Rammstein show like Blue Man with flamethrowers
My wife's first teenage concert was Led Zeppelin, and she turned out to be this wonderful, peace-loving, thoughtful adult. So it doesn't seem out of line for us to take our three sons and their two cousins and parents to the heavy metal Rammstein concert Tuesday night at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont.
I concede, however, that critics can make a case against my judgment.
Taking its name from the fatal 1988 airshow disaster in Rammstein, the six-member German metal band and its lead singer, Till Lindemann, come under attack from multiple fronts. Some liberals with an appreciation for history are uncomfortable with the idea of short-haired muscular German men marching around onstage using dark, militaristic imagery in songs. Conservatives have blasted Rammstein for explicit sexual depictions and songs about real-life crimes such as the Rotenberg cannibal killer, cyanide poisonings and other horrors. And the band's first bad publicity in the United States came after photos surfaced showing the Columbine massacre killers wearing Rammstein shirts.
"Mr. Lindemann gave off an air of such brute masculinity and barely contained violence," reads a Rammstein review from the New York Times, "that it seemed that he could have reached into the crowd, snatched up a fan, and bitten off his head."
So I am a little nervous as the arena lights go down and the crowd cheers the growing din of a thumping bass as we parents try to see if Ross and Ben, 15, Will, 12, and their cousins, Klée, 14, and Bryce, 10, of Elgin, are wearing their earplugs.
My nephews' parents, both professional artists, rave about the fine art quality of the stage design and set production.
Turns out the highly theatrical show is more of a comically dark version of the Blue Man Group, only with their mouths sporting flamethrowers instead of marshmallows. Fire (my sons inform me that the 48-year-old Lindemann is a licensed pyrotechnician) is a huge part of the show. And it's entertaining, if not laugh-out-loud funny.
When it appears as if a crazed fan leaps onstage and is accidentally set on fire, all the kids realize the flaming man running from security is just a stunt actor no different from the gunman who falls off the roof in a Wild West show. When an assortment of baby dolls hanging above the stage suddenly explode into bits, no one in the audience takes it as some sort of serious statement about anything weightier than it is cool to see things explode.
My sons say they admire Rammstein for speaking out in favor of gay rights and for having the edginess to commemorate tragedies in song. I don't have the musical expertise to tell you if Rammstein is a pioneer of Neue Deutsche Harte (the "new German hardness"), more "doom metal" than "death metal," or even all that talented. But their over-the-top show, from the minute they make their entrances by hammering through their enclosures to the encore when Lindemann dons giant, metallic bird wings that shoot flames from the feathers, reminds me of something from the classic comedy rock mockumentary "This is Spinal Tap." We all laugh when Lindemann straddles a cannon that shoots foam and ticker tape over his audience, or when Christian "Flake" Lorenz leaves the treadmill he paces behind his keyboard to hop into a surfing rubber raft that the audience passes over their heads as he pretends to paddle through the river of Rammstein faithful.
The fans, 99 percent of whom seem younger than I and older than the kids in my group, not only politely play well with others, they play their parts to keep us entertained. Some young women, in pig tails and lederhosen, look like lusty St. Pauli girls, while others opt for leather lingerie and 9-inch heels. Men, many in leather vests with bare arms, sometimes top off their look with mohawks or spiky hair from a bygone era when I was young enough to frequent clubs where that style made its first appearance.
Getting up on Wednesday, whether for school or to write a column, is a little tougher than normal. But, just as I discovered after our last family concert to see Weird Al Yankovic, I can tell from the good conversation on the minivan ride home that our Rammstein outing will become one those lasting family memories that comes down on the bright side.