HAVING HEARD FROM A FRIEND THAT RAMMSTEIN was doing a U.S. tour, their first since 2001, I immediately contacted Red Fez Editor-in-Chief and Treasurer Michele McDannold and proposed an assignment. I would attend the May 10, 2011 Rammstein concert in Chicago and write a review of it, broadening the scope of Red Fez Magazine and giving it a cool European music vibe. Several minutes later, I had a green light and a generous reminder of Red Fez funding policy. “Huhm. Well, you can do it I guess but buy your own ticket and don’t expect any of your expenses to be refunded, ever,” McDannold said.
Twas victory enough for me and I did as any non-credentialed journalist would do. I laminated myself a Red Fez Media badge complete with my 1998 high school graduation picture, which I always thought a much better likeness than my current grizzled, hollow-eyed, semi-homeless look. Then I went on ebay and checked out the price of tickets, in case for some obscure reason my Red Fez Media badge wouldn’t work. I found scalpers listing single tickets starting at $60, a price within reach of an enterprising freelance journalist/internet salesman/scrap metal recycler like myself. So I resolved to skip my car payment for the next two months and purchased the ticket from the shadiest ebay seller I could find.
The afternoon of the concert, I filled up my gas tank (11 gallons for $45) and began the three hour journey up north to Chicago. It was smooth sailing until I actually got within range of Chicago. Then, literally, every few hundred feet there was an 80 cent toll that I had to pull off to the right side of the highway and pay. People with an electronic pass can just bypass this and get electronically ripped off by the toll debit. Needless to say, I completely missed one or two tolls (there were at least five of them) so unless these tolls operate on an honor system (chortle!) I’ll probably be getting some nice little fines in the mail.
Arriving in Chicago (Rosemont, to be more specific) three hours early, I located the arena and looked for someplace to chill. I found a little park with a manmade lake and walked around there for a quarter mile, became exhausted and collapsed on a park bench. I was minding my own business when a young Indian boy and his mother, dressed in a traditional sari, started waving at me. At first I wasn’t certain they were waving at me, so I ignored them. Now, call it mental illness but whenever strangers act friendly towards me I get suspicious. And seeing how I was a long-haired, scraggly-bearded man alone in a park, I didn’t think it wise policy to start waving my arms at a random young boy.
So mother and son kept waving and eventually started walking toward me. At this point I became a little freaked out, and started tripping to myself on my bench, rocking back and forth, as I usually do for comfort in times of stress. The boy was kicking a soccer ball in the air, quite skillfully I might add, with his mother trailing a few paces behind. He kicked the soccer ball under my bench and shouted, “SOCCER!” I smiled, nodded. His mom giggled, and finally they walked the fuck away from my area.
Eventually it came time to head over to the arena. Being a rather cheap person, I had gone over various scenarios that would enable me to park my car for free. Tragically, these all involved parking several miles away from the arena, and facing the very real possibility of getting my car towed or stolen, or getting mugged and killed on my way back. So I bit the bullet and decided to park in the official rip-off parking zone. I navigated a maze of traffic cones and cops, at one point cutting off a pedestrian half-way through the crossing zone, in front of two traffic cops standing on the sidewalk! This unwise act is highly illegal in most states, and it’s fortunate they were too lazy or mentally slow to issue me a very hefty violation. Damn inconvenient pedestrian bastards! Anyway at the parking attendant’s booth I flashed my Red Fez Media badge, hoping to get some sort of discount, but the lady just stared at me and demanded $20.
After parking I assessed the huge line of goth/freak type people waiting in line to get into the venue. They were all at one door, but as is usually the case in these situations, there was another door right around the corner with hardly any line. I again flashed my Red Fez Media badge to the ticket taker, and it worked! Probably because I also slipped her the actual event ticket that I’d wisely purchased beforehand. Then a line of cops started frisking everybody, and flashing my Red Fez Media badge got me a bonus frisk with extra probing!
I ascended to my seat high in the rafters, pausing to note some of the food and merchandise prices. $35 for a t-shirt, $8.50 for a beer. $10 for a poster and $1 for a cup of cheese whiz seemed to be the best deals. But the poster was ugly so I purchased my cup of cheese whiz and sat down. I still had about an hour to go before the show, but I like to show up to these things early and get a feel for the crowd. They were mostly college-aged or younger, people that were barely born when Rammstein first started (1994, the year I entered high school). The people were dressed mostly in black, as was I, with crazy hair and beards (men and women!) and piercings. I’d venture to say I “fit in” with these Rammstein fans, but on the conservative fringe.
Slowly the people filled in. As is usually the case, I ended up with a tall, jerky dude directly in my line of vision, who kept darting his head around like some sort of rabbit on acid. A broad-shouldered teen with angled baseball cap sat on my left, occasionally nudging into me, but to his credit he didn’t utter a word during the entire show. An angular, long-haired, pot smoking redneck hippie who I initially mistook for a very ugly woman sat on my right, chuckling and muttering to his friend in between rocking out. And a girl in front of the tall jerky dude kept shoving her camera high into the air and taking still pictures of the band.
The show started around 8:00 with the warm-up act, Combichrist. I had never heard of them before. They had two percussionists banging away crazily on various drums, which seemed a little excessive, a screamy-type singer, and strobe lights which made me count my blessings that seizures aren’t one of my many genetic defects. The band played a 30-minute set, and I have to say they were pretty good. I missed *seeing* most of the first two songs, because tall jerky dude and his friend were the only ones in the entire upper level standing during the first ten minutes. Finally they got tired and sat their punk asses down.
Another half hour passed as Combichrist’s equipment was removed from the stage. More people straggled in until the arena was nearly full. The floor (standing room) was only ¾ full. The seating areas looked filled, obviously except for the blocked-out areas behind the stage. Supposedly the arena was sold-out, but I checked Ticketbastard the morning of the show and single seats were still available. AllState Arena is a rather small venue, it has pretty good acoustics but is rather an insulting venue for Rammstein to play, considering they sell-out vast Olympic-sized stadiums in Europe. Welcome back to America, guys!
Finally the show started. Rammstein always makes a radical entrance. Two of the guys bashed through a wall, while lead singer Till Lindemann seemingly used a torch to cut through iron. The set itself constantly changed throughout the show. Call me a yokel but I don’t know how set designers manage it. The lighting alone was amazing.
The music was, of course, awesome. Rammstein is a German band and so most of their lyrics are in German. True fans like myself memorize the songs and their translation so the language doesn’t matter. It’s comparable to listening to a singer like Mick Jagger. You can’t really tell what he’s saying, but you know anyway. In Rammstein’s case, it’s also rather interesting that the greatest rock group of all time would come from East Germany.
They played most of the songs a US fan would expect them to after a 10 year absence. Benzin, Links 2-3-4, Du Hast, Ich Will, Engel. It was, as they say, all thriller and no filler. In addition to the music, Rammstein puts on a pyrotechnic show. I thought they would tone this down for regulation-happy America, but apparently not. Till had his flamethrowers going all-out, and we could even feel the heat up in the rafters. This spectacle just adds to the awesome factor of the show, but their music is so good that they don‘t really NEED it.
There was also a lot of funny interaction between Till, the “dominant” figure, and keyboardist Flake Lorenz, who plays a “submissive” misfit role. Flake winds up getting incinerated in a bath tub, only to emerge in a sparkling suit, then set on a treadmill that he has to walk on at an increasingly fast pace, while playing his keyboards. He also does a spastic dance and surfs the crowd in an inflatable raft, an old Rammstein gimmick.
At the end of the show, after the last of two encores, Till announced that it was drummer Christoph Schneider’s birthday (actually May 11) and the band drank champaign while leading the crowd in the “Happy Birthday” song. Kinda a weird ending but very nice and humanizing.
The Rammstein show lasted slightly under two hours. The crowd was on its feet the whole time, and was really into it, singing along, head-banging, smoking copious amounts of pot. Had I known the entire crowd would be standing the whole time, I’d have purchased floor tickets. At least down there you had room to spread out.
It was the greatest rock show I’ve ever been to, and if Rammstein comes back to my area, I’ll see them again and again. Kinda like Bob Dylan, I’ve seen him three times and it should have been four. I’m glad I got to see Rammstein still in their artistic prime, and in a very rare American show. The face value of the ticket was $50 and despite my cheapness, that’s a steal, the quality of the show would have warranted a ticket price of $750. It was such a treat to see them in person after years of absorbing their cds and dvds over and over again.
After I left the arena I sat in the parking lot for a half hour, waiting for maroons to clear out. Then I realized that the same lemming principle was going on, everyone was following each other out one exit. So I slipped out another exit that fed into the same street and was on the fast track out of there! Until I hit the five 80 cent tolls. And way down the highway I nearly ran out of gas thanks to two consecutive hick town exits that didn’t have gas stations open at 1:30 a.m. Imagine the nerve! Fortunately I coasted into civilization on the outskirts of Champaign. There was a 24-hour Pilot gas station that even had “cheap” ($3.96) gas. Thanks Pilot, you saved the day.
And that’s my Rammstein review and travel story. Maybe I should save up my pennies and avoid the big cities for a while, now. At least until the next adventure.
If I Had A Unicorn:
by Jessica McHugh