If there is one thing that Berliners almost universally agree on, it’s that we all spend too much time in the city. Sure, there’s a kind of squint-or-you’ll-miss-it beauty to our fair city, but most of us are realistic enough to know the difference between aesthetics and emotions.
This month, with the summer sun on full beam, we’re recommending three absolutely unmissable concerts that will drag even the most hardened concrete enthusiast to where the grass really is greener: beyond the Ringbahn. Three weeks, three Friday nights, three iconic artists, good things come in threes: but really, there is no need to put stock in superstition, because first up is Patti Smith.
They say there are artists, and then there are artists, but very occasionally that particular axiom feels just a little incomplete, because sometimes there is also Patti Smith. One of the undeniable cornerstones of that New York scene, few would dare deny the idea that multi-hyphenate Patti Smith is one of the most influential acts of the 20th century, one who still commands an aura that has not waned since the 1960s.
The summer lineup at Zitadelle Spandau is one of perennial excellence, but this is, without doubt, the pick of the bunch. Smith is the archetype on which that majestic sneering quality of the best punk rock was built. Oozing cool and absolute authority in every situation, you can’t help but think she will get some sort of kick out of performing within the high castle walls.
Special among her long list of talents is the fact that regardless of whether you’re a dyed-in-the-wool Patti Smith lifer or a fair-weather fan, we all have our preconceptions about who and what Patti Smith is, and by some cosmic twist, she seems to be able to embody all of those personas at once each and every time she takes to the stage.
As if that wasn’t enough, the embarrassment of riches on offer this month continues in fine fettle with Björk. If Smith is urban grit incarnate, then Björk might well be her Neverland counterpart. It’s hard not to think of Björk without conjuring fantastical images of some spritely woodland nymph, all dappled moonlit pools and dewy emerald moss. But, Björk is, in fact, real, and the world is that much better because of it. Performing in the treelined amphitheatre of Waldbühne (where else?), there’s a sense that everything about this concert is lined up just so.
Such is the strength of that image that it is sometimes difficult to remember that Björk’s storied career has taken in such a vast swathe of different styles, from inimitable folk to maximalist pop, to trip-hop to fully fledged electronica, and back again, all the while maintaining the consistency in quality that is only found in the upper echelons of the avant-garde. Like Smith, Björk is an artist for whom time itself flows in a different, more malleable manner. Her enduring appeal is not that of the rockstar but that of utter fascination, like a code that was never made to be cracked.
Finally, things come to a close with Gorillaz, frankly, the best Act II band in recent memory – as anyone who has seen New Order perform lately will surely attest. When Damon Albarn parted ways with Blur, there was not a soul out there that could have predicted what would come next. In one fell swoop, Gorillaz both broke and shaped the mould and through the late 1990s and 2000s, it was a safe bet for fans of alternative rock/hip hop that Gorillaz was probably your favourite band.
This is big stage music at its absolute finest, brimming over with gold-record hits. A rare chance to get out east for a large scale show, Gorillaz are performing at the Parkbühne in Wuhlheide, which in itself seems unusual but this is a band that have never once played things by the book.
In the end, what’s actually unusual about these three concerts is that, despite their scale and dominance of a particular scene, none of them feel like a nostalgia trip. Rather, to listen to them today still feels like the right thing to do because it is simply the song you want to hear in the moment. Depending on how you look at it, it would be a minor miracle or tragic sign of the times if these concerts didn’t sell out, so snap up the tickets and for once enjoy the fresh air.