Saturday 20 November 2021


Union Chapel, London, 15th Nov

This fad for playing an old album through, initially it didn’t seem in the spirit of Faust. They often feel like those re-enactment societies who restage ancient battles, diligently reproducing every move but adhering rigidly to modern Health and Safety guidelines. While Faust were a band who rarely placed the same thing the same way twice; who when I last saw them I was moved to describe as “arch-antagonists of the formulaic.” They’ve picked ’Faust IV’. And not, for example, ’The Faust Tapes’. 

But it came with the news they’d be playing as an expanded troupe, which included even yer proper classical instruments. Which suggested the aim was other than mere fidelity.

Then during the great gig interregnum we somehow got through, when dates were being bounced later and later, came the news that Zappi was no longer performing with Jean-Herve Peron. The two stalwarts I’d seen live twice and heard on countless CDs. Which made the endeavour seem still-more unguessable…

The stage is set for no less than twelve players. Much as the Can Project had replaced the irreplaceable Jaki Liebezeit by double up, there’s two drum kits. One of which turns out to be for longstanding band associate Chris Cutler.

It starts strangely. Not Faust strange, but strange. The three string players lull us with something calming and neo-classical. Naturally, we all wait to hear how Faust will mess with it. It turns out, to our perplexity, they don’t. It finishes to bemusement as the others stroll on stage. “You’re very quiet”, Peron tells us.

But from there, three things are obvious straight away. They’re not bothering with the Sacred Track Order rule of these events, a small but sure-fire sign they’re playing this the way they want. And after A Certain Ratio, this is two bands within a week who’ve taken on a transfusion of younger members. They point out at one point the line-up takes in every decade from teen to Seventies. And not least, when musicians aren’t required they don’t neatly slip off stage but loll about, reading books and sipping wine. Anti-rockism by now being a Faust tradition.

The set’s bookended by the titans ’Just a Second’ and ’Krautrock.’ But perhaps the test isn’t the trance-out riff tracks, which lend themselves to reworking, but the songs. And this is after all their most song-based album, the one they recorded here in Britain with Richard Branson peering nosily over their shoulders. They often feel treated as if they were folk standards, things everybody knows and now exist only to be amended. Peron and his daughter do most of the singing, normally undertaken with mock theatricality, as if saying “we’re here to have some fun with this old stuff.” A band so irreverent about everything should surely take that attitude to their own back catalogue. And they do.

What’s essentially the backing vocals of ’Bit Of A Pain’ are magnified and extended to the point they become mesmeric, like a remix artist seizing on one element to rearrange everything else around. Even if getting the audience to hum along ran into the English reserve. Over the top, this being a Faust event and full of chance collisions, someone then read out a story in Japanese.

’Sad Skinhead’, nobody’s favourite Faust song, slighted by Julian Cope in ’Krautrocksampler’, doesn’t just work better here but even works well, lurching to it’s own off-kilter rhythm, somehow out of time and keeping to it’s own time. Perhaps because the sinuous violin line provided such a counterpoint. Dada Ska finally achieved after only fifty years!

It doesn’t all work. At times it meanders, at others feels self-indulgent. At one point Peron broke off into a ditty about not selling out, when they should be above such stock notions. At others he seemed intent on livening the ensemble up, with the others not quite sure how to respond.

Overall, though it was the better of the two gigs, it did feel reminiscent of the Can Project. Not just the expanded line-up, the presence of just one original member or the double drums. Carelessly left on for a softer number they then trampled, ’Thief’ and ’Jennifer’ respectively. But because, by the very design of it, there cannot help but feel something commemorative about proceedings.

Of course, by the time of the Can Project it couldn’t be other than a tribute to a band already gone. But the other Faust gigs I’ve seen had faced forwards, like they were the radioactive particle that had no half-life. Hopefully this won’t mark the point where their relentlessly creative/destructive spirit finally started to relent.

Just to prove I wasn’t making it up about ’Sad Skinhead’… (The camera does stop careering so much after a bit.) There’s also a fuller, if still not quite complete, film here.

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