Friday Night: Nitzer Ebb At Numbers

Nitzer Ebb Numbers November 29, 2010

It was an odd feeling, watching Nitzer Ebb at Numbers Friday night.

It was an odd feeling, because of the déjà vu. Nitzer Ebb was the first band Aftermath ever saw live - ever - opening Depeche Mode's Violator tour at the Woodlands in 1990, when both the Pavilion and the Ebb's album Showtime were new. So when they opened with Showtime's leadoff track, the slow-burning "Getting Closer," our pulse shot up and we knew we were going to have a good time.

It was an odd feeling, because we did. There's nothing terribly academic about Nitzer Ebb's music, unless you want to be academic and start throwing around words like "atavistic." Otherwise, it's a few degrees north of primal, British angst and German rhythms thrown into a cauldron stirred by behind-the-scenesman Bon Harris and channeled through loose-limbed vocalist Douglas McCarthy, who knows when to thrust out a hand, when to jerk the entire upper half of his body in the other direction, when to bark and when to growl.

It was an odd feeling, because back in 1990, we could have sworn someone in the band wore biker shorts. (In their defense, it was August.) We much preferred McCarthy's outfit this time: Mirror shades, black suit and tie and white shirt. It made him look like a Blues Brother cousin of Bono's Zoo TV encore character the "Mirrorball Man." He acted the part, too.

It was an odd feeling, because for an "industrial" group, the only non-vocal organic sounds - and by that we mean those not created by a keyboard, sequencer or some other electronic device - came from a jazz-sized trap set played by Jason Payne. It helped.

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It was an odd feeling, because a friend of ours went to see Nick Cave's latest blues-derived gnashing of teeth, Grinderman, in Memphis the weekend before Thanksgiving. Then, during the set Friday, Aftermath was talking to another friend of ours - quietly - and he told us he had just interviewed Nitzer Ebb backstage before the show. According to our friend, the Ebb told him that Cave's first band the Birthday Party - which treated both punk rock and the blues like a Saturday night - was their favorite. Ever. Not Can, not Neu!, not Kraftwerk, although our friend did mention the Ebb also gave high marks to punk-rock bands like the Damned... and Little Richard. Then it all fell into place, and we wondered if the other friend who had gone to Memphis could have possibly had a better time than we did.

It was an odd feeling, because it was at Numbers. When Aftermath first moved to Houston about three years ago, due to both our general love of the sort of '80s music Numbers specializes in and the fact that we never really got to while growing up in Clear Lake, we figured we'd be going almost every Friday night. We hardly ever have. Still, somewhere between visiting the bathroom (revolting as ever) and side smoking porch (best people-watching in town, as ever), Aftermath got really sentimental. We may not go very often, but if Numbers ever were to go away - and from what we hear, there's no immediate danger of that happening - we would really, really miss the place. We'd just miss it from afar, most likely.

It was an odd feeling, watching Nitzer Ebb at Numbers Friday night.

Personal Bias: No joke: Aftermath was into Nitzer Ebb way before the Rolling Stones, U2 or Lynyrd Skynyrd. We were a weird kid.

The Crowd: Very much a Numbers Friday night crowd. The number of women wearing white shirts was the same as the number of men wearing a top hat and elaborate eye makeup (one apiece), which is half the number of drag queens we spotted. Also, black skirts, stockings and high-heeled boots are in this season, but if you've been anywhere near Numbers... well, since it opened, you may have already guessed that.

Overhead In the Crowd: Something funny in the bathroom, probably, but the smell of fresh puke was so overpowering we chose to split and not linger long enough to write whatever it was down.

Random Notebook Dump: Give openers //TENSE// a try sometime. For some reason (iffy sound, chattery crowd, our own restlessness) the male-female Houston duo didn't quite connect as much as we were hoping they would. Not as much as when we saw them at an art opening around the corner from Last Concert Café a year or so ago, anyway, but the Wax Trax-fed raw materials are there. We'll be back.

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