April has been a fascinating month for German-music lovers in America. While electro-dance gods Kraftwerk went small (400 people a night) with eight gigs at New York's Museum of Modern Art, Rammstein, a harbinger of the Neue Deutsche Härte ("new German hardness"), went big with an arena tour that nearly sold out Wells Fargo Center on Thursday.
Rammstein needed every inch of that sizable venue — and not only to contain its stern Wagnerian melodies, rhythmic tumult, and mix of epically crunching guitars and synth keyboards. There was also showbiz to see to. Led by lyricist/singer Till Lindemann, Rammstein unleashed a stage show as dazzling and grand as its music, a theatrical presentation as incendiary as its songs.
Rammstein entered through the crowd, holding torches of fire. Mike stands and guitars were on fire. Lindemann and his guitarists wore arcane masks — nabbed, perhaps, from Terry Gilliam's Brazil? — that spit streams of fire. (Later, Lindemann donned a mask that shot water like a geyser.) The band was surrounded by towers and arcs of fire. Lindemann delivered tender vocals on the halting "Engel" ("Angel") wearing mechanical angel wings tipped with fire. Wiry keyboardist Christian Lorenz — a good sport who surfed the crowd in a rubber raft and walked a treadmill while playing, all night — was "cooked" in a smoking cauldron courtesy of Lindemann's arsenal of giant flamethrowers.
A walkway connected the large, industrialized main stage to a smaller center stage. Drummer Christoph Schneider, wearing a blond wig, led the rest of the band there on leashes, and there they raged to power-punk-y tunes such as "Bück Dich" ("Bend Down"). For the set's last song, the ticktocking "Pussy," Lindemann hopped atop a flesh-colored cannon that shot white foam across the front rows.
For all the stagecraft, the night's true spectacle was the intense, roaring music, which one can only call Teutonica. The cellolike string sounds, thrashing guitars, and cleanly cracking live drums of "Wollt Ihr Das Bett In Flammen Sehen" ("Do You Want to See the Bed in Flames") defined the ensemble's wild roar. Using a processed-vocal mix of hacking operatic croon and growling sing-speak that made him sound like Leonard Cohen through a broken microphone (that's a compliment), Lindemann riffed on the unfortunate cultural dominance of the U.S.A. ("Amerika") and homoerotic cannibals ("Mein Teil," or "My Part") in German, to a crowd that sang along with every word. That sing-along made Rammstein's spectacle even grander.