Recorded audio and video late in December 2013 in their native Salzburg, Austria, Been Obscene‘s Unplugged only tells half the story with its title. Yes, it was an acoustic show that the band decided to document in its entirety — a full 90-minute set — but Unplugged also serves as the four-piece heavy psych rockers’ swansong. Their first acoustic show was also their last show altogether, and so after making their debut on Elektrohasch in 2010 with The Magic Table Dance (review here) and following up strong in 2011 with Night o’ Mine (review here), they return three years later with a live record to take the place of what would’ve been their third full-length, their set taking material from all three albums — the two released, the one unmade — and call it a day. Fair enough. I was sorry to hear Been Obscene were breaking up, having been fortunate enough to catch them live on their only US tour, and while Unplugged seems an odd way to do their run justice — ending with something they’d never done before isn’t exactly a summary of their accomplishments — maybe getting to that point is as good a finish line as any a band could ask. Guitarists Thomas Nachtigal (also vocals) and Stefan Wagner, bassist/vocalist Philipp Zezula and drummer Robert Schoosleitner give a rich performance, emphasizing the class that’s always been at the heart of their approach and the songwriting that’s underscored the jammy feel of their albums, and as Unplugged winds its way through the second LP/CD, Been Obscene prove one last time to be masters of their sonic domain. They were a good band and they’ll be missed.
Their approach was different, but as progenitors of next-gen heavy psych delivered via Elektrohasch, it’s hard not to compare Been Obscene‘s departure to that of Sungrazer. Both bands showcased massive potential across two records, hinted at a third to come with new material, and then stopped before they got to that point. On Unplugged, Been Obscene offer some hint of what might’ve been had that full-length come to fruition, though of course it’s a best guess how cuts like “Hey You,” “Take it Slow” and “Sound of Time” could have sounded in a full-thrust studio incarnation. The latter is a highlight of Unplugged‘s first disc, but really just one of several strong showings they made at that show at the Danspaleis circus tent at Winterfest in Salzburg on Dec. 30 of yet-unreleased songs. While not as established as cuts like “The Run” from Night o’ Mine or “Uniform,” the second cut from The Magic Table Dance which closes here, the aforementioned tracks and “Pilot the Pirates,” “You Wanna Know” and “Hail to Belief” — which backs up “Impressions” from the first album right at the start of the set — reinforce the quality of songwriting that was coming to fruition in Been Obscene‘s sound. Taken in context of what they did in their time and what they may have been about to do, Unplugged is a wistful release, something the wistfulness of the instrumental “Memories in Salvation” and the melancholy “How it Feels” only underscore as their time on stage begins to wind down. They may have been happy to end it, it may have been sad — I don’t know what the circumstances were — but it’s easy to imagine a heartfelt sentimentality coming forward there as Nachtigal croons the repeated lines, “I woke up and I realized that I/Don’t know how it feels,” hypnotic in the studio version but here brimming with emotional resonance.
It feels somewhat crass to pick out highlights from an act’s final show, and Unplugged is best taken as a whole, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out the 14-minute stretch of “Demons,” presented here as one of their finest moments as a band. The breadth they capture with the natural instrumentation is remarkable, and finds echo soon enough in “Snake Charmer” and “Endless Scheme” on the second disc, but “Demons” is a singular melody and feel within Been Obscene‘s abbreviated catalog, and they more than do justice to its sprawl. “Uniform” caps with an insistent bounce, a long instrumental opening leading to some last words from Nachtigal, and the show ends with a big rock finish and much applause. On the video version, to see Wagner put his head down and tear into the leads, or to see the concentration in Nachtigal and Zezula‘s faces, Schoosleitner‘s smile as they round out the set before taking a final bow and leaving the stage, it’s all the more powerful considering it’s the last time they’ll do so. One never knows in rock and roll, and bands who for years discount the possibility of a reunion suddenly flip a switch and come back stronger than ever. Whether that’s the fate of Been Obscene, I’ve no clue and wouldn’t want to predict. As it stands now, they were a band who cut short the realization of their full potential, and both in playing their latest and last round of new material and ending their career by doing something they’d never done before, they make that all the more apparent. If their future holds that at some point they get back together and make that third LP a reality or if they don’t, they said goodbye with an adventurous spirit, a vibrant performance and a fitting document of their personality as a band. That’s more than a lot of groups manage, and it’s a result worth appreciating.