faUSt – Con Club, Lewes, UK (23rd & 24th November, 2017)

It says a lot about faUSt’s adventurous attitude that even those with an exhaustive knowledge of the band’s discography likely had no way of knowing quite what to expect from the band’s two night residency at Lewes’ Con Club. The small venue played host to two sell out crowds, both receiving wildly different shows which, in true faUSt fashion, flitted between the caustically intense and the light-heartedly cheery with disconcerting ease. In 2017 faUSt are a band very much in touch with their storied past but not shackled by it. The group’s profoundly individual ethos and attitude remains seemingly much the same today as it was near enough fifty years ago – but the group’s two performances show a band looking resolutely forward rather than back.

That’s not to say that the band ignore their much-revered ’70s output; although vintage material is fairly minimal on the opening Thursday night, there’s quite a number of long-term fan favourites dotted through the band’s triumphant Friday night performance. Although faUSt today share only two members with the original line-up – frontman Jean-Hervé Péron and drummer Werner “Zappi” Diermaier – the vintage material that they perform is executed with a marked confidence and verve. The band today count amongst their ranks Geraldine Swayne and Amaury Cambuzat; both of whom have, in actuality, been in the band far longer than the original lineup ever lasted. Although Swayne remains behind a large wood-panelled Korg for most of the two shows, she does take lead vocal duties a few times throughout the two shows and, in the process, deliveres by far some of the best vocal work the band has yet seen. Friday night sees her take the reins on the 1973 ‘Faust Tapes’ classic ‘J’ai Mal Aux Dents’; it’s a definite highlight of the night and is a version of the song transfixing enough to give the original a run-for-its-money. Cambuzat, for his part, underpins both nights with effects-laden guitar work which see him establish a joyous musical interplay with Péron’s meaty, fuzz-drench bass exploration.

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faUSt live are every bit the sonic experimentalists that they are on album, and their performances are engrossing and stimulating on numerous levels. There’s a definite visual component to the band’s live show: their infamous use of musique concrète techniques remains unmissable on both nights and various members of the group take turns manically jabbing a paint-encrusted jackhammer into a well abused metal canister and thrusting a buzzsaw against an equally worse-for-wear piece of sheet metal with worrying eagerness for those of us in the front row. Such moments are a sensory overload and embody exactly what faUSt have always been about; it’s a deeply visual spectacle (when the buzzsaw is dusted off so many sparks fly around the stage that it’s as genuinely alarming as it is impossible to look away from) and, while it’s also sonically textural and muscular, such moments even call upon the audience’s sense of smell – the tang of burnt metal hangs around the room for a good 10 minutes after the utensils go back on the shelf.

It can be easy (and indeed tempting) to focus solely on the group’s most sonically abrasive elements – there can be plenty to choose from between the jackhammer antics and the copious buzzing, overwhelming effects that drench so much of the band’s set when they do don more traditional instrumentation – that it’s all too easy to overlook the group’s knack for likeable, immediate melody. 1972’s ‘Faust So Far’ and 1974’s ‘Faust IV’ demonstrated the band’s melodic talents better than any other of their albums and it’s the material from these two that most readily shows their more melodious qualities during the two Con Club performances. Thursday sees them tackle ‘Faust IV’s humorous ‘The Sad Skinhead’, whilst Friday night finds them throwing out Kazoos into the audience so as many as possible can join in on a good natured toot-along to ‘Faust So Far’ opener ‘It’s A Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl’. It’s a less frequently discussed aspect of their work, but those who’ve taken the time to really dig into the faUSt discography will doubtless recognize their sense of humour; at no point is that more obvious during their performances than on Friday night when the band break into the sloppy avant-pop joy of ‘Baby’, a song that sees Zappi leave the drum stool for a moment and take over vocal duties. It’s moments like these that leave the biggest smiles on the faces of the crowd and for good reason; throughout both nights faUSt display a rare and perhaps even surprising ability to balance the serious and the light-hearted in a way that is definitely found on their albums but which is only exaggerated during live performance.

faUSt have perhaps something of a fierce reputation but the atmosphere garnered throughout both nights is an uplifting one of celebration and joy rather than tension. Even when Péron barks the deeply powerful, inexorably political lyrics of ‘Fresh Air’ – the title track to their latest long player – it feels like recognition of what’s going wrong in the world and that it can be fixed rather than simply declaring the end of days. At the close of both nights the band are met with rapturous applause from the crowds; and it’s a very well earned mark of appreciation. In typical faUSt fashion, neither night is finished without a rendition of the thought-provoking, ambiguous beauty of ‘Miss Fortune’. The near-twenty minute original version closed the band’s 1971’s eponymous debut and whilst live only the short spoken-word poem that closes the piece is performed, it rounds off both evenings perfectly. faUSt remain as unpredictable, anarchic and grin-inducing now as they’ve ever been and that is a real joy to report.