Nitzer Ebb at Grand Central, Miami, November 13, 2010

Nitzer Ebb
Grand Central, Miami
Saturday, November 13, 2010

Better Than: The Miami Music Festival (at least on Saturday night, at which fans braving the Vivian Girls' headlining show were tossed out for dress code non-compliance and price-gouged for $10 beers

The Review:

Sometimes, when the live music stars align, a venue, audience, and band all match up so perfectly that it seems too good to be true. Such was the case at Saturday's performance by industrial legends Nitzer Ebb at Grand Central

While the evening offered a surprising number of competing show options all around town -- including another for the older set, Social Distortion at the Fillmore -- hundreds of mostly black-clad revelers convened on downtown Miami. As the show was the band's only one in Florida, fans came from across the state (and possibly beyond), waiting in a line nearly two blocks long just to enter, and packing the venue's yawning space.

There is much about Grand Central that feels, in a good way, something like a club out of a movie. There's the location, with a slightly derelict frisson of isolation. And there's the inside, which is cavernous and hangar-like, but still pristine, as though it were built for a sound stage. Add to that the crisp, low-end-heavy sound system and the impeccable lighting -- including the permanent LED fixture behind the stage -- and a critical mass of bodies, and there's something almost unreal about it. 

Especially when, on Saturday night, you add in a killer darkwave DJ, in this case Chris Halo, warming up the crowd with the required dancefloor classics from the likes of Soft Cell, Wolfsheim, and Meat Beat Manifesto. Suitably, the venue had scheduled this show to go on late, with doors opening close to midnight and a dance party building up for at least an hour after this. (There were only minimal traces of the club's usual Poplife-sponsored, Saturday-night programming and its younger crowd.) 

So when the stars of the evening, Nitzer Ebb, finally took the stage around 1:15 a.m., the logical build-up of energy only added to the evening's cinematic quality. The trio said nothing by way of introduction, quickly storming the stage like a natty swat team.  Founding members Douglas McCarthy and Bon Harris are well into their 40s but still trim and fashionable, all legs and angular cheekbones, with McCarthy decked out in a thin suit, slicked-back hair, and aviator sunglasses. 

Jason Payne and Bon Harris
Jason Payne and Bon Harris
​Going hard from the beginning with the anthemic "Getting Closer," McCarthy needed not signal Harris, or say a word of useless patter to the crowd, to start and keep an epically building musical momentum. Much of what passes as dark electronic music today is basically cheesy, synth-laden, high-BPM stuff with a few mournful vocals. But Nitzer Ebb's performance brought things back to the promise of the so-called "electronic body music" the group helped pioneer. 

This was dance music, but stripped to its primal essence. While the set list was made up of individual songs, they flowed together into a seamless lockstep of mechanical thrumming from which it is nearly impossible to look away or even escape for a bathroom break.

That there are all kinds of psychosexual undertones tangled up in the band's throbbing low end and rhythmically barked lyrics was made clear by McCarthy's moves. Pacing the stage and vibrating with energy, when he wasn't jumping up and down, he preferred a snaky little hip-shake or, during songs like "Payroll," a more literal crotch grab. 

Meanwhile, drummer Jason Payne kept up a meaty, swinging low end that added serious heft to the band's otherwise electronic sound. Somewhat surprisingly, it's one that's aged well, particularly when played at high volume. With most new electronic/live crossover acts sounding deliberately lo-fi anyways, Nitzer Ebb's stripped-down stomp sounds pretty fresh again. (This is an observation underscored by the fact that a new song, "Once You Say," fit in seamlessly mid-set.)

 Luckily, also, thanks to the one-off and curfew-less nature of the show, the performance lasted far longer than it appears most of the band's recent domestic gigs have been. The main set stretched for some 15 songs (see the list below), with audience cheers and stomps bringing the band back to the stage at about 2:20. 

Okay, so the encore, of course, was a given, seeing that the band had yet to play two of its biggest tunes, "Join in the Chant" and "I Give to You." But it was an appropriately boot-stomping, fist-pumping to an evening whose spell was broken, perhaps, only for those of us who had to later settle our bar tabs.


Critic's Notebook

Personal Bias: Well, you won't find a lot of bright colors in my wardrobe.

The Crowd: With this as the band's only Florida show, people from all over the state. Fortysomethings with mohawks, fortysomethings in vinyl and latex, thirtysomethings in vinyl and latex, twentysomethings in vinyl latex.... Matrix-extra lookalikes in military coats, lots of well-kempt, silky black locks (on the men), one particularly memorable fellow with miniature  horns latexed to his scalp....

Overheard in the Crowd: "I'm usually not this loud and hard to deal with, but this is a special occasion!"

Random Detail: Unsurprisingly, many flyers circulated throughout the crowd for (yet another) upcoming Kitchen Club reunion. It marks the 22nd anniversary of the party, and takes place Friday, December 10 at the decidedly un-goth location of Uva in downtown Coral Gables (!). Find more details on the Kitchen Club's Facebook page.

Set List:

-"Getting Closer"
-"Lightning Man"
-"Shame"
-"Hearts and Minds"
-"Let Your Body Learn"
-new song: "Once You Say"
-"Lightning Man"
-"Hit You Back"
-"Blood Money"
-"Payroll"
-"Godhead"
-"I Am Undone"??
-"Hear Me Say"
-"Murderous"
-"Control I'm Here"

Encore:
-"Join in the Chant"
-"I Give To You"


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