The Notwist, The Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra
Steven Morgan 12/12/2009
I'd never been to The Union Chapel before, but when I found out it was an all seated venue, with a first-come first-served policy, I knew I'd have to get there early and queue in the icy weather to ensure a good view. Being so caught up in this mindset, I was unprepared when I finally got in by what a spectacular venue it actually is. Sure it's a chapel, a type of building subject to disproportionately lavish expenditure in brutal times gone by, but viewing the stage with a plethora of empty, awaiting seats in an environment like this was a rush of realisation for what was to come.
First band on were The Sleeping Years. Their delicate ballads were sonically perfectly for the environment. Dale Grundle's voice takes an organic centre stage with its natural reverb giving it an angelic feel. They had no drummer this evening, there wasn't space on the stage with The Notwists circus of toys lying in the background waiting to be played with. The problem was, the toys were also more than a small distraction meaning details on the set from The Sleeping Years mostly escape me. That may however, just be down to unfamiliarity or indifference to what they do.
As the hoards of people filtered from the side of the stage as The Notwist and The Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra took to the stage together for the first time of the evening, it was an incredible spectacle. The set began with building ambient noise and various effects created by all present that created a sinister feel and extended the anticipation of what was to come.
By the time the band were launching into highlights from their back catalogue, some more reworked than others, the symphony of sound was breathtaking. It was hard to pinpoint where each sound was coming from or to pull individual elements from the framework with a relieving focus on the subtle flourishes not lost in this extravagant environment. You ended up staring across the stage trying to pick out the elements you were hearing, but only succeeding on the obvious. The trumpeter who seemed to almost be talking into his trumpet whilst dancing wildly, much to the chagrin of his fellow trumpeter next to him. What sound was he actually making? Martin Gretschmann often using Nintendo Wii controllers to whose movements were mostly impossible to tie up with the sounds around them. Perhaps he had a tiny TV and was playing Wii Tennis, I just don't know.
Certain songs faired better than others in the context, Gloomy Planets was easily the highlight as its reworking supersedes the original showing the song in a whole new light. The lo-fi textures from the album replaced with a orchestral tweaks that are so much softer on the songs delicate melody. Boneless was a great moment flexing the various elements of the orchestra as it progresses with its chorus breaking your heart as the woodwinds belt out the melody. As perhaps expected, the ferocity of This Room doesn't fare as well, as the intense reverb on the drumkit muddies the sound taking focus away from the menacing bass line, no matter how many musicians are playing it. Thankfully though, the misses are far outweighed by the hits.
The Andromeda Mega Express Orchestra get the opportunity to play a few of their own songs also, with just a lone Andi Haberl from The Notwist remaining on stage. The handful of tunes selected show the huge variation in style that AMEO have and their adept ability to jump from genre to genre. In fact, it's the refreshment in this huge variation that shows up some of the melodic limitations of The Notwist, particularly in the guitar and vocal melodies of Markus Acher. These easily identifiable elements become especially apparent with a set that spans over two hours with two encores to boot.
The criticisms are minor though, on the whole the evening is a resounding success with each finish receiving a standing ovation from the crowd who know they witnessed something special. The Notwist don't have the popularity behind them to take an orchestra on the road wherever they go, but in this incarnation, much as with 13 & God, they show themselves to be masters of collaboration.
Photography by Alan Oliver