Show Review: Nitzer Ebb with //TENSE// at The Mezzanine, 11/11/2010

by Jonathan Pirro on November 12, 2010

Douglas McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb

Douglas McCarthy of Nitzer Ebb

When it comes to the category of music known as “industrial rock”, there are a wide variety of definitions and interpretations. One constant seems to be an influx of heavy analog synth pulses, machine-gun-precise drumbeats, snarled vocals, and a collection of black-clad, morose musicians, often pounding away at keys or writhing to the underworld rhythms. Being that industrial bands often share these similarities, it is reasonable that one could go to an industrial show with little prior knowledge of the main group, and still enjoy themselves as they were mostly certain of what the evening would be like. With the Essex EBM trio of Nitzer Ebb, however, the darkness and somber attitudes are shrugged off, in favor of a minimalist but wildly energetic performance that got even the moodiest rivetheads in the audience up on their feet and defying gravity in favor of the industrial masters’ performance.

Robert Lane of //TENSE//

Robert Lane of //TENSE//

Unable to arrive at the beginning of the set due to prior engagements, I arrived in time to catch only one of the opening acts: //TENSE//, a dark-synth-rock duo from Houston, Texas. The duo of singer and synth expert Robert Lane, along with girlfriend Mariana Saldana on electronic drums, gave a rather aggressive but exciting performance, even under the gentle hues of red and blue that only slightly illuminated their set. Eventually, a honeycomb-shaped light pad flickered to life behind the band, casting laser-like beams of light across the small space of the Mezzanine and throwing the band’s thrashing forms into sharp relief. Frontman Lane, who kept launching himself to the edge of the stage and belting out his shouts into the crowd, was equally matched in energy by the writhings and undulations of Saldana under and around her drumkit. Despite a very short set, they were well-received by the crowd, a third of whom dashed off to the merchandise table to monetarily worship their new entertainers.

Bon Harris of Nitzer Ebb

Bon Harris of Nitzer Ebb

While //TENSE// had been cast in darkness and framed with slight illumination, the trio of Nitzer Ebb was given a pile of bright, colorful lights and a large array of bright strobes when they marched triumphantly onstage. The first piece of the night kickstarted the frenzied energy of the show, with both singer Douglas McCarthy and synth player Bon Harris rushing and leaping back and forth across the stage while bellowing out the words to “Getting Closer” above the shouting, cheering crowd. Harris then took a backseat, heading to the rear of the stage and relinquishing the full berth of the performance space to McCarthy, whose energy never once seemed to falter. Looking for all the world like a strict businessman in his sharp suit and polished sunglasses, McCarthy spent the full hour and a half of Nitzer Ebb’s set as a living firecracker onstage — jumping, flailing, thrashing, and gyrating about, welcoming the shouts and fist-pumps of his awestruck onlookers.

Nitzer Ebb takes control of the Mezzanine

Nitzer Ebb takes control of the Mezzanine

There were a few rare moments where the band paused, with only a small greeting from McCarthy to indicate that the crowd’s presence was being acknowledged directly. For the rest of the evening, however, Harris and drummer Jason Payne thundered away at their respective percussive pieces while McCarthy bellowed, shrieked, sang, and caterwauled away at the edge of the stage. The energy, along with the simple call-and-response formula of many of Nitzer Ebb’s lyrics, made the show extremely accessible and entertaining, with even those unfamiliar with the band’s new material joining in on some of the more recent pieces. After blasting their way effortlessly through the fifteen-song set, the trio returned for two more numbers in an encore, before taking a bow together and departing, sweaty but exhilarated, from the stage.

Being that this is the only time I have seen Nitzer Ebb live before, and also being that I was relatively unfamiliar with their material up until this point in time, I was fantastically impressed with this show. The nature of the band’s music, as mentioned previously, is such that one is able to jump in and join the excitement after hearing only one verse or chorus of a previously-unknown song. The raw energy and fierceness of singer McCarthy, along with the clear definition to the band’s synthesizers and the furious drum skills of Payne, provided the perfect formula for a dark, danceable evening that was absent of the over-serious nature that many industrial and gothic bands have come to embrace. This is, of course, not to imply that Nitzer Ebb are not serious about their performance; if anything, they clearly take their shows seriously and give their fans every ounce of energy that it is possible to muster onstage.

Nitzer Ebb's setlist

Nitzer Ebb's setlist

All photos by Jonathan Pirro.

Jonathan Pirro

Off-kilter multimedia enthusiast.

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