I gave up years ago on trying to explain to my fellow Londoners the very German phenomena the Berlin punk group Die Ärzte is – because seeing them giving a club concert here at the Electric Ballroom is a personal triumph I have not bothered bringing anyone. That is anyone who could spoil the evening with bloody questions or remarks and bored face expressions.
An hour before the doors open the queue already spreads up the Camden High Street, twenty minutes later it has curved far down Buck Street. Most of my queue mates flew over from Germany – tickets to this rare gig sold out in 30 seconds, not only but also because Die Ärzte’s play only one gig in their country this year, at the mega festival Rock am Ring. For some fans getting a flight and a bed in a dorm room is the cheaper option.
A local punk shouts his belief that the European Union is a big corporation and needs destroying to every tenth queue member but no one shows interest in engaging with him. The only quiet moment during the concert will be when the band asks if any brexiteers are present but that comes later.
I remember coming to the Electric Ballroom for their indoor clothes market but do not recall having been here to an actual concert. The venue fits 1500 people, a crass difference from seeing Die Ärzte at major festivals, stadiums, concert arenas and racecourses. Friends I share pictures with later reply confused: “It looks like Die Ärzte but the venue makes little sense. Where are you?!”
This band has been playing live longer than I am on this planet and has the rare talent to recruit with every album new legions of fans of all ages. I am mistaken when thinking I have caught the view of long forgotten friends in the crowd but it is just a competition of who wears the oldest tour t-shirt. The few English speakers I hear have East European accents. Two hours of waiting make you reflect when there is no support band and you are surrounded by your old crowd, somewhere else in Europe where no one has ever cared about this German-owned combination of wit, irony and punk accords.
The audience shows off its band tattoos, tops of support bands I have not even thought of in over a decade and quotes of dialogue snippets, cut into hidden tracks and b-sides. I spot indie fringes I have not seen since 2003 and that was when the double album Geräusch came out – by then I knew other albums back to front without having owned them but Geräusch converted me while their fandom exploded everywhere around me. I did not have the money for more CDs and had to wait until Christmas and bridged the time until then by recording their concerts on VHS.
And then Farin Urlaub, Bela B. and Rodrigo González enter – being used to seeing them on much bigger stages this firstly looks like a puppet show, the space far too compressed. It takes one chorus to forget about this and then I am just one between some for whom the chance of a lifetime has become real.
Banter rarely translates in any other language and why would it have to? This is not a mission to win fans over on the muddy island. Lyrics are being amended as Die Ärzte have always done constantly, keeping their own classics fresh with new rhymes and digs to current events and each other. But after years of Die Ärzte abstinence I forgot some lyrics and have a couple of “ah of course” moments moment when guitar riffs start I thought I had no memory of (even songs from Geräusch). It is for these very moments that I have to breathe through deeply once or twice and miss a jump or a clap, realising I am undeniably older than last time I heard these tunes and life has completely changed.
Wasn’t I meant to get a Gwendoline tattoo for my 18th birthday? Didn’t we try that on my back with black markers? I take more urgent imperatives home with me tonight. This gig was needed urgently. Es gibt nur einen Gott. BelaFarinRod.
***** out of 5 stars