IN CONCERT: NITZER EBB AT THE MOD CLUB IN TORONTO
English EBM legends Nitzer Ebb (singer Douglas McCarthy, programmer/singer Bon Harris and touring drummer Jason Payne) returned to Toronto Tuesday night after a long absence, dusting off old classics and previewing material from their forthcoming Industrial Complex record. The prospect was exciting and cringe-inducing at the same time: Nitzer`s live shows are legendary for their physicality, with Harris and McCarthy usually going topless much of the time. Twenty-two years after the release of their first album, 1987`s That Total Age, would we be faced with the prospect of a flabby NE, shouting about `muscle and hate`and `youth`?
Those admittedly superficial concerns were wiped away when the band — fit and stylishly dressed — took the stage. Harris, the sound designer who programmed the classic NE sound and went on to work with Smashing Pumpkins in the studio, mostly stayed in place, triggering loops and beats, exhorting the crowd to dance. But all eyes fell to McCarthy, 42, who took to the stage in a slick black suit and tie combo. Still lean, still endlessly energetic, the sunglassed singer stalked back and forth, indulging in that trademark swagger/stagger of his, shaming those of us in the audience who found it difficult to dance in the heat generated by the near-capacity audience.
Taking advantage of the enthusiasm of the crowd — which consisted of both older fans and young rivetheads & Goths of both genders — the band launched with a new song, Promises, before segueing into the classic Let Your Body Learn. Thus went the night: introducing new songs, like the sexually charged Down On Your Knees and Payroll, then making sure crowd enthusiasm never diminished by resorting to much-loved tracks like Lightning Man and Control (I`m Here).
While Nitzer Ebb has not been as productive as contemporaries Depeche Mode (with whom they toured in the Eighties and for whom they will be opening again in Europe early in 2010), it`s obvious that McCarthy and Harris still take their craft seriously. They also still have the vigour and energy necessary to keep them dancing and shouting through to the one-two punch of the encore of Getting Closer and I Give To You, which saw Harris getting out from behind his xylophone-style keyboards and pacing the stage with McCarthy, trading off tag-team vocals with his singer, who had by now doffed both jacket and shirt, to the delight of many.
A final massive burst of applause and hollering led to McCarthy thanking us and promising to see us next time. Hopefully that is a promise they will be able to keep.