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Monday, March 25, 2013

KMFDM @ Shank Hall

March 24, 2013

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It’s entirely plausible that you could make it this far in life without consciously hearing German industrial outfit KMFDM, but if you’ve frequented rock concerts at any point in the last 25 years or so, you’ve almost assuredly seen somebody sporting one of their signature black T-shirts. They’re pretty hard to miss, adorned with the same brutal, Soviet constructivist-derived imagery that graces their many album covers, which in itself speaks to the sort of readily identifiable “conceptual continuity” that they’ve been building and elaborating on since multi-instrumentalist Sascha Konietzko, the only consistent presence through a slew of lineup changes, began the band as an in-your-face performance art project in 1984. Take all those fans you’ve ever seen representing at shows over the years, cram them into an intimate club, and you’ve got a pretty fair approximation of the vibe at Shank Hall Sunday night.

It was almost a challenge, a game to pass the time between bands, to find somebody not rocking the band’s iconic acronym, which, by the way, stands for “Kein Mehrheit Für Die Mitleid,” a grammatically incorrect German phrase meaning roughly “No Pity for the Majority” (and not, as the band has jokingly claimed on occasion, “Kill Motherfucking Depeche Mode.”)  These were clearly devout fans, singing along to every song of a set that bounded across the band’s vast discography, while detouring heavily into the brand new Kunst, most memorably with the topical “Pussy Riot.” Hearing material from across decades back to back, it’s easy to get the sense KMFDM’s conceptual consistency might be a little too consistent, but while their sound, which loudly helped to define Chicago’s legendary Wax Trax! Records, wore a little thin over nearly two hours, it’s not without plenty of charm.

This lineup, in place for the last decade, is at its best when it finds the right balance between the electronic dance and heavy metal influences that inform modern industrial music, melding the big rave beats and synth hooks with the noisy guitars and drum blasts instead of just swinging between the two. With the sometimes lunkheaded, combat-obsessed lyrics and cartoonish stage presence (Konietzko looked very Travis Bickle in his mohawk and shades), it’s a little hard to tell how seriously to take KMFDM, but if they’re fairly cheesy, it’s a likable, contagious cheesiness, and they certainly make the effort to put on a show, complete with some impressive lighting effects. The fans, some of whom came from hours away, were clearly into it, and the band reciprocated with an extended double encore and some pandering praise about Chicago being a suburb of Milwaukee and not the other way around. Lord only knows how many tour T-shirts were sold.