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Nina Hagen
Photo © Twig Publishing


Nina Hagen at Webster Hall, September 8, 2002, by Jeanne Fury

When Webster Hall hosted the German punk icon Nina Hagen, September 8, 2002, their Web site said a dress code would be "strictly enforced." This included no sporty attire (whatever that means), sneakers, or hoodys. A dress code. How very punk of them. I have a severely lame wardrobe, but I thought I was safe cruising with the punk crowd. The big slap in the crotch came at the bar where I downed a vodka... for $9. Yet, throughout the evening, the crowd around me was stinking drunk. When did these trashy cats make enough cash to get blasted at $9 a pop? Honey, this ain't my kinda punk. I don't know what the shit to call it. Thank God for tonight's redemptive line-up: Theo, Ari-Up, the Toilet Boys, and the venerable Nina Hagen.

"Demure" is not a word one would use to describe Theo (ex-Lunachicks fame). But tonight's performance was as demure as Theo can be. She's usually hyper friendly and lavishes her fans with the same adoration they show her. Oh, wait, I'm thinking of her younger female fans, the Theo-In-Training types (TITs for short). Very few TITs in the house tonight, save for this bona fide TIT. I'll go out on a severed limb here and say TITs can't afford the $37 ticket price, and they probably have a shitty job (or classes) to go to early in the morning. With deadpan expressions on their faces, Theo and her dancers clonked through a bizarrely sexy Ms. Roboto-type set. Lumpy, pre-recorded music squatted beneath Theo's crooning. Dressed in a shredded yellow dress, she looked like a flaccid sunbeam. Not that it mattered much. People were hooting and cheering the lead Lunachick, who looked thoroughly unimpressed with it all. Her set had its spiffy Jazzercise moments, but the unenthusiastic dancers still looked like their mom was making them do this. A brilliant fucking riot.

Unavoidable DJ intermission: "Hey you, what's that sound? Everybody look what's goin' down. Ah, yes, ain't that fresh. Everybody wants to get down like that."

Ari-Up's hair is out of control. The ex-Slits singer has curled dreadlocks (think fuzzy fusilli) down to her knees. But that's not the only thing that makes her a hoot. The woman is exuberance incarnate. "The Slits, Nina Hagen, Siouxsie and the Banshees are true warriors," proclaimed Ari, "like Xena!" Her punk-reggae hybrid music led the motley dancers and back-up singers through mightily spastic routines, kind of like me in my bedroom. Not wanting to forsake traditional style, Ari and her band played some punk songs that went over quite well with the buoyant crowd. "This is the real punk shit, right here," she said. And the queen even had a little hip-hop in her. "Big up to Nina Hagen!" she cried. Bigger up to Ari-Up. No one had more fun, and no one made me have more fun. Isn't that what all this is about?

Unavoidable DJ intermission: "Lick my neck. My back. My pussy and my crack."

  Toilet Boys
Toilet Boys from left to right: Eddie, Rocket, Miss Guy, Jimmy,
Sean. Photo by Alexander Thompson, © 2002 Toilet Boys.

All hail Earth's favorite all-out glam-punk-party-rock hooker-boy band, the Toilet Boys. Wearing black spandex pants and black platform boots, Miss Guy strode out to a ga-ga crowd that was literally climbing over itself. Sean, Rocket, Eddie, and the new bass player Jimmy peeled off layers of sleazy rock 'n' roll, complete with KISS-inspired pyrotechnics. Midway into the set, huge flames shot up from the stage (the kind that cooked Metallica's James Hetfield). Let it be known that the Toilet Boys are the band with the most toys. Sean wielded a buzz saw that sent sparks flying off his guitar, and later shot a confetti-filled bazooka that was conveniently attached to his instrument... his guitar, thank you. Right, so, men and women and those in the middle were visibly creaming their tight pants over the spectacle. Not to outshine the rock part, "Nothin' To Do," "Saturday Nite," and "Another Day in the Life" were major igniters. Random observation: the Toilet Boys have tiny nipples. Like, Cheerio-sized. Anyway, Rocket, Sean, and Jimmy stood in a row and showered the crowd with more sparks spouting from their guitar necks. For the finale, Sean spit fire and then Miss Guy torched his guitar. All in a night's work when you're a couple of sexy bitches.

Unavoidable DJ intermission: a techno track that sampled "Come Down" by Bush. Lame-o.

"Nee-nah! Nee-nah!" chanted the children. A huge cloud of smoke swelled onstage, and out of it emerged Nina Hagen with jet-black hair adorned on top with a small peacock feather and a big flower. Those glaring wide eyes, that Cleopatra eye makeup, that bewitching presence... a few more arms and the woman could've been Shiva. The moment had arrived. "It's the returrrn of the mutha, the returrrn of the goddess of love," sang Nina Hagen in her unmistakable voice. Hagen's vocal range could span the Great Wall; its force and grandeur are stunning and better suited to the Metropolitan Opera House than Webster Hall.

When she addressed her people, Hagen attacked their soul like a dignified motivational speaker. She's the Billy Graham of punk rock. A glance at her Web site will tell you the woman has spent a lot of time getting acquainted with Hindu philosophy. Hagen warned against walking on the crutches of others; she spoke at length of a free-will zone. "We will be free one day. Why not right now!" she spat. Her eccentricities may be a hoot to some people, but make no mistake – this woman runs much deeper than her discography. That said, she put on one hell of a show. Nina is simply uninhibited. She sat on the floor, pulled off her big boots, rolled backwards, and played a hand drum with the grace of a toddler. She covered "Bang Bang" by the glorious Janis Martin and "Runaway" by her friend Dee Dee Ramone ("a guru" according to Hagen). Her original material incited uproars from the crowd, and at 2:15 a.m., she was just beginning her encore. Listening to Nina Hagen talk is like listening to the Wizard of Oz. Both seem to have the little people's best interests in mind. Both sound larger than life.

September 2002

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