[Image: Bargeld and Teardo]
“Still Smiling” Performed by Teho Teardo and Blixa Bargeld
Location: Howard Assembly Rooms
26th September 2014, 7.45pm
Inside the lobby of Opera North’s Howard Assembly Rooms a small crowd gathers ahead of a very special collaboration performance. As part of this year’s Recon Festival, former Bad Seeds member Blixa Bargeld performs tonight with Teho Teardo, Italian composer and founder of the rock band Meathead, touring the collaboration’s debut album “Still Smiling”.
Dressed in black suits the pair take to the stage. Bargeld reflects upon his last visit to Leeds in 1983, over 30 years ago- more than enough time before I was born to make me feel like the youngster crashing the grown-up’s party. Reaching into his pocket Bargeld silences an alarm reminding him to take his medication. He is perhaps not the same mysterious and dark Einstürzende Neubauten frontman or Bad Seeds member that dirtied our venues back then. Bargeld is more vulnerable, more human than his haunting projects suggest.
Slow strokes usher in last year’s single “Mi Scusi” perhaps one of the most memorable moments of the performance that sees Bargeld’s crooned apology for his poor use of Italian. “Mi Scusi” swells softly from playful, to sinister and back. This obvious attention to atmosphere pays off, filling the space in the Howard Assembly Rooms, as a closed-eyed Bargeld sings “no, non se ne va” (“no, it will not go”) over his own sampled falsetto.
Courtesy of Howard Assembly Room
Although Neubauten fans will be accustomed to the rhythmic particulars of Bargeld’s work, these songs seem to sonically build a very distinct kind of magical nightmare. One of the standout tracks, “Axolotl” is a perfect example of Still Smiling’s abstract nature. The lyrics are spoken from the viewpoint of the small, Mexican salamander contemplating its own neotony. The piece sees Bargeld snivelling and sucking into his microphone, howling at the seated audience. His atavistic vocals, and aggressively grand gestures, draw the audience closer to the themes lingering in the subtlety of the music. These darker, more cinematic moments are absorbing, often electric. Sound artist and soundtrack musician Teho Teardo’s contributions lift the songs from off their grand climaxes and give them an elegant push somewhere visceral, more captivating.
An eager audience are treated to an encore including a cover of Caetano Veloso’s “The Empty Boat”. Perhaps the longest that Blixa’s words have remained in English all evening. The cover is charming, there’s something of the romantic about Bargeld’s vocal performance as he utters Veloso’s lyrics in a near-whisper.
The Assembly Rooms are still electric some minutes after Bargeld and Teardo depart from the stage. What Bargeld and Teardo have done so well is to create a set of emotionally compelling atmospheres explored through the distinct combination of classical and electronic styles. The result is a truly cinematic experience, whose multi-lingual lyrics highlight the ineffable quality of what can be expressed and received through this type of imaginative musical collaboration.