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Bum note haunts Kaiser’s concert hall

Patronized by Wilhelm II as a music centre and since graced by Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Springsteen, Frankfurt's Festhalle is stinging at its new epithet of 'Germany's worst venue'.

Bum note haunts Kaiser's concert hall
Up the Kaiser's alley? Rihanna performs at the Frankfurt Festhalle in 2010. Photo: DPA
But if the city wants to hear homegrown hits like 'With peppermint I am your prince' performed live again it must build a new concert hall fast, warns German rock legend Marius Müller-Westernhagen.
 
"In terms of acoustics, the Festhalle is the worst in Germany," the 66-year-old rocker said as he prepares a new tour of German cities – bar the fifth largest.
 
"I won't perform again in Frankfurt until they build a hall that you can actually cover with sound," vowed Westernhagen, who shot to fame in the 1970s, has sold over 11 million albums and is revered as one of the most successful German musicians ever.
 
No matter that the Festhalle will this year host performances by André Rieu, Queen, Lionel Richie, Simply Red and Ennio Morricone – the New Year lashing over acoustics has set the management on the back foot.
 
"Good acoustics depends on good sound engineering," Markus Quint, spokesman for the Frankfurt Conference Centre which runs the hall, told The Local. 
 
 
 
And this is the responsibility of the individual artist, he stressed.
 
"Concerts here by Pink Floyd and Pavarotti had outstanding sound quality," Quint added in defence of the 6,000 square-metre hall, which can stage concerts for 13,500 people, as well as conferences, trade fairs and even show jumping events.
 
Nor was he aware of plans to build a new venue in the city, although there has been some discussion. So like it or lump it Herr Westernhagen, it seems.
  
'Grand old lady' isn't yielding
 
Designed by architect Friedrich von Thiersch and opened in 1909, the Festhalle is an historic cornerstone of Frankfurt's cultural life. 
 
"Even at the ripe old age of 100, the ‘grand old lady’ of event halls is still going strong," the hall's website states proudly.
 
And having also hosted MTV Europe Music Awards in 2012, complete with a performance of 'Gangnam Style'  by South Korean artist Psy, it shows no sign of giving up its musical mantel.
 
 
 
Meanwhile, fellow rock veteran Herbert Grönemeyer  – who tops even Westernhagen with 13 million albums sales in Germany – is unphased by the issue and is slated to play here in May.
 
"Shame that the Frankfurt concert will be at the Festhalle, the acoustics are a catastrophe," Grönemeyer fan Denise wrote about the tour on the 58-year-old performer's Facebook page.
 
Despite the hall's rich history, it seems many others agree with her. In a reader survey conducted by the Frankfurter Rundschau newspaper this week, 47 percent said the acoustics were a mess, and 39 percent agreed that sound quality depends on the set-up of individual performers. Only 14 percent said Westernhagen was off the mark.
 
Train station vibe?
 
Reviews of past concerts add grist to the acoustic gripe mill.  
 
Deep Purple fan Thomas Memleb saw his heroes perform at the Festhalle with the Romanian Philharmonic Orchestra in 2000 and found the event "amazing, fantastic, superb!"
 
"The only bad point was the abominable acoustics of the Festhalle, the building sounds about as 'echo-ey' as a railway station, only there are no trains in it," he wrote on a band forum.
 
True, sheer crowd enthusiasm can drown out the music. Consider The Beatles' 1966 concert at Shea Stadium in New York, when the hysteria was so great that no-one, including the Fab Four, could really hear the songs.
 
The Festhalle has had some of that too in its time. 
   
"Jimmy Page tried to calm down the audience, which was completely freaking out, with his words 'Please give us a chance…' after having played some gentle chords which he obviously couldn't hear," a German soldier wrote after seeing Led Zeppelin play here 25 years ago. "This was 1980 and the in-ear monitor wasn't invented yet."
 
Westernhagen at least should have no problems cutting through the hubbub with a decent surround sound. For a comeback tour in 2000, his crew built a 570-tonne stage with catwalks and a 200,000-watt sound capacity.
 
But if some may think his rock star legend status is bringing out the prima donna in him, he feels differently. 
 
"I'm just a musician, get up in the morning, look in the mirror and it's just me, no stars in sight," he told the news agency dpa amid his tirade against the Festhalle.
 

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MUSIC

What are the best concerts in Sweden this autumn?

Now that Sweden has lifted its audience restrictions for public events, The Local's Paul O'Mahony lists his recommendations for the best gigs to attend over the coming months.

Crowd at a music concert in Debaser, Stockholm
Crowds return to Stockholm venue Debaser after pandemic restrictions on events were lifted. Photo: Pontus Lundahl/TT

Sweden’s musicians, concert promoters and venue operators have struggled to varying degrees through the pandemic. One surefire way to help get them back on their feet is to give organisers and artists the financial reassurance they need by pre-booking concerts. 

Of course these recommendations only apply if you feel safe attending large events; remember that you should stay home and take a Covid-19 test if you experience any symptoms that could be linked to the virus, even if vaccinated. And make sure to check with organisers if there are any specific coronavirus requirements you need to be aware of. 

Coming up: top gigs in Sweden over the next few months 

As a regular gig-goer, live music is the one thing I’ve missed most over the past year and a half. So it is with some excitement (and, I’ll admit, a degree of trepidation) that I prepare to go see Norwegian band Pom Poko this Friday at Hus 7 in Stockholm. Their melodic art-punk album Cheater sparked the year into life on its release in January. They’re also playing Plan B in Malmö on Saturday night

Plan B is also the venue when Squid hit Sweden with a thrilling dose of post-punk on October 15th. Tickets remain available for the show at the time of writing (an absolute steal at 120 kronor), though that’s sadly not the case in Stockholm where their October 16th gig at Melodybox sold out a long time ago. (Although you can sign up to be added to a waiting list). 

Another artist well worth checking out in October is Gothenburg guitarist and singer Amanda Werne, better known as Slowgold. Her live shows are great and she is embarking on a Swedish tour on October 8th. 

Emma-Jean Thackray, one of the UK’s most interesting jazz artists, will be at Fasching in Stockholm on October 15th

For the best kind of sonic assault, Anna von Hasswolff’s band Bada are scheduled to play in Stockholm, Malmö and Gothenburg in late October. 

Have any of you ever seen Gothenburg electronic veterans Little Dragon live? I haven’t but might check them out in November when they swing by Malmö, Stockholm and Gothenburg

Amason are also heading out on the road for a Scandinavian tour in November. If you haven’t heard Amanda Bergman’s voice in a live setting before this will be a treat. 

The inimitable Sibille Attar released her superb second album A History of Silence at the start of the year and she’s finally getting the chance to play her eighties-inspired gems live at Slaktkyrkan in Stockholm on November 18th

Cassandra Jenkins long lurked in the background as a musician in touring bands for people like Eleanor Friedberger and Purple Mountains. But this year’s album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature has really established her as an artist to be reckoned with in her own right. She’s coming to Södra Teatern in Stockholm on November 26th

Always popular in this part of the world, The Jesus and Mary Chain return to Sweden for dates in Stockholm and Gothenburg at the end of November

Wry Finland-Swedish indie outfit Vasas Flora och Fauna have some of the funniest (Swedish) lyrics and catchiest tunes around. They’ll be in Stockholm and Gothenburg the first weekend of December

UK experimental rockers Black Midi are also playing Stockholm and Gothenburg on December 4th and 5th. So prepare to travel if you want to catch both them and Vasas Flora and Fauna. 

As if that wasn’t enough, Bob Hund’s annual ‘week 48’ show also takes place on December 4th. But that has been sold out for ages so no decisions to make there. It is also worth noting though that Sweden’s hardest working band has also written a musical that’s going to be performed in Helsingborg (October-November) and Gothenburg (November)

Bonus: For a post-Christmas pick-me-up try to get down to Little Simz at Slaktkyrkan on January 14th if you’re in Stockholm. The UK rapper’s new album Sometimes I Might Be Introvert is one of this year’s best releases. 

Selected artists playing Sweden in 2022: Henry Rollins, Sarah Klang, Yann Tiersen, Mogwai, Pearl Charles, Wolf Alice, Lloyd Cole, Lord Huron, Future Islands, Josh Rouse + Vetiver, Tricky, Snail Mail, Porridge Radio, Aldous Harding, Shame, The Kooks, The War on Drugs, Echo and the Bunnymen, Kings of Convenience, Fontaines D.C., Alex Cameron, Lucy Dacus, The Divine Comedy, Mdou Moctar, Iggy Pop, Chubby and the Gang, Sparks, Belle & Sebastian, The National, Sharon Van Etten, Teenage Fanclub, Tindersticks, Suede, Viagra Boys, Pavement. 

For bigger arena shows, Ticketmaster covers a lot of the bases. Big-name acts with gigs in the offing include Ed Sheeran, Zara Larsson, Whitesnake and, lest we forget, ABBA

And that’s just a fraction of what’s going on. Tour schedules are busier than ever now that artists are finally getting back on the road. To keep track of what gigs are coming up I can recommend checking in with Luger, FKP Scorpio, and Live Nation. Follow your favourite venues too: sometimes they cut out the middleman and do their own booking and promotion. I also use the Bandsintown app, which comes with the added bonus of receiving messages from your favourite artists which let you pretend to be their friend. 

Enjoy the gigs, and stay safe! 

Paul O’Mahony is editorial product manager at The Local. In his spare time he plays the best new indie and alternative music as host of the Signals show on Nerve Music.

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