Twenty fabled moments in Denver music: #17: Einsturzende Neubauten play '86 junkyard show

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Over the course of the next few weeks, Backbeat will be counting down the twenty most fabled moments in Denver music history. Today, a look back at Einstürzende Neubauten's 1986 show in a Commerce City junkyard.

Fabled Berlin industrial rock act Einstürzende Neubauten played perhaps one of the strangest shows in Denver's history. That's a big claim, but considering the circumstances -- the secret gig in a junkyard, the painted animal bones, the flaming oil drums -- this spectacle was one that has not been easily eclipsed in the 26 years since it happened.

See Also: #20: Beatlemania at Red Rocks#19: Michael Jackson's secretive stay in Denver#18: Black Flag at the Rainbow Music Hall 1984

The band was on a short, four city American tour, on an anemic budget and in search of venues that could accommodate the group's stage requirements. These were young guys known for nihilistic, minimalist soundscapes that lacked much form or melody. Songs were unabashedly raw and rough-hewn, with frontman Blixa Bargeld (later of Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds fame) screaming over pounding drills and rhythmic, metal-on-metal clanking. Easy listening, this was not.

Naturally, a post-apocalyptic wasteland of a stage show was the only thing that could match Einstürzende Neubauten's demanding artistic vision. Tom Headbanger of Junk Yard Productions helped arrange the Denver gig, set for May 17, 1986 at an undisclosed location in Commerce City. Human Head Transplant was the opening act. The show was advertised, somewhat, in a flier that stated only 100 tickets would be sold for $25 each. No location was listed in the announcement; it simply instructed would-be audience members to call Wax Trax.

On the back of the flier was a rambling letter to concertgoers explaining the high cost of the show. "The PA will cost $800. Because Denver was added late in the game, flights had to be rescheduled -- as a result they require $1,500." The open letter concludes with the words, "If you don't put your money where your mouth is (a nebulous question in any case), future events of this type will not happen." It is signed "JYP," for Junk Yard Productions.

Even the show's tickets were unconventional. They were animal bones, dipped in black paint, with Einstürzende Neubauten's logo -- a stick-man type figure -- painted prominently in gold. Wax Trax owner Duane Davis helped put up money for the show, so he got the pick of the tickets. "I got the jawbone from something, with the teeth still on it," he says. Dave Wilkins got part of a spinal column.

Bargeld and company arrived in Denver just hours before the show to tour abandoned buildings where they could set up. As night fell, it was finally show time.

The band was running three-and-a-half hours late. When the act arrived, oil drums were set afire and the group came onstage -- a flatbed truck trailer with corrugated metal roofing held up by broken refrigerators as a roof -- and proceeded to beat the shit out of shopping carts, steel springs, wires and oil drums. This was accompanied by electric guitars, a bass and keyboard, and Bargeld's otherworldly shriek. The whole concert lasted less than an hour.

Einstürzende Neubauten's subsequent shows in Denver obviously weren't the same. How could they be? There are shows and there are performances. This one, which predated vastly more commercially successful industrial acts by years (Nine Inch Nails' Pretty Hate Machine was released in '89), falls squarely in the latter category.

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