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Lali Puna
Stella Art Foundation 
By Ian Kysel
Avant Club’s booking manager introduced Lali Puna before Saturday night’s concert by thanking fans for helping bring ‘true independent music’ to Moscow. For those who attended their last concert in Moscow, three years ago, the show likely exceeded expectations. The group provided a varied set that even eventually broke the icy distance often separating fans and groups from abroad. Posters produced by the co-sponsoring Goethe Institute promised a performance by the most fashionable group in the world. Lali Puna’s hip indy rock image and music continues to win them new fans worldwide.

On and offstage, Lali Puna has a congenial dynamic. The band combines the charismatic and ever-understated founder, keyboardist and vocalist, Valerie Trebeljahr, bass guitarist Markus Acher, drummer Christoph Bradner, and keyboardist Christian Hess. Founded in early 1998 as Trebeljahr moved on from her previous gig with L.B. Page, Lali Puna’s current line-up dates from 2003 with the substitution of Hess for departing keyboardist Florian Zimmer. Since then, the band released an album, Faking the Books (Morr, 2004), and continues to develop their own distinctive and dynamic version of electronic music. This recent release spurred a second North American tour and added to their list of acclaimed EPs: Tridecoder (Morr, 1999), Scary World Theory (Morr, 2001), and Left Handed (Morr, 2003). With their last two discs, they seem to have become more of a guitar-drums-keyboard-vocalist rock group than a four-track and computer show. Saturday they blended Trebajahr’s morose alto with their rock-infused electronica on stage at Avant Club.

Before the show the band shared dinner and a beer at the venue’s snackbar. After laughing and chatting together in German, and giving a television interview, the group headed backstage to prep for the show. Avant club is a large concert venue with stadium seating and a large dance-floor, but even at just over half-full there was still an excited buzz through the crowd. While waiting, one expat yelled from the back row to his friend at the edge of the stage: “Sasha – what’s up man? Rock and Roll!” clashing with the almost too cool for school atmosphere in the rest of the theater. The fans, though excited, seem to affect the same relaxed indy rocker persona as the band they came to see. Yet as the clock ticked, this parliament-smoking hipster cool (in a no-smoking venue), began to crack around the edges and some die-hard fans jumped up and down with their friends in anxious anticipation.

Filing out a little before ten while the house lights were still dimming, Lali Puna took the stage and began their set with a slow throbbing number, filling the house with sound. Pausing afterwards for a coy “Privy-Yet,” the group moved into the favorite “1-800-FEAR.” Both songs were met with much applause and even some whistling. Though fans recognized many of the songs, there was little dancing. Most of the young hip crowd bobbed their heads to the beat, awkwardly searching for the best way to react to the music. Trebajahr’s stage presence was half shy child half stern concert performer, in contrast to the jamming Acher and Bradner. Her understated presence created an awkward distance between the band and their fans while she moved between singing, spoken word and whisper. Though admonishing in the hushed, “I never said you had to be afraid/ of the cookie monster beside your bed,” she herself didn’t move or seem to emote much behind her keyboard and synthesizer stack. Lali Puna played in front of a huge simulcast of the concert (shot from multiple cameras) but this larger than life show seemed oddly juxtaposed to Trebejahr’s demure onstage presence.

While awkward alienation may have marked the start of their set, the group soon ramped into a full sonic onslaught. Most of the songs featured a repeated melodic or lyrical figure over an evolving background of drum-base-keyboard-synthesizers. By the middle of their set the band had totally saturated the house with sound. This was an all out rock show. As the group continued the intense deluge of sound that marked the middle of their set one wondered whether they could maintain such a furious pacing. There was no banter between songs – except for a timid “spacebo. thank you.” after most. And while a few loving fans sang along, the crowds reaction didn’t begin to explode with the band’s music until the very end of their set.

Slowing down with their last number, “6-0-3,” though not sacrificing intensity, Lali Puna was called onstage for two successive encores. At the beginning of the second encore, they slammed into technical difficulties when one of the bass player’s tuners broke. “I’ve never had anything like this before – a short break and we’ll be back.” Acher apologized to the crowd. To keep things going, keyboardist Hess started to lay down a phat beat, only to have his equipment fail as well. In the interruption, Trebejahr made her way to the front row for a little meet-and-greet with the fans. After a few minutes, Hess was back in business and Acher ready to play – with only three strings. Trebejahr, smiling, announced the song – 40 days – and added, “so we start once more.” And they did. By the end of the more melodic numbers in the encores, a little after 11, there was no more frosty distance between fans and band. The cool veneer that both crowd and band were affecting seemed to break with bass and synthesizer, and those present felt free to laugh with the band and get into the last numbers. As the show ended, the club’s manager came onstage to invite everyone downstairs – free – for Avant’s afterparty surprise for the band. Lali Puna was wrong if they thought their second appearance in Moscow should be their last: by the end of their show everyone was clamoring for more.

Sine qua non. The club manager began Saturday’s show by thanking fans for their support – without which, he remarked, there would have been no Lali Puna in Moscow. Indeed, Saturday was a night of unexpected conditions. Though they played an amazing set, without their three-stringed finale the cool fans would not have left as certain about their love for this cool band. After both band and fans laughed and danced through the encore, the post-gig priority was clear: hang out with the members of Lali Puna and listen to some more independent music. Turning down post show interviews in order to “have a beer and watch the show,” Lali Puna was met by an enthusiastic crowd who pushed forward for autographs and photo-ops, and shared their compliments in a mutual foreign language. “Your music… in my life…” offered one adoring fan, tracing a large circle in the air with his hands. “I understand,” returned Trebejahr. If doting fans are the condition for sustaining true independent music, it is only when that music strikes a chord. Saturday night’s Lali Puna show transformed both audience and band from aloof observers to pleased participants. True? Independent? For 600 rubles it was definitely good.

14.02.05
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