City Paper is not for tourists
Psychedelic rock, meet German synth. Paperhaus will cover the entirety of Kraftwerk’s landmark album Trans-Europe Express this Sunday at U Street Music Hall.
The idea began when DJ and U Hall owner Will Eastman played a Stone Roses record over the storied U Hall sound system. It sounded good. So good, in fact, that Eastman posted about it on Facebook. “I made a post that was like, ‘hey, listening to this Stone Roses record at U Hall made me want to play more classic records at U Hall on Monday or Tuesday nights,’” recalls Eastman. “It got like 300 likes or something.”
The sizable social media response led to the creation of U Hall’s Madchester Monday listening party in September, and Eastman tapped Alex Tebeleff, the lead singer of Paperhaus, to host the show. Between songs, the two got to talking about other records they’d like to hear on U Hall’s sound system. “I mentioned that we should do a Kraftwerk night,” says Tebeleff. “Will was like, why not have Paperhaus come perform some Kraftwerk songs?”
“Alex sort of took the bait,” Eastman says with a chuckle.
“There was no way I could say no,” Tebeleff says. “Kraftwerk is one of my favorite acts of all time. To me, they’re like the Beatles.”
So Tebeleff rounded up his bandmates and got to work preparing for the show. The task at hand seemed a little daunting, especially since the band members were busy preparing for their new album, which drops on February 10. And there was a bigger challenge: Paperhaus, with its psychedelic guitar riffs and silky vocals, doesn’t sound too similar to the electronic music pioneers and man-machines of Kraftwerk. And even though the band has covered a handful of Kraftwerk songs in the past, covering an entire album is another beast. To fill in some gaps sonically, Tebeleff recruited Stronger Sex and Br’er member Eric Sleight.
“He’s the synth master as far as I’m concerned,” says Tebeleff. “He’s one of these freaks who spends 10 hours a day playing synth. Having him involved has been awesome, because the rest of us are far from experts.”
But Tebeleff says he’s spent some time trying to master the Moog synthesizer, too. “I’m really trying to get to the basics and the fundamental understanding and basis for it, which is insanely hard,” he says. Throughout the show, Tebeleff says he’ll angle his synthesizer toward the audience to show how working the complex instrument takes more than just hitting a play button. “That’s the way I think we can bring something fresh to this, and really show that the music itself is what makes it special.”
Tebeleff will also sing most of the band’s songs in German, and of course, run his vocals through a vocoder. “To not do the vocoder is just wrong,” he says.
Despite the dedication to authenticity, Tebeleff says you shouldn’t go to the show expecting a one-for-one cover. “I don’t want this to be a tribute concert,” he explains. “We want to treat it as us performing the piece of music.” To keep some of the Paperhaus sound, the band will work bass guitar and live drums into the performance and eschew the Kraftwerk’s signature costumes, 3-D performances, and stand-in robot mannequins. But Tebeleff says there will be a scaled-down light show, and Eastman adds there may even be a German beer special behind the bar.
In the end, it all comes down to sharing the music Tebeleff loves. “None of this would mean shit if the melodies weren’t incredible,” he says. “That’s what I want to make the focus.”
Photo courtesy of Passenger Photography