One fortuitous evening in the autumn of 2000, I walked into the Bowery Ballroom in New York. I was there to see Trans Am. But I happened to get there early and caught the entire set by the opening band. They were all pallid, malnourished guys in black turtlenecks; they looked like characters in a Beckett play or a painting by Egon Schiele. And they were amazing: pounding, odd meter rhythms that would be the envy of any prog band, but with a brutal sense of sex and violence that very few prog bands ever attain. Savage and brainy, they grooved so hard that you could dance to even the craziest rhythms.
They would play motifs, as in jazz, then riff on variations on them, then move on to a new section. They were listening to each other like jazz musicians, and with the extraordinary technique of jazz musicians too, but with the incantatory repetition of the so-called (I hate this term) krautrock bands. Those German bands called their music "motorik" — expressly designed for driving — but I'm not sure you'd want to drive to this music. You would wind up zooming off a cliff and hitting the ground in an earth-shaking fireball.
It was freakin' intense. I was blown away.
Afterwards, between sets, they were hanging out in the audience, in front of the stage. I really wanted to know who they were. But I also didn't want to know who they were — I kind of didn't want to hear them speak, because I thought it might ruin the spell. I couldn't even figure out whether they were American or not, because they didn't sing, or even say anything between songs. They seemed maybe Eastern European, but only because they were so pale and dissipated-looking. But curiosity got the better of me and I worked up the nerve to walk up to one of them. "Man, you guys are great! Do you have a mailing list? When's your next gig?" And the guy said very flatly, in straightforward American-accented English, "That was our last show." There must be a German word for feeling both lucky and sad.
I had the foresight to buy the CD they were selling at the show, which was great because in the months that followed I was able to find very little information about the band, and it was nearly impossible to buy any of their records. They had no website, there was no current contact information on their CD, and there had been very little written about them. So I had to satisfy myself with the memory of that mind-roasting set, and until now one single CD would have to be my souvenir.
Later, a couple of them formed the Psychic Paramount, who are jaw-droppingly amazing in a different way, and I have since made it my business to see them whenever I can.
Anyway, the moral of the story is: always catch the opening band.
Laddio Bolocko's Live and Unreleased 1997-2000 is available on the redoubtable No Quarter Records.