June in Review: Soundgarden – Black Sabbath – Jeffery Lewis – Billy Idol – Pearl Jam
By John Perye . July 15, 2014
June was an extraordinary month for live music in Berlin. Without a doubt the best double bill came on the 8th at Wuhlheide, when Soundgarden opened for Black Sabbath. Although Sabbath fans dominated the crowd, Soundgarden won them over with 10 songs even the casual listener were bound to know. Tracks from the album, Superunkown, were the highlight of the set, which vocalist Chris Cornell noted became 20 years old in 2014. It’s hard to believe that twenty years ago as a child I was mesmerized by the music video for “Black Hole Sun,” forever melting it into my memory more so than any other music video, ever.
After their set a black curtain was dropped covering the stage, in preparation for the headliner. Not long after, the distinctive voice of Ozzy Osbourne muttered a German phrase, to sound-check his microphone, sending the crowd into an uproar. Moments later a loud siren was played over the speakers and with a quick “Let me hear you,” from the still concealed Ozzy, the crowd shouted as the opening drums to “War Pigs” filled the air. As the curtain rose, unveiling the band, Ozzy demanded “Let me see your hands!” A true showman, Ozzy had the crowd in the palm of his hand from this point on, until the rest of the show. The band, featuring original members, bassist Geezer Butler and guitarist Tony Iommi, was completed by the young Detroit powerhouse drummer Tommy Clufetos.
Sabbath’s classic jams were as powerful as ever, but surprisingly their new material off the album 13, released in 2013 and produced by Rick Rubin, sounded just as strong. Definitely the most goose-bump raising moment came during “Iron Man” when Ozzy directed the crowd to sing “Oh-oh-oh-oh- oh” during the chorus parts. It might not sound like it on paper, but being there amongst thousands of fans chanting in unison was one of the heaviest live music experiences anyone can be a part of.
On Friday the 13th, at Kantine am Berghain, Jeffery Lewis & the Jrams played to a packed house of fans that hung onto every word he sang. The crowd let out a thunderous applause early on in the set after the track “You’re Invited,” off of the Jrams self-titled album, released in January of this year. Lewis, along with Caitlin Grey and Heather Wagner, captivated the crowd in what seemed like an endless stream of original songs, as well as a funky cover version of the Lou Reed song, “The Original Wrapper.” Two songs even had Lewis’ drawings projected on a screen, brilliantly bringing his lyrics to life visually. Lewis himself after the tour even said, “Personal highlights for favorite gigs included Hasselt, Kiel, Berlin, Bristol.”
Next it was over to Zitadelle Spandau for Billy Idol and his band on the 17th. Nervous Germans, the 1980’s new-wave German band opened up the show inside the beautiful fortress, which was built in the 1500’s. Idol, with long time guitarist and writing partner, Steven Stevens, rocked the place with a barrage of hit songs. “Cradle of Love,” “Flesh for Fantasy,” “Eyes Without a Face,” and “Rebel Yell,” just to name a few, got the Berlin crowd singing aloud throughout the set. Idol, who had been in town the night before, watched the Germans beat Portugal during World Cup, 4-0. “It should have been 5-0,” he said jokingly, and mentioned what fun he had watching alongside cheering German fans. His excitement was infectious, and even after all these years Idol was happy, “To be back in Berlin!”
The very next day, on the 18th, Arcade Fire played at Wuhlheide. Their most recent album Reflektor, released in late 2013, was a main player throughout the show. They opened with the title track, on a stage covered with mirrors. From the ground level, it was hard to focus in on any one thing, and at times it looked like there was up to 12 people on the stage at once. Most of the set consisted of the new album, but they did reach back to play songs off of 2010’s, The Suburbs, including the energetic dance song, “Sprawl II,” sung by Régine Chassagne, wife of front-man Win Butler. Before the encore, a “fake” band, The Reflektors, donning large paper-mache heads, mimed along to the Beatles German version of “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” translated, “Komm, Gib Mir Deine Hand.” Butler address the crowd, saying that when he was 18 years old, the first place he visited in Europe was Berlin.
Last, but certainly not least, also at Wuhlheide, was Pearl Jam on the 26th. One of only 12 European tour dates this summer, Berlin came out in full force for the band. One of my favorite groups ever, I was not alone in the idea of trying to be first in line. I arrived four hours before gates opened, and camped out with twenty or so people already waiting. Less than an hour to opening time, the tree lined path into the great venue filled up with what seemed like thousands of people. It was quite a feeling, standing at the front of the security check points, thinking that maybe there’s a chance at getting front row. Upon cutting the plastic rope to get in, and after an ID/ticket verification check, pat-down, and ticket scan that slowed me down slightly, I sprinted fast up the hill and looked out onto the open field of Wuhlheide.
Of course I had forgotten about one thing, the fan club entrance. Although a fan club member myself, I did not buy tickets this time through PJ’s 10 Club. I learned after the show fans had been camping out since the night before to get a prime spot. All I could do was laugh bitter-sweetly during my mad sprint down the many stairs to the field, still managing to get a good spot, but nowhere near front row. As I held my ground, the open spaces behind me quickly filled up, and soon after there was barely any space left near the front.
Funny thing was that during all this commotion, the Germans faced the Americans in a World Cup match. Through all the excitement of Pearl Jam, I heard no mention of the game at all. It was at that point I knew all attention was set towards the band who was about to play. Soon the field was packed in tight, and I was thankful of my one o’clock arrival, which was a smart thing to do. Of all the people who waited early on, I only recognized a group of Italians. We stuck up a conversation and it just so happened to be their first time seeing the band live. They told me how hard it was for them to get to the show and I assured them that from where we were in the crowd it was going to be a powerful experience.
“Pearl Jam shines brighter live than on their records,” I told them. They were getting excited by my enthusiasm, as one sang with his Italian accent, “Keep on rockin’ in the free world!” As anticipation grew louder, the wave took to Wuhlheide, circling the now packed outdoor theatre, breaking just as the band took the stage. Setting a calm mood right from the start with the song “Pendulum,” off their latest LP release Lighting Bolt, the band continued that mellow flow with bass player Jeff Ament’s penned Yield classic “Low Light.” Next, emotions really hit a high point with “Nothingman,” a track from 1994’s Vitalogy. The look on one of the Italian woman’s faces said it all, as she held back tears of amazement at the experience unfolding in front of all of us, but it was during this particular track when she let them flow freely.
A song I guessed they might play beforehand, and hoped they would, No Code’s “In My Tree” followed and perfectly captured the softer side of Pearl Jam. Then, a complete sea-change occurred with intensity as the band roared into “Go,” from the 1992 seminal album, VS. Instantly the crowd surged forward, knocking everyone off balance. People were fighting to get closer, adding to the mayhem. Adrenaline was running high, as it became harder to breathe air in the massive squish of bodies. I could see the woman who had just been so moved emotionally, now have pure terror on her face, as she fought to get away from swirl of those much larger than her. It was now on, and only got crazier as PJ reached back to their beginnings with “Why Go” from their debut album, Ten.
Trying my best to enjoy a couple of Pearl Jam’s finest, and personal favorite songs, was difficult seeing the smaller audience members who waited a long time for their spot being swept away in an instance by, more than likely, macho drunk a-holes who just wanted to mosh their way to the front. I witness tears of fear and panic, and that is when it became impossible for myself to enjoy the show. As things calmed down a bit, the band obviously noticed the violence. Vocalist Eddie Vedder, for the first of a many times throughout the night cautioned the crowd, asking that on the count of three, they take three step back. Everyone listened expect for the middle section. Vedder called them out and asked for another three steps a back. He mentioned the band had been through this before, alluding to almost 14 years ago to the day, when the tragedy at the Rosklide Festival in Denmark claimed the lives of nine fans during a massive crowd surge.
For the rest of the show fans respected the bands wishes and kept their cool, minus a few maniacs who could be seen escorted out of the show, one at Vedder’s request during “Sleeping By Myself,” a song originally released on Vedder’s second solo LP Ukulele Songs, later adapted by the band for Lighting Bolt. Super rarities included “All Those Yesterdays,” “Bee Girl,” and “Hold On,” all of which had only ever been played a handful of times live. The crowd even kept up their singing voices for covers of the Ramones song “I Believe in Miracles,” dedicated to the people at the Ramones Museum in Berlin, and the always energetic Neil Young anthem, “Rockin’ in the Free World.” Guitarist Mike McCready reprised his tribute to Eddie Van Halen with a note for note rendition of “Eruption,” from Van Halen’s first LP, which he debut at Berlin’s O2 Arena in 2012.
As the night came to a close, PJ finished with the fitting, “Yellow Ledbetter.” Only a band that sticks together over 20+ years, and always puts out top notch material, could play a show of such high caliber. It was the perfect ending to an awe inspiring musical month.
For information on all the bands check:
Soundgarden (Photo: Ross Halfin)
Jeffery Lewis & The Jrams (Photo: Jill Gewirtz)
Arcade Fire (Photo: Arcade Fire)
Pearl Jam (Photo: Danny Clinch)