It's been years since Industrial was at its peak, but in the early to mid-'90s, it seemed like at least once a week an industrial band was coming through town. This was partly to do with our proximity to Chicago, home of Wax Trax! and then Invisible, but bands like Chem Lab, Sister Machine Gun and Die Warzau were always coming through, and at least once a year we were guaranteed the event that was a Pigface tour.
It was a lot of fun, but industrial sort of seemed to fade away a bit. There are still a bunch of bands touring though. Like VNV nation. They've been going for a long time, and it's still an event when they tour, which prompted this Detroit show to sell out.
In front of the club, there was a panhandler with a decent shtick: as people would walk by, he ask "Excuse me, do you know what the greatest nation in the world is?" Then he'd shake his cup and proclaim it to be "D0-Nation!" This probably did well for him at many places, but I wondered if he wouldn't have had better luck had he done his homework and changed his answer to "VNV Nation" for the evening.
And One, Germany's Answer to Tom Jones?
We walked into the club literally as And One was taking the stage. As they started, I was immediately carried back. Thick German accents, two guys on keyboards and a singer with moves like an evil Tom Jones. It was a perfect dark party sound, and the crowd was really into it, often treating it like a dance club, oblivious to the spectacle on stage but screaming wildly every time the singer yelled a thickly accented "Detroit".
And One had a solid close to their set, including a heavier version of "The Walk" by The Cure, and what is probably their biggest hit, "Wasted" which broke into a crowd singalong of Depeche Mode's "Personal Jesus" and then back to "Wasted" to finish up.
VNV Nation - Rock And Roll In Spirit, Industrial In Form
After the solid electronic power of And One, I was worried that VNV with it's two members might not measure up. I should have known that a band doesn't successfully tour for decades, selling out clubs, with a weak live show.
For starters, VNV added two members to its touring band, placing frontman Ronan Harris front and center, and Mark Jackson in the back center on a massive, self-lit drum kit. On either side, they fleshed out the band with members on identical Powerbook/keyboard setups, with that conspicuous Apple Logo lighting the dark club. That's perfect product placement - VNV Nation, powered by Apple.
Like the frontman for And One, Ronan has an amazing stage presence. He conducts himself like a rocker, and he banters with the crowd. Many times I've seen industrial acts where the band doesn't acknowledge to crowd or talk at all. Sometimes it's because the drum machines are pre-programmed and dictating the set, and sometimes it's the "persona" of the band, but either way it's alienating and boring.
Ronan chatted with the crowd though, from thanking everyone from coming to this sold-out show, to saying things that no self-respectable industrial band would say, from "don't just stare at us, you're here to party, too," to a simple "move your asses people". It was refreshing, non pretentious and a lot of fun.
They inspired the crowd to do the wave, to prove that "this is not a depressed crowd, and also because it's stupid fun." Ronan then reminisced on an old band that used to throw a rubber raft on the crowd while various members would ride in it. I was entertained by the reference, because that band was Pigface, and I watched them pull that same stunt off that same stage he was talking about it from. Talk about blasts from the past!
Aside from all his repartee with the crowd and his professing his devotion to Arsenal FC, VNV Nation also played music. It was sometimes romantic and ethereal, and sometimes dark and pounding, but it was pure industrial and pure VNV, and the crowd tore it up. It spanned years of their careers and was complemented by giant vid walls and a crowd that, while dressed to impress, had given up all pretensions and simply decided to dance.
They played through several encores, starting their last with another command, "Come on people! Just because we're in black doesn't mean we're dead yet!" And again, the crowd seemed to whip it up a bit more. Then, they brought it to a halt with a simple display of their Web site on the vid screen, bowed and left.
I was blown away by VNV, not just by their music, which was good, but by the charisma exuded and Ronan's simple ability to get a crowd dancing. After the show, one of the best live bands I've seen in terms of energy, I am seriously considering looking into what it takes to become a citizen of VNV Nation. It really seems like a nice place to live.