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From their predominantly instrumental roots, to dabbling with some singing (on 2013's 'The Flood Inside' and 2016's 'Trips'), and then back to pure instrumentations on 2018’s rather magnificent ‘Boundless’, Germany’s Long Distance Calling have always excelled in expressing themselves in all kinds of interesting and profoundly affecting ways. In fact, I declared ‘Boundless’ as their magnum opus in my review of the album, commenting: “When a band's instrumental prowess speaks to, exhilarates, elates and moves your very being in all kinds of emotionally divergent ways, why clog up its essence with vocals?” Indeed, it’s their adroitness to speak through their instruments, without ever uttering a word, that makes this band so special. But how does all of that translate live?

Well, everyone can now judge for themselves, at least second-hand, with the release of ‘Stummfilm - Live From Hamburg’, which is being released as a 2CD + BD box set, triple vinyl and digital download. Recorded earlier this year at the Kulturkirche Altona in Hamburg, this show was part of a ‘Seats & Sounds’ series of gigs within specially chosen venues, with the all-seated occasions taking place in old theatres, churches and so forth. Seeing as the band have said the aim of the shows was predominantly to highlight “the audio-visual quality of the band for the very first time”, it’s explicable that something is perhaps lacking with just the audio-only experience, which is what’s up for scrutiny here (a stream of the video has also been provided for review, but it isn’t full HD quality, so it would be impossible to accurately assess the merits of the BD).

With over two hours of music, it was evidently a long set these Germans were touring with and, being brutally honest, as much as I love this band’s music, with just the audio at hand, it feels perhaps a tad too long when digesting it all in one go, without the added spectacle of the visual side of things. And, of course, live releases are perennially divisive, as there’s no substitute for the lived experience of a gig; of feeling the resonance of the music, first hand, blasting through a PA when present in a venue. The second-hand gig experience, as consumed vicariously through a recording of such, disappoints more often than not. ‘STUMMFILM - Live from Hamburg’ is certainly not disappointing, although I do have a few minor reservations…

The transitions between different passages and movements within the lengthy tracks are not always as incisive as their recorded counterparts. I never expect carbon copies of studio recordings… after all, what’s the point in witnessing a live show if everything sounds precisely as it does on record? It’s always great to hear recorded tracks take on new life and progressed in different directions in a live context. However, a track like the atmospherically majestic ‘In the Clouds’, when the drums kick in good and proper, a couple of minutes in, it’s not as impactful as the album version. Why? Perhaps the distortion on the guitar is a little too heavy, and dominates in the mix, more so than it did on ‘Boundless’. There are a few other such moments where instruments could’ve been better balanced in the mix, but these are only minor quibbles, as, in general, the renditions of each of the tracks within the set still have enough of an emotional impact, as per their recorded origins.

The addition of some cello, courtesy of Luca Gilles, and further percussion and electronic beats from Aaron Schrade helps beef up Long Distance Calling’s live sound, with Gilles’ cello, in particular, adding a whole new level of aural beauty to tracks such as ‘Like a River’ and ‘Interlude’. There’s just the right amount of crowd noise in the mix - clapping and cheering - at key points; mainly near the beginning and end of songs. And it’s also worth noting that when the band talk to the audience between songs, it’s all in German (fair enough… a German band playing a gig in their home country), but I guess there’ll be subtitles on the BD for the non-German speakers out there.

All in all, this is a great live album from Long Distance Calling, but not an unadulterated spectacular one, due to the caveats I’ve already mentioned. I’m guessing my opinion would be potentially different with the BD experience, as, from the snippets of the stream I’ve taken a look at, it’s all been very nicely filmed… albeit lacking any kind of ‘wow factor’, “highlighting the audio-visual quality of the band”, as teased by the band in the blurb. I guess you had to be there for that.
Inside Out
Double Album
Review by Mark Holmes
52:54 & 75:06
1st November 2019
DISC ONE: 1) Into the Black Wide Open; 2) The Very Last Day; 3) In the Clouds; 4) Like a River; 5) On the Verge; 6) Interlude; 7) Out There
DISC TWO: 1) Apparitions; 2) Black Paper Planes; 3) 359°; 4) I Know You, Stanley Milgram!; 5) Sundown Highway; 6) Flux; 7) Metulsky Curse Revisited
"The second-hand gig experience, as consumed vicariously through a recording of such, disappoints more often than not. ‘STUMMFILM - Live from Hamburg’ is certainly not disappointing..."