Front 242, The Hunger, JG and the Robots
September 19, 2015
Twenty-two years is a long time for fans of a band to wait for a concert, and judging by the huge crowd that showed up for Saturday night's Front 242 show at Numbers, the legendary EBM group still has plenty of Houston-area fans. Those fans began arriving early, forming huge lines to get in to see the popular Belgian band, with local industrial favorites The Hunger and Dallas-area synth-pop project JG and the Robots opening. As the club filled, it became obvious that Numbers' management has spent a lot of time and money on improvements to the club; a friend of mine wandered outside onto the crowded patio and seemed amazed. "It's like it's always been, but now it's just better!", he said, referencing the sound system and air conditioning.
At 9 p.m., JG and the Robots began a set of melodic synth music performed by JG in his impressive robot costume. Or maybe he builds musical robots and sets them up to perform; I don't know for sure. If it's a suit, it's an impressive one, and his music was punctuated by Vocoder-laden pop vocals that made the performance mesmerizing. The Hunger followed, with a set that had the band reaching back into their musical library to give fans a chance to hear early material they don't perform often. There seemed to be a sizable crowd that had come out specifically to see this band, and they did not disappoint.
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As the time neared for Front 242 to take the stage, anticipation grew, and when the band began their set with "Moldavia," off 1991 album Tyranny (For You), the crowd erupted with pent-up energy. Awash in vivid lights, Jean-Luc de Meyer and Richard Jonckheere traded off on vocals while videos played behind them, creating a riveting visual presence. Both singers seemed to be in constant motion, busting out aggressive dance moves that would have been impressive for men many years younger than themselves. Behind them, keyboardist Patrick Codenys and drummer Tim Kroker kept the music pulsing along, and founding member Daniel Bressanutti was located behind a mixing board offstage controlling the visual elements of the show and playing keyboards on some tracks. The band members have been working together a long time, and it was obvious from the show, which was tight and relentless in its kinetic energy.
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Numbers was packed and most people in the audience seemed to be having a great night. I volunteered to work security at the show, and overheard a couple of people complaining about muffled acoustics, but watched the show from several different locations inside the club and didn't detect any sound issues anywhere I was listening from. Some venues sound differently depending on where a person is standing, so perhaps that contributed to a few people taking issue with the sound. To my ears everything sounded great, particularly for a show so heavily attended. Front 242 mined songs from across their nearly 35 year career, going back all the way to songs such as "U-Men," from their 1982 album Geography. Other classics like "Masterhit," "In Rhythmus Bleiben," "Welcome to Paradise" and "Tragedy For You" got huge responses from the audience, and "Headhunter" had the whole crowd was singing along.
The audience was an interesting one, which seemed to be comprised of EBM fans of all ages; it was refreshing to see a mix of younger and older fans enjoying a show like this together. Houston has a really strong fan base for electronic music, and Front 242 brought them out in a big way. I've seen a lot of concerts at Numbers, and this ranks as one of the most energetic performances I've seen there, as well as the most visually striking. Between de Meyer and Jonckheere's mastery at working the crowd and the synchronized videos and lighting, the show definitely drew me in and kept my attention throughout. The band did not disappoint, living up to their legendary status as electronic-music pioneers. Hopefully it won't be another 22 years before they return to Houston again, but Front 242 gave their fans a great night of live music until they decide to tour again.
Past Present Productions and the New Beat deserve lots of credit for making this show happen, and John Housman and Robert Ehlinger — the men behind the scenes — obviously share a passion for bringing these kinds of shows to Houston. The staff at Numbers also deserves a lot of credit, as hosting a large show such as this presents many challenges, and it seemed like everything worked out well for the fans who made it out to the show. This was probably the biggest electronic-music concert of the year, and Front 242 and the opening acts put on a show that packed the house and will likely be remembered and talked about for years to come.