Fat White Family entertain, but fail to set Bi Nuu alight.
Entering Bi Nuu in the swelteringly hot Berlin evening felt like a descent into a steaming pit. The hellish atmosphere was only emphasised by Bi Nuu’s farcical policy of not giving stamps upon arrival. There was no escape. However, upon reflection, there may never be a more appropriate place to see the Fat White Family expose their seedy brand of post-punk sleaze. They took to stage with little fanfare, filing on with a salute to the crowd and picked up their weapons of choice. The crowd bayed enthusiastically, ready for a wild evening.
The band, six in all, have mostly chosen uniform dark sunglasses obscuring their faces. The exception to this rule is Saul Adamczewski, who looks in dire need of a sleep, and a keyboardist / saxophonist who could pass for a B-Movie era Nick Cave. Their mop tops could be a punk parody of the Beatles excepting singer Lias Saoudi who sports a skinhead. This, coupled with his posturing throughout the evening aped, intentionally, the little Englander fascism of the 1980s. The bedraggled appearance of all spoke to their heavy touring schedule over the past weeks, having played Best Kept Secret in Belgium only two days before.
There were no early signs of fatigue as the band launched into the first few numbers. The striking thing about the Fat White Family’s music is its constantly escalating power and tension. Seldom do the band descend into all out punk fury, rather they sustain a level of mechanical stress that builds throughout the course of multiple songs. The most mobile member of the group is Saoudi whose prostrations and gurning agitate the crowd in a singularly unpleasant way. Watching him contort his body feels like watching the tail end of a low-rate strip show. As a viewer you leave needing a shower.
The set starts off strongly, with plenty on show from the new album. The saxophonist (and occasional flautist) adds a musicality to the songs that seemed lacking in earlier live iterations. The band seldom communicated with one another or the audience, with Adamczweski a retrained bandleader. During classics such as ‘Touch the Leather’ and ‘Whitest Boy on the Beach’ the crowd go wild, bellowing along. Newer songs are also received well, in particular ‘Tastes Good With the Money’ and ‘Feet’. However, at around the mid-point of the set, the constant build-up of pressure lets off somewhat.
Having followed the Fat Whites from their earliest days, this felt a more restrained performance.
My impression was that they plateaued, with the best efforts of the band to sustain the madness not really hitting. Having followed the Fat Whites from their earliest days, this felt a more restrained performance. The economical setlist came to a close with the curiously optimistic ‘I Believe in Something Better’. This was somewhat anachronistic in its optimism and anthemic feel. It was a crack of light in the delineation of an otherwise entirely bleak worldview. Propelled by a great 80s synth sound it was impossible not to be caught up in the song’s swell.
But, with that, it was over. The band left the stage. There was a confusing moment where they seemed to be debating whether or not to play an encore as the sound guy was visibly unsure and kept stopping the song playing over the PA. This ended things on something of a bum note, with a few boos ringing out from the expectant crowd. To some extent I shared their disappointment. This had been a strong outing, but by no means the raucous catastrophe of their earlier shows. It felt as though they have cleaned up their act a bit, and if the new music is due to this then that’s no bad thing.
Gramsci, a chap I’m sure the band hold in high regard, once said: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” It is a moment of transition that the Fat White Family find themselves in. Whilst the symptoms aren’t entirely morbid, they may need to rediscover the madness of the live show that marked them out from so many other bands of their ilk. If they can charge their new-found musical focus and creativity with that mercurial streak of old, they will be a force to be reckoned with.