King Khan & The Shrines :: 8:30-9:45 p.m. :: D-Club
Based in Berlin (by way of Canada), the eight-piece soul revival, psychedelic garage rock freakers are led by eccentric singer King Khan. Equal parts James Brown and George Clinton with a splash of Sun Ra, Khan uses his stellar band to move from sexy Motown to dirty, grinding punk. While not the most energetic set by the infamous frontman, he did return for the encore with a gold cape and feather crown to sing about being inside a vagina. Considering the propositions one found just feet from the venue, it seemed like the right way to welcome us to Reeperbahn.
| King Khan & The Shrines :: Reeperbahn 2009 by Malzkorn|
Girls :: 9:50-10:30 p.m. :: Molotow
One of the sweatiest, most humid venues I've ever set foot in, Molotow is a real rock & roll bar. Low ceiling, cheep beer, loud amps and people raging, it took a while for San Francisco's hippie-rock, indie-popsters Girls to get underway. Having just left the interesting Irish quartet Grand Pocket Orchestra and having forgone J. Tillman (of Fleet Foxes fame), the slow start and sweating-just-by-breathing atmosphere had me second guessing my choice. Then came the distortion. Building off the foundation laid by California folk rock legends like The Byrds and the surf pop of Brian Wilson, Girls shoot their heroes full of heavy of drugs for a dizzying spell of filthy rhythms and melodic swells. By the end of their set they were melting paint (though that could have been the humidity) with a giant, slow building wave of psych-punk guitars and wailing harmonica.
Dinosaur Jr. :: 12:00–1:00 a.m. :: D-Club
While tempted to check out Au Revoir Simone or maybe The New Mastersounds, the legendary Dinosaur Jr. did not disappoint. Having seen Mascis, Barlow and Murph a few times since they reunited, this was by far the most impressive showing and wound up being easily one of the best sets of the weekend. Loud but not painful (as past experiences have been), the slight tweak in volume really allowed fans to appreciate the subtle melodic shifts taking form under the sheets of rumbling bass and larger-than-life walls of guitar. Mascis is a guitar god, and as he manhandled his whammy bar, laid on his pedals, stretched his strings and put his STACKS of Marshall amps through the test, there was no denying his place amongst the pantheon of great guitar slinger. Perhaps most impressive of all was the way the three-piece held it all together. Often dangling from a thread, as it did on standout "Feel The Pain," it often appeared that the whole thing would crumble under the distortion, but then a familiar melody would poke its head out and bring the crowd back under their spell.
| Dinosaur Jr. :: Reeperbahn 2009 by Malzkorn|
Times New Viking :: 9:30-10:15 p.m. :: Kaiserkeller
Dedicating songs to Henry Rollins and Lux Interior, lo-fi indie-punk trio Times New Viking wear their influences on their sleeve, but use it as a patch of inspiration rather than conformity. Hailing from Columbus, OH and signed to Matador Records, the buzz has been gaining speed and with singer/keyboardist Beth Murphy making the boys go gaga, the future is bright for these young hellions.
Local Bar with Our Host Johannes
It was a scene outside of Deichkind, one of the hottest local acts described by a fan as "the German MGMT on crack" (their MySpace claims "Ghettotech/Freestyle/Hip Hip"). We tried to get in but it was a shit-show, tons of kids painted in Day-Glo, 30 or 40 cops, and a line around the block. It was the one set all weekend we weren't able to walk right into. Instead of trying to pull strings, our host Johannes led us down an alley and back in time as we entered a local bar packed wall-to-wall with smiling old German faces drinking giant steins while soft porn played on old TVs in the background (no shit). Interesting note: this bar holds boxing matches in the day, and the walls are adorned with pics of local legends. There wasn't a single Reeperbahn bracelet in the joint and one wonders if these folks even knew there was a music festival going on outside. We sat with some German football (that's soccer to you) moms and laughed as we tried to communicate. It was awesome.
| Fliegende Bauten :: Reeperbahn 2009|
Seasick Steve :: 12:15-1:00 a.m. :: Imperial Theater
A couple hundred serious Seasick Steve fans sat comfortably in velvet chairs while the grizzly blues veteran tore through deeply sincere stories that felt like confessions. In his late sixties, Steve is the real deal; he looks the part and one gets the impression he's lived every word he sings. Backed by an aging drummer of similar disposition, Steve used homemade guitars like the Three-String Trance Wonder, one-string Diddley Bow, a cigar box guitar, and a wooden stomp box he called the Mississippi Drum Machine to bring his tales to life. He plays with a sense of rhythm and soul that's hard to deny, and underneath the rough exterior are soft eyes, a warm heart, and a man who's grateful for the late in life recognition he's receiving.
Die! Die! Die! :: 9:10-9:50 p.m. :: Molotow
"Great fucking city, we're coming back," quipped Die! Die! Die!'s frontman Andrew Wilson. It's a long way from their New Zealand home, but based upon the crowd's crazed response this indie-punk three-piece will be welcomed back with open arms. The heavy rhythms and catchy guitar lines were the hook, but Wilson's keen sense of melody was the sinker. This is no one trick pony. Color me impressed.
| Editors :: Reeperbahn 2009 by Malzkorn|
Friska Viljor :: 10:15-11:30 p.m. :: D-Club
Best find of the weekend without question, Swedish indie-pop sensation Friska Viljor might just be the find of the year. Hip-swaying rhythms, infectious melodies, and beautifully crafted sing-along choruses (sung in English) are sewn together with mandolin, ukulele, accordion, and more traditional rock instruments to give the entire thing a rootsy, warm vibe. On record there are more horns and at times a twist of DeVotchKa, but they jump genres with ease and it's really about the relationship between Joakim Sveningsson (lead vocals, mandolin) and Daniel Johansson (guitar, vocals). They've been friends for over 15 years and turned broken hearts into some of the sweetest songs of Reeperbahn.
Editors :: 12:00-1:00 a.m. :: D-Club
With two platinum selling albums and a bunch of top 10 singles, Editors are clearly one of the biggest indie rock bands in the world, not just their U.K. home. For their festival closing slot at the best rock club in town, most of the 2,000-plus fans knew every word, even the songs that were just coming out on the band's third full-length, In This Light And On This Evening (released October 12 on Sony). Sounding very British (duh) and working the darker, moodier side of the spectrum with heavy synthesizers and catchy, raw guitars riffs, there's a grandness to their vision, maybe one that could approach U2's scope should they ever get the ego and funding. At this point it doesn't really matter that they're still suckling from the Joy Division teat, Editors do it better than their contemporaries and Tom Smith (lead vocals, guitar, piano) is a captivating frontman who knows how to slay a crowd. It can be a bit predictable, but they clearly believe in the cause and they bring the noise onstage.
Reep The Rewards
Reeperbahn Festival is not Glastonbury, Roskilde, or even SXSW (yet), and for a penny pinching American on a harsh Euro conversion the lineup probably won't pull you over the Atlantic. But, for those adventurous souls who crave travel and the excitement of the great unknown as a mixer with their music, Reeperbahn Festival should be a stop on their journey. Head to Hamburg for the fest and ship off to Munich the following weekend for Oktoberfest (it's usually the weekend after Reeperbahn). Grab a rail pass and do some country hopping. Get ripped in Amsterdam, find love in Paris, and dig the beaches in Spain. If you're lucky enough to be able to afford any of this, who wants to spend all their time at a festival anyway? Make Reeperbahn Fest part of your European experience and you just might find a new favorite band or maybe even a new favorite city.
Continue reading for more pics of Reeperbahn 2009...