Live review and grainy photos by Tony Rounce
I was sold on Fräulein from the first time I saw them opening for ARXX and Grandma’s House at the Crofters Rights pub in Bristol (where they were then based), two Januarys ago. The pairing of a Dutch drummer and a Northern Irish front woman looked intriguing, even before they played a note of music. It took less than three minutes for me to become smitten by their sound, and by the obvious pleasure they got from performing.
Opportunities to see Fräulein further in 2020 became limited due to the arrival of You-Know-What and the closure of music venues, but I kept falling deeper in love with them via their occasional back garden live streams and the demos that surfaced on Bandcamp. By the time Joni Samuels and Karsten van der Tol were ready, willing and able to come out and play again, I wanted to be first in line to buy a ticket for anything and everything.
Fräulein moved to London during the first lockdown. Since restrictions were eased recently they have been very active, and this review is a composite from two shows I saw at Brixton’s Windmill pub on May 26th and their first ever London headliner at the Amersham Arms on June 3rd – by which time the understandable nervousness of playing in public again that both admitted to after the first Windmill show had long since vanished behind the jagged, nervy wall of sound that they produce from just two instruments.
Being a small band it’s hard to resist making immediate comparisons (even small ones) with other dynamic duos like ARXX, DOLLS and Scrounge, but beyond the fact that they are all two piece combos and extraordinarily proficient musicians there’s nothing to directly connect them beyond my total admiration of all four.
Karsten is a formidable drummer for sure, with an impressive command of his kit and an ability to implement the kind of time signatures that any jazzman would be proud to have mastered. He will, I hope, not think badly of me if I say that the visual focus of the duo is Joni, an imposing presence under an explosion of hair who sings their songs as if her very life depends on it, who plays her guitar in much the same way and whose command of a stage is complete, whether it be no-room-to-swing-a-cat size like the Windmill or something more spatial like the Amersham Arms.
If the intensity of Fräulein’s performances might lead to a thought that they might not be enjoying themselves, Joni’s gregarious personality and a giggle and smile that could give the Blackpool illuminations a run for their money show between songs that they are getting as much pleasure from their performances as much as we are. These are two really affable and approachable people, people – do not be even slightly scared by the sheer intensity of what’s going on in front of you….
At the moment a Fräulein set consists of seven fairly lengthy songs, but it will undoubtedly expand as the duo’s career does. They are writing all the time, and so new is one of their numbers – the one that appears halfway through their set – that it still doesn’t have a title at the time of writing. They frequently segue from one riveting song to another, which works to particularly good effect on the two that start their set, a rumbling, sinister sounding ‘Belly’ and the magnificent, compelling ‘By The Water’ wherein Joni’s feral and oh-so-soulful scream is unleashed for the first time and you really do begin to see a boundless musical future for Fräulein unfolding before your very eyes (and ears).
Fräulein do not save ‘the hit’ for the finale, tucking in the mighty ‘Pretty People’ – a former LW Single Of The Week – as their penultimate offering in a set that concludes with the electric thrash of ‘Drag Behind’ – an older number, and probably the nearest thing they have to a ‘traditional rock song’, but still imbued with an inventiveness that would be the envy of many groups who are much further along the path to fame and fortune than Fräulein currently are.
Things are moving quickly for Fräulein, whose prodigious work rate – encouraged by a management team who love them as much as I do! – leaves no doubt as to their ongoing ambitions. The most recent show at the Amersham Arms was, as I said, the third time I had seen them in a week, and their fourth gig overall since the Roadmap made it possible for us all to go out and watch live music again. They have at least two more gigs coming up in the next four weeks, maybe more. This is pretty impressive stuff, given how many bands have yet to ‘break’ their post-pandemic live ‘duck’.
What’s more, they get better with every show they do, so by the time Fräulein play the LW Summer Party in August it will be very necessary for all the other fine bands on the bill to bring nothing less than their ‘A’ game (as I have no doubt they will!) to avoid having the show stolen right out from under their noses….
If they don’t come to play in your town in the meantime, you can definitely catch Fräulein at LW’s Summer Party at the Hope & Anchor on August 14th on a stellar bill with Currls, Gold Baby and our very own I, Doris. You can follow them on Facebook Instagram and Twitter and hear them/buy their merch on Bandcamp.