Faust at the Empty Bottle

Along with bands like Can and Neu, the originators of the early ’70s German art rock known as krautrock included Faust. On Wednesday (Oct. 7), Faust played in the Chicago for the first time in more than decade. If Faust’s guitarist-bassist-singer-general-all-around-mischief-maker Jean-Hervé Peron had his facts right, Faust hasn’t played here since a gig at the Lounge Ax in 1994. At the Lounge Ax show, Faust was down to two musicians: Peron and drummer Werner “Zappi” Diermaier. For this return concert, Faust had expanded, with guitarist-keyboardist James Johnston and guitarist-singer Geraldine Swayne. “This time, we are a bit more numerous,” Peron said.

Faust is known for its unusual stage antics, breaking the boundaries of what bands are expected to do in concert, and Faust did not disappoint at the Empty Bottle. A cement mixer was sitting on the floor in front of the stage, and I began to get worried that I was standing too close to this machine. Some Bottle employees got things ready by breaking beer bottles inside the mixer. During the first song, Peron signaled to Faust’s roady that they machine should be turned on. It started spinning around, making a churning rhythm that served as the beat for Faust’s first song of the night. Peron dropped some rocks from plastic cups into the cement mixer, then he got down onto the main floor and threw more beer bottles into the cement mixer with a whipping motion of his arm. (At this point, I was backing away from the machine as much as I could, since bits of rock and dust were flying.)

Later in the show, Diermaier took out some sort of power sander, threw off a bunch of sparks, and applied the power tool to his cymbals. (I’m pretty sure at least one provision of the fire code was violated at this show.) During one improvised number, Swayne left the stage and painted an abstract picture on the wall next to the stage. Some of the audience sat down so more people could see what she was painting, but the Bottle’s layout didn’t make it easy to experience what was going on. And then, during the encore, Peron and Swayne led as much of the crowd as they could over to the other side of the Empty Bottle’s bar, where Swayne played piano. Peron got on top of the piano and sang unamplified. Then he gestured to the audience with a bottle of bleach.

Throughout all of this activity, Faust played classic songs and some new ones. The music was dominated by strong bass grooves. Faust pulled together its clattering, thumping sounds with an offbeat sense of how different musical voices can mesh. As Diermaier recalled, somewhat touchingly: “People said this is bullshit, but we kept on playing it. I’m talking about krautrock.”

Opening act Bobby Conn played with Monica Boubou on violin and electronic drum beats, slamming through a series of hard-edged disco-glam-prog tunes. And then Boubou joined in with Faust for a couple of songs. It was a strange night. I survived, but I don’t recommend standing next to the cement mixer.

Photos of Faust and Bobby Conn.

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