Rammstein knows how to make an entrance.
The German industrial rockers took the stage at the Palace of Auburn Hills Sunday night carrying a flaming torch through the audience, walking down from the arena concourse through the crowd and onto the Palace floor. They marched slowly and deliberately across a catwalk that had been lowered from the ceiling that connected a satellite stage at the center of the arena with the main stage, all while steam shot out from the bridge and they hoisted red Rammstein flags. Lead singer Till Lindemann wore an ammo belt of microphones around his chest and was covered in ashes, like he’d just been to war. But the battle was just beginning, and over the next two hours Lindemann and his bandmates put on a visually arresting spectacle that used more pyrotechnics than a year’s worth of WWE shows and was like an action movie rock concert art film extravaganza. All that was missing was the German subtitles.
Rammstein is just as much about visuals as it is its punishingly loud metal soundscapes, and Sunday’s show packed a boatload of gimmicks, most involving flames and/or fire. Huge flames shot from the stage and the lighting trusses during opener “Sonne”; circles of flames shot up around Lindemann during “Wollt Ihr Das Bett in Flammen Sehen,” while he shot fireworks from his arms and spun them around his body; green flames ignited from the stage during “Sucht.” Microphone stands were lit on fire during “Asche,” while huge industrial fans blew smoke over the crowd. Lindemann donned a mask that shot flames 20 feet into the air during “Feuer Frei,” and Lindemann stood underneath a shower of falling sparks during “Mutter.” It was all quite impressive, not to mention dangerous-looking; after nearly 20 years, it’s shocking the band hasn’t somehow accidentally charred themselves or an audience.
It turns out, however, that that was all a warm-up for what was coming next.
For “Mein Teil,” the theatricality was ramped up to 1,000, as Lindemann ascended from below the stage, covered in fake blood and carrying a huge pot. He sang into a microphone attached to the end of a machete — everyone’s got one of those, right? — and appeared to have some sort of a problem with his keyboard player, who somehow ended up in the massive mixing bowl he had dragged onto the stage. So Lindemann, rational frontman that he is, decided to handle the problem by torching the bowl with a flamethrower, because that’s what rational-thinking frontmen do at arena concerts. But that wasn’t enough. So he brought out an even bigger flamethrower, shooting flames across the length of the Palace stage, while the audience of around 6,000 roared in approval.
Did I mention this was only the show’s halfway point?
It’s tough to make heads or tails out of what was going on thematically, but it was pretty much every eight-year-old pyromaniac’s dream. (I’m not sure quite what Rammstein’s songs are about, but given their presentation and the over-arching nightmare torture arrangements, it’s doubtful they’re about first loves or ice cream sandwiches.) It was staged to perfection and art-directed stunningly, making for a a visceral, jaw-dropping show. It was as grand a production as Roger Waters’ The Wall or Jay-Z and Kanye West’s Watch the Throne, the two Palace shows in recent years that matched the size, scope and execution of the Rammstein experience. It was that impressive.
The band made its way back across the steampunk bridge — to be accurate, they crawled across it like dogs while wearing S&M gear (you know, normal stuff) — and performed a handful of songs on the small stage on the center of the floor. For as many tricks as the band pulled out of their hats at the show, this was one of their best, as the six bandmates crowded the mini-stage, which seemed about half as small as the stage at The Shelter, and ripped into “Buch Dich,” “Mann Gegen Mann” and “Ohne Dich” like a young band playing in a garage. All with enough bludgeoning metal riffs to fill a stadium, of course.
Other things that happened during the show that I haven’t yet gotten around to: Keyboardist Christian Lorenz, who played most of the show while walking on a treadmill, crowdsurfed across the audience in an inflatable raft; Lindemann wore a mask that shot liquid — let’s hope it was water — all over the crowd and his bandmates; Lindemann donned a pair of giant angel wings that, guess what, shot flames out of their ends; Lindemann rode a giant phallus-shaped cannon that shot foam all over the crowd. You know, just another Sunday night.
Rammstein has long been revered for its live shows, and for good reason: Sunday’s concert was a pageantry of pyro that won’t soon be topped or forgotten. “Danke schoen,” Lindemann told the audience near the close of the show, during his only address to the crowd. And that was all he needed to say: Some things, like the power of metal and the language of performance, are universal.