A concert like the one German industrial metal band Rammstein played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Friday practically demands you play Never Have I Ever as you consider what in the world you just witnessed.
As in: Never have I ever seen the singer of a band repeatedly blast a huge cauldron with a literal flamethrower while the keyboard player ducks down inside to avoid incineration.
Yeah. That happened.
And there was the song where Rammstein singer Till Lindemann wore a backpack tank of some very flammable liquid to ignite jets of fire in a towering semi-circle around him. And the one with a horrifying demon doll inside a giant baby buggy that also ended in flames.
This was a stadium show for the ages, and well worth the wait. The first of two shows at the Coliseum this weekend, this was the first time Rammstein has played Southern California in a decade, and maybe the 10th time it’s played here at all since the band started in 1994.
Rammstein’s bombast and pomp felt right at home in the historic Coliseum, with its Moderne architecture and peristyle archways a perfect setting for a band whose music can feel both ancient and timeless, brutal and beautiful from one moment to the next.
We got to our seats a few songs after the show kicked off thanks to the always awful traffic and parking around the Coliseum, and some unexpected ticketing snafus at will call.
Turns out, it’s kind of disorienting to walk into a Rammstein stadium show in progress: 50,000 or more fans fulling engaged, chanting and singing with Lindemann and the band – in German, no less, which is something when you take in the diversity of its Southern California fans.
Song titles such as “Zeig Dich” and “Mein Hertz Brennt” are repeated often in the lyrics, which resulted in the impressive experience of all those fans shouting “Show yourself!” and “My heart burns!” over and over as Rammstein thundered on stage.
Let’s talk about that stage for a moment. It takes the Rammstein crew four days to build it with its 265-person crew augmented by 260 workers hired locally at each stop. The 1,350 tons of stage gear fills 43 shipping containers.
At 200 feet wide, 100 feet deep, and 120 feet high, it features giant towers topped with lights that look like gigantic industrial fans, and a central spire reminiscent of a radio tower capable of signaling far-off galaxies.
It’s a behemoth on which the six Rammsteiners – Lindemann, guitarists Richard Kruspe and Paul Landers down front, bassist Oliver Riedel, drummer Christoph Schneider, and keyboardist Christian “Flake” Lorenz in back – would seem insignificant but for the powerful assault of their sound.
“Puppe,” which means doll or puppet in English, starts with the arrival of a 10-foot-tall, old-fashioned baby buggy at the center of the stage. It starts as one of the loudest ballads I’ve ever heard, and after a section of thunderous riffing brings it to a climax, the Baby Doll From Hell is set ablaze in the buggy and confetti cannons blast a good portion of the 330 pounds of black confetti used in each show.
My notes were filled with worlds like “pummels” and “pulverizing,” but Rammstein is more sophisticated than that would suggest. Lindemann, whose sooty-faced stage makeup made him look like a coal stoker working a steel mill blast furnace, sings in a theatrical baritone that ranges from menacing to seductive, sometimes operatic, sometimes rock ‘n’ roll cabaret.
“Zeit,” the title track from the band’s newest album, was actually a very gentle song – if one played at extremely loud volumes – finishing with a lovely choral section. Other songs, like “Radio” and “Du Hast,” played toward the end of the main set, have a hard groove to them that make them right at home in industrial or goth dance clubs.
“Mein Teil” – literally “My share,” but apparently also slang for a very personal body part – was the theatrical highlight of the night. Inspired by a real-life infamous German case of … well, cannibalism, this is one where Lindemann, wearing a butcher’s apron and carrying a knife, uses a flamethrower, and then a flame cannon, on keyboardist Flake inside the 5-foot-tall cauldron.
Spoiler alert: Flake survives, crawling and stumbling out of the pot to begin the aforementioned “Du Hast,” a song that helped Rammstein break out in the States thanks to its use in “The Matrix.” It is a total jam that ends with a kind of rocket launcher shooting fireworks missiles to the remote speaker towers where they ignite blasts of fire and smoke, and then shoot missiles back to the stage to do the same there.
A note on the pyrotechnics: There are 586 pyro effects in the show. If you were in an airplane flying in or out of LAX and you saw this in the distance, well, it would alarm you. If a smog alert goes out this weekend, this might be why.
“Sonne” wrapped up the main set and all you need to know about this one is my notes read, “SO MUCH FIRE. HOT, HOT FIRE. HEAVY, HEAVY ROCK.”
After a five-minute break during which some in the crowd exposed themselves for the video screen cameras – the winner the dude who had to undo his overalls to lift up his shirt and offer a glimpse of his chest – Rammstein returned the first of two encores.
And surprise! This was a piano version of “Engel,” with the two women of the classical piano group Duo Jatekok accompanying the band as they sang the lyrics from the remote stage before riding inflatable rafts held aloft by fans back to the main stage.
“Auslander” delivered another danceable groove, while a song whose title I probably can’t print here saw Lindemann riding a cannon through the crowd on the floor level while shooting most of the 530 pounds of white confetti over their heads.
The second encore opened with the self-titled “Rammstein,” during which Lindemann turned himself into a kind of fire peacock with his flamethrower backpack, and guitarists Kruspe and Landers shot flames from the necks of their instruments.
After that, more flames, more thunder, until with the final song, “Adieu,” this never-have-I-ever of a night came to a thoroughly satisfying close.