From left: Geraldine Swayne, Amaury Cambuzat, and Zappi Diemaier of German… (Steven Gunther )
The sacrificial piano sat stage right during German band Faust's concert at REDCAT. It was a church basement clunker, a blond-wooded upright with broken-tooth keys and a chipped veneer.
Whatever sacred beauty it delivered in better days, the piano was now doomed, sentenced to death by a band that 40 years ago helped transform the direction of experimental rock and noise music with transfixing grooves and an abundance of free-spirited, Dada-inspired non sequiturs.
In the first of two Friday-night performances at the Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater in downtown L.A., the four-piece version of a band co-founded in 1970 by, among others, current members Jean-Hervé Péron and percussionist Werner "Zappi" Diermaier, delivered art-damaged (quite literally) noise rock to a sold-out, rapt crowd.
They accomplished this via gear that included a bucket of rocks, a cement mixer, a Yamaha drum kit, a female choir, sledgehammers, electric and acoustic guitars, a blank canvas, a 55-gallon drum, a Roland VK-8 synthesizer, a 4-by-8 sheet of Styrofoam, a power saw -- and said death-row piano.
This instrumentation came as little surprise to many in attendance. To a certain subset of rock geeks, the German "krautrock" movement of the 1970s provided some of the most enduring and adventurous recordings of the era. Though less well known than peers Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Can, Faust created essential work that in the intervening years helped set the path for avant-garde rock and sample-based electronic music. Less shocking in 2012 than in the early 1970s when the band was forging something entirely new, Faust's approach Friday remained as difficult and abrasive as ever.
Evidence of this came early, in Péron's "poem for cement mixers," which featured the group's singer-bassist-free-spirited mad scientist directing an ensemble of a dozen-odd students from the California Institute of the Arts. Creating a gradually ascending din of voice, brass, guitar and sibilant percussion, the piece climaxed when Péron poured gravel into a slowly spinning cement mixer, which he then rolled around the stage like he was pushing a stroller as the noise grew bigger -- then faded and vanished.
After a brief intermission (in part to clean up the gravel dust), Faust's current lineup of Diermaier, Péron, guitarist Amaury Cambuzat and keyboardist-vocalist-visual artist Geraldine Swayne came onstage to present older work. Among these pieces were the free-floating surrealist sound poem "Listen to the Fish" and an off-kilter version of the early work "I've Got My Car and My TV," from the group's 1972 classic, "So Far."
But the highlights were the climatic, Zappi-driven mantras. Faust has many such marathons in its arsenal, and for nearly 45 minutes, its members drove in and out of them, culminating in its epic "Krautrock."
Within that period, Swayne left her Roland to paint on the canvas a picture of a smiling orb with legs, under which were the words "beneath the planets evacuate." Zappi sprayed spark fountains on Péron by grinding an electric blade onto the oil drum. Péron fired up the chain saw and cut into the Styrofoam the words "Art ist Nix" while a strobe light captured the particles floating through the air across the stage.
Then, while a player (probably a plant) pulled from the crowd banged on the piano, Péron took a chain saw to it, carving into the back, cutting off a leg until it lurched backward and dropped to the ground like a felled antelope.
It surrendered rather quietly, all things considered, its last dying notes drowned by the screaming of the saw, the guitar freakouts and Zappi's hard drumming and sheet-metal banging.
When the show was over, the sledgehammer, chain saw and Faust had emerged victorious, the canvas had art on it, Styrofoam dust blanketed the floor, guitarist Cambuzat had crafted elegant sheets of distortion, and the room smelled like gasoline.