then. Yeah, that guy sitting on the floor at the back of the audience. That's right, the one dressed just like everyone else in this gathering of music lovers: long stringy hair, sloppy t-shirt, dirty Levis and a parka, German flag on the left sleeve optional.

You got it, him gluing together 12 Rizzla medium-weights with efficient German industry. Having dumped half a packet of fags onto them he takes out a lump of hash and balances it on two burning matches. It takes a while to cook, because that chunk of Afghani must weigh quarter of an ounce. It disappears into the joint. All of it. Behind him, a couple of other psychedelic soldiers are piling similar amounts of Afghani and Moroccan into a large bowled pipe that burns like a forest fire. They last about 10 seconds before exhaling mountainous clouds of thick smoke. Meanwhile, our first chap is demolishing another lump, big enough to keep the average British drug indulger going for a week, into his fourth cigar sized spliff of the evening. Welcome to Germany, one of the three richest nations in the world.
The reason for all this productivity is the better to dig The Tangs. That's them adding and subtracting to the fundamental Tangs ping-pong riff bouncing through your ears. Yeah, I know you can't see them too well, because the only light is from a few small instrument lamps. But in this day of smoke bombs and dry ice and three ring circuses it's almost innovative. And just think of it from a logistics viewpoint, not carting all that stuff.
It's something of a celebration for these indigenous Tangs fans too, because after eight years of existence Tangerine Dream are finally doing their first German tour. This is the second night of the excursion, and 1700 have flocked to the 2500 capacity version of the multi-purpose, multi-sized audience Phillipshalle.
The band are ranged in a straight line across the stage, now awash in pale blue light. Each of the three are ringed in by keyboards and patch boards, jamming on something from their new album, Stratosfear. Although they're playing the same pattern they always use live – start low and build to a manic pitch of intensity – there are new variations within it. While that basic Tangs tinkle burbles on, Edgar straps on a guitar and starts unleashing giant killer sustains, great ripping blasts of sound fighting it out with the rapidly building percussive attack the others are developing. Edgar's the one on the left; over on the right is Peter. Now he's a very odd sight. It looks in the dim light as though his hair has been cropped. But more than that, he is moving. Like Jon Lord. Like Keith Emerson. You know – down on his knees and moving in time to the music and looking a bit showy. This is the first time he has done this.
Edgar notices and is surprised, but is too close to the reason to be critical about it. The reason being they're bored stiff just sitting there all night. When Edgar straps on his axe, especially, he has a mad urge to career across the stage. Edgar Froese, boogie guitar king? The mind boggles.
But there's a paradox involved, as Edgar explains.
"In many ways the instruments are like a woman. You love her, and you see her with another man and you love her and hate her. I'm like that. Sometimes I really hate the synthesizer and want to get up and leave. Why not? It will keep playing. But you want to keep watching it, making sure it's alright. You can't leave it."
The other change is that the sound system is much fuller, with lots of bottom. As they peak on the first song, Chris – the one in the middle with his back to us – whips out some bass runs so low they threaten to shake the walls apart.
Half-time: Backstage is all 2001 black floors and silver brick walls. The dressing room is decked out in white plastic imitation wrought iron garden furniture. Very 2001. The Tangs spend the interval drinking and chatting. In proper light it's evident Peter has been shorn, perhaps to counteract Edgar's beard. "It's so I can hear better," he deadpans.
Irmin Schmidt, Can keyboardist, and his wife and manager Hildegarde enter, full of praise. It is the first time he has seen the band since they played in Berlin at volumes that broke club windows. He shares the same humour and capacity for silliness as the Tangs. Are jollity and absurdity requisite characteristics for German future rockers?
The second number begins with full pastoral setting, village church bells and all. But Edgar soon forsakes his classical grand piano-isms for more axe boogie. He varies between using it as another sound source to overlay the basic riff and as a pocket nuclear weapon. As they build to the inevitable peak Peter switches to electric piano, rocking back and forth, while Chris makes conventional rhythm section noises, accurate down to the drum rolls. It seems the closest they'll ever get to being a conventional group, but later it is whispered that Chris is going to bring a conventional drum kit on the next tour. The mind continues boggling.
The encore finishes to wild, continuous applause. There are three metres or more between the stage and the first row of chairs and through the evening a row of people have cautiously gathered at the foot of the stage, swelling until the space is packed. They all wear the uniform and they're jumping up and down and refusing to leave. Everyone behind them feels the same. Give us more!
Edgar opens with some classic O.D. guitar, firing rapid stun bursts as the others hammer in behind him. They build up very quickly, Edgar getting really savage. Is this the Ted Nugent of Deutschland? All he lacks is a headband. Maybe his management could supply him with one, complete with a row of dancing lights across the front to match the synthesiser displays. Suddenly, the band lash out. Extremely loud, extremely savage, a blitzkrieg on the senses. It shudders to a halt. There is scattered, subdued applause. We will not give you more!
The Tangs aren't too sure about their home audience at this stage, not knowing what the punters expect, or whether they'll like what they hear. Also, one of Edgar's fears about them has materialised.
"I was hoping that our audience wouldn't be the denim and parka crowd. But there they are." He looks resigned. "They're wearing the same as they wore 10 years ago. Still, that's okay." He smiles and shrugs. "This time I'm really waiting for England. Because, every time, England has been a test. We never get that warmth like from an English audience. They have the same knowledge of what the musician is doing."
It's nice to know Britain is good for something.
"We get hundreds of letters from England asking what we want to do in the future." Testify, Edgar, testify. "Mainly from 16 and 17 year olds – that's great. They're the generation you really can communicate with. People my age you can discuss music, but in the end they just can't pick it up, can't really get into knowing</i> what we're about.
"To keep it moving, to do something new and not keep repeating yourself, that's the important thing. All this stagnant stuff from the past. All this nostalgia – it's not good."
And the test, music lovers, to be unleashed on your unsuspecting ears when the Tangs swing into Britain and the second leg of the European tour, is that they will sing.
Yes, you heard it right: The Tangs will sing. In English. The mind boggles.

© Jonh Ingham, 1976


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