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Rammstein
Olimpiisky Sports Complex 
By Martin Richardson
Playing keyboards is almost always a rough gig. If the axe-wielding guitar hero is transformed from pimply youth to rampant love god simply by slinging his instrument round his neck, and a vocalist is guaranteed time in the spotlight, there's no such reward for the geeky guy with the box that goes beep. Even the back-handed compliment of the drummer joke is denied to the rock'n'roll equivalent of tech support, it seems. I know. I played keyboards, and watched a succession of willing young ladies ignore me in favor of my sexier colleagues.

Rammstein, however, manage to take it several stages further. In the course of the latest stage show, Christian Lorenz is subjected to a range of torments that my erstwhile bandmates never had the budget to inflict on me. Like bubbling up a cauldron to accompany the cannibal-inspired "Mein Teil" and, after chasing Herr Lorenz from it with a giant flame-thrower, having him run around the stage pursued by descending firecrackers while further pyrotechnics illuminate his backside. There's a further grilling for the nether regions later in the set, when the action switches to a second smaller stage at the back of the dance floor and, after being whipped across a bridge by the drummer, our hapless hero drops his trousers while singer Till Lindemann simulates a spot of sodomy. Later Lindemann gets the fun stunt, sitting gleefully astride giant pink foam cannon to spray the audience during "Pussy", although Lorenz does at least get the crowd-surfing stint, complete with rubber dinghy, as compensation for his troubles.

Of course, a Rammstein show will always be theatrical. This one starts with a procession from the back of the arena, part entrance of the gladiators, and part march to the scaffold. The band trudges across the bridge on to the main stage, bearing a Russian flag and a flag of the hitherto unrecognized republic of Rammstein. Blazing torches and pounding drums create a medieval atmosphere: somehow it wouldn't be a shock to see the heads of the support act arrayed on spikes around the drum kit. And so it goes: fireballs erupt regularly throughout, with an eye-brow singeing ferocity that leaves even the back rows of the cavernous hall feeling the heat. Don't stand at the front if you value your facial hair. At various points Lindemann and his colleagues pause from unleashing musical mayhem to blow something up, set something on fire or spit flame across the stage: Engel is performed in massive angel wings with sparks flying merrily.

The one downside of all this is that the band itself it often rendered more or less static on stage. After all, if your stage crew is unleashing Armageddon onstage, it's pretty important that you plant your feet firmly on the X which marks the spot that ensures you won't get a rocket up your rear. At times, therefore, it can feel like the pyrotechnics overwhelm the musicians themselves. Then there is the occasional suspicion that all the blazing fury is a means of distracting the audience from a set of songs which can tend towards the repetitive. Grunting vocals and grinding guitars create a sonic assault which is, at times, as exhausting as it is impressive.

Yet Rammstein manage to pull off a great stage show and a great gig in precisely the way that, for example, Empire of the Sun failed to achieve last year. A better back catalogue, and a style which manages to blend unexpected subtleties into a raw rock mix (those keyboards again, once allowed out of the torture chamber), make it work far better than many gimmick-laden arena tours. It's rare to see a sold-out Olimpiisky, and rarer still to find a band which can dominate one of the world's least inspiring concert spaces but Rammstein managed to do both - two nights running. By the time Moskau was played as the final encore of a two-hour set, the band had conquered the audience to the point where they were largely helping the crowds in their own singalong.

13.02.12
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