Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Nina Hagen & the Capital Dance Orchestra

Growling Swing
Barcelona Teatro Musical, Barcelona, Spain

Apparently it takes a punk icon like Nina Hagen combined with shiny purveyors of 20s, 30s, and 40s swing music The Capital Dance Orchestra to create this gorgeous audience. Older hippies sip cava with terribly fashionable German couples; packs of excitable gay boys whisper about the hair styles of punk teens; posh older jazz afficionadoes steal glances at the eyeglass frames of hip web designers. It's very.

No format can stop Nina Hagen from being Nina Hagen, and having a swing orchestra as a backing band is no different. She comes out in a red FBI tank top, black and pink tutu, purple tights, and chunky orange heels. She lurches into each number, singing like she wrote the songs to be punk classics but now here they are being presented by a fancy orchestra. Her vocal range is shocking, and at times she reaches down into the caverns below the city to draw up a gutteral rasp that can make the cheeriest song sound downright creepy, as if every dance number is now a dark Weill piece.

Nina has four costume changes during the show which she handles during her frequent breaks, much like Cher did a million years ago. The band keeps playing, however, dually-led by an energetic singer and buoyant violinist. And as they did during the Cher show, some audience members take Nina's departure from the stage as a signal for a mini-intermission, slinking out for a cerveza or a smoke. At one point the couple behind me leaves, and ten minutes later are replaced by two new people. You just can't keep Spaniards in one place for too long.

At the start of the show, only press photographers go to the front of the stage for photos, leaving the rest of us to curse our weak zoom lenses from our seats. Then during her second set one guy creeps down the aisle in front of me to get a better picture. Thus begins the Rolling Permissions Phenomenon (RPP). Some see RPP as a lemmings theory, that if one person jumps everyone else will. But I like to think of it as a self-esteem builder. Two punk girls look at the first guy and say "if that shmuck can go down there and take a photo, *we* sure as hell can." And so then a song later they march themselves down to the front. Soon people are inching their way forward like flies to a lightbulb, getting bolder and bolder with their positioning.

It only takes a couple of guys who walk right up and rest their cameras on the stage for RPP to really thunder. By the end of Nina's third set there are around 40 people at the front. By the end of the fourth set there are 100. And during her encores at least 120 people are cramed into the small asile between front row and stage. Finally, during Nina's first curtain call, the bravest girl of all jumps up on stage to hug and kiss Nina, then turns to her friend to pose for a photo. It's like the whole crowd suddenly remembered that this is Nina Hagen, who was stomped on and spat at during shows for a decade. She of all people will not be alarmed by adoring fans taking her damned picture.

Half of the songs tonight are in English, and half are in German. The Capital Dance Orchestra is fantastic, and the singer belts out Cole Porter and other tunes while Nina gets changed. Of course her German songs are more heartfelt, and she dedicates several of them to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the American peace movement, people living in harmony throughout the globe, and her own ancestors. The audience is charmed and delighted to hear such a unique take on pieces of music that are seldom messed with. But mostly we're happy that despite the backdrop of peppy cocktail music, Nina still growls, stomps, and struts her way beyond the end of a fantastic show.

Fanalyst Rating

Fashion: ***
Scene: ****
Band/Audience Rapport: ***
Audience Focus: ****

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