A Storm in the Garage : Faust at the Garage 25th Oct 1998

Andy Wilson

The Faust Pages, 25 Oct 1998

I'd been waiting for this concert since the last time Faust played London, two years ago. At the time I said that Faust were now the greatest live group in the world. Tonight I wanted confirmation of what I'd seen, I could hardly believe it myself.

Steve LobdellZappiSince then, Jean-Hervé, seen by quite a few as the focal point of the group, has left. Whether he returns or not remains to be seen, though it does seem that he may be out of the group for good. But in the meantime it had to be settled whether Faust worked without Jean. What would they be like without the laughter, Surrealist poems and air of whimsy Jean brought to the group ? That's what quite a few of us were there to find out.

Although hardly ideal, The Garage is a good choice of venue for Faust, just small enough to keep up the the feeling of intimacy and involvement that helps take Faust performances that extra step from being great gigs to the sort of event that makes you want to tell all of your friends that you were there and, yes, you actually saw them play. For me that's always been part of the Faust mystique. I bought my first Faust record over twenty years ago, and even then part of the interest was that the group were so enigmatic. I'd been buying Faust records for more than five years before I was able even to put names to some of the faces that looked out from what were, even then, old photographs. That's why, as much as I love the records, it shocked me to see just how good they are. And that's why I was worried about Jean's departure - not for any good reason but just from an 'if it ain't broke don't fix it' point of view. Would his leaving knock the group off their axis and spoil the magic?

Set ListLarsIt seems not. The only difference made by Jean's departure is a subtle shift of accent from Dada to Surrealism, but it's a very potent Surrealism that touches you in some of the most private places. As with the earlier gigs, there was a huge range in the music. Some pieces saw the group making pure sound sculpures, like AMM or some other groups working at the outer limits of free jazz. Many songs started this way only to quickly develop into what can only be described as a sort of grunge or garage Hendrix. That's really the best way to hear Faust. Too much emphasis has been placed in seeing them simply as an outpost of Krautrock weirdness, a variation on the theme of Amon Düül, Cluster and the like. Far better, I think, to concentrate on Faust's references outside of Germany. Their affinity with the Velvet Underground has been commented on - not without reason, what else is 'It's a Rainy Day' if not the Velvets put through the mincer of Surrealism? - and was there tonight for all to see, but the similarity with Hendrix is more striking. Hendrix, perhaps, playing with The Seeds.

LarsLike Hendrix, Faust fuse technical mastery with a sure grip on the possibility of sound itself, weaving sonic radicalism so deeply into the music that you have little sense of the distinction between song and sound. Like Hendrix, too, they paint from the broadest possible palette, and their music is likely to jump or slide from moment to moment between all points on the compass. Like Hendrix again, the result is often to leave you suspended so that you're lost somewhere in the music. A piece ends and you realise you don't know if it lasted two minutes or twenty.

All this was evident tonight. Pieces moved from the timelessness of the pure soundscaping to the frenetic insistence, timeless in it's own way, of Faust in garage-band mode. Of course there was the usual element of theatre - but never as an end in itself or a diversion, which is not what you'd think if you went simply by Faust's reviews. Zappi, in titan mode, drew from his usual armoury of industrial tools as part of his drum kit - sledgehammers, power drills, sanders, chains and girders - and got to work on a TV set with a hammer. Unfortunately it was one of these effects that's likely to go down as defining the gig in Faust lore. Having got his hands on a set of distress flares to close the gig, it turned out that they were far stronger than anyone had bargained for and the night ended with the hall smoked out and the audience choking and eye's streaming as they fled the Garage.

The audience fleeThe audience fleePersonally I didn't mind - it might not have been planned that way, but when you're genuinely starting to fear for your life at the evening's end then it's a sure sign you are at a Faust gig - but it's a shame that that's how many people will hear about the gig in the press. Still, no matter how it's reviewed there's little doubt that the majority of those who came along for their first taste of Faust will now be hooked. And why not ? there's nothing out there quite like them, and few groups ever have ever managed to sound so entirely modern without being at all fashionable (hardly) or merely timely. Faust's sound is now so pure, so delicate, so driven and complete that they've joined the small circle of musicians whose work has become perfect by it's own lights. Tonight was that kind of night - we didn't just watch a group or concert, we heard something special.

Andy Wilson, "A Storm in the Garage", The Faust Pages 1998