Bilderbuch in the U.S.A.
On the Road Again
At the end of 2021, artist Jonas Höschl traveled to the East Coast to accompany the Austrian band Bilderbuch, one of his favorite groups, on their U.S. tour. The band performed for live audiences, appearing on stage for the first time since the pandemic. Jonas Höschl documents the trip with pictures and words from Washington, D.C., Boston, and New York City.
By Jonas Höschl
Nov. 26, 2021Upon arrival in Washington, D.C., where another detour in my life had brought me, I took a long cab ride to the hotel. The lights were flashing by outside, while inside the taxi I was trying to get my cell phone up and running on another continent. After a while, some push messages popped up on WhatsApp saying that the jet-lagged Bilderbuch crew had already collapsed into bed. The taxi spat me out in front of a hotel whose architectural presence, like the rest of the city, seemed to scream “AESTHETICS OF POWER” (which is the title of a talk by German artist Henrike Naumann about alt-right movements in Nazi Germany and present-day America).
Nov. 27, 2021After a night of nightmares in which morphing mobs simultaneously stormed the Bundestag and the Capitol to an unfamiliar soundtrack by John Maus and Xavier Naidoo, I woke up in America with the certainty that the next few days would provide a much better soundtrack.
In front of a white monolith in honor of George Washington, I joined the Austrian crew for an improvised tour — as a tourist. The eyes of all the band members and techies, the driver, manager, and tour photographer positively sparkled at the prospect of a plunge into U.S. folklore. Just before the tour started, even as COVID cases were rising again in Germany, the entry restrictions had been lifted, and we teleported into another reality in which I now found myself squeezing through a throng outside the Great Hall of the Thomas Jefferson Building. A reality I’d experienced over the past few months only in the form of festival recordings as a digital relic from the pre-COVID era. A Jefferson Airplane flew over Jefferson Hall. As I followed the plane with my gaze, bits of American, Austrian, and Dutch conversations some distance away coalesced in my ears until suddenly interrupted by an exclamation very close by: “All-American mindfuck!” Even today, revisiting the site on Google Street View, I can still see the plane overhead in my mind’s eye... And emblazoned above it, are the words “Copyright 2021 Google,” as if burned into the clouds. This always reminds me of the capitalist order of our digital and physical world, a world in such a state of disorder for that very reason.
In front of the White House, a bowl of onion soup (for $13) warmed us up on that cold November day, and the band put up their first Instagram post: Under a picture of all four of them gazing at the Capitol, Maurice slowly added the caption: “We finally made it to the U.S. ready to storm stages.” 15,777 likes.
Bilderbuch band members Philipp Scheibl and Peter Horazdovsky backstage
Maurice Ernst, lead singer of the Austrian band Bilderbuch, on stage
Maurice Ernst backstage
Philipp Scheibl at a gas station while on tour in the U.S.
The crowd cheers at one of Bilderbuch’s performances on their U.S. tour.
Philipp Scheibl and Peter Horazdovsky
Nov. 28, 2021The tour started for me backstage at the legendary 9:30 Club with an impressive box of 9:30 Cupcakes (“The 9:30 Cupcake is a devil’s food cake with a buttercream center, chocolate frosting, and chocolate ganache, and the club’s italicized 9:30 logo scrawled on top in white icing,” according to Wikipedia) and the question: “Want a Canada Dry?” “Yes,” I said, and while wetting my whistle, I was also treated to a sound check of a Bilderbuch song I’d never heard before. “Flüster nur meinen Nam’n / Durch dein Display / Und ich bin da, wo immer du bist, bin ich da” [Whisper my name / through the display / and I’ll be there, wherever you are, I’ll be there] After those lyrics, I strolled outside the venue, where the sunset was really kicking in. I took a picture of Philipp and changed the film. People were already lining up to get in. In passing, I recognized an Austrian group with a cardboard sign that said “FM4.” There were plenty of Europeans there, mostly from the press and media bubble, waiting for Bilderbuch in America just as they had back in Europe. And so it was: with whirring guitars and the band’s distinctive lyrics, a blend of colorful Viennese localisms, American neologisms, and spoken language as well as an abundance of emotional courage, Bilderbuch was a perfect fit for the 9:30 Club, where the likes of Einstürzende Neubauten and Red Hot Chili Peppers played in the past. The crowd was electrified as was the press (and even the weather!). After the concert, we took a cab to the White House, where Olaf Scholz had given one of his last speeches as finance minister just two weeks earlier. And now, against the backdrop of this imposing executive edifice, the crew talked to Austrian television about their American tour. On the way back to the hotel, the taxi driver gave me the low-down on an Apple Store that looks like a miniature version of the Thomas Jefferson Building. As I crawled into bed after the first day of the tour, I heard a voice that sounded like a mix of Maurice, Mike, Peter, and Philipp saying in my head, “Any of us gets COVID, we don’t leave him out. We take him with us. We’ll go see the redwoods and just have a good time.” (The tour was kept to a strict social-distancing protocol and went off without any medical incidents, so they never actually got a chance to act on this romantic fantasy of collective quarantining.)
Nov. 29, 2021Before boarding the Bilderbuch tour bus, I consumed an all-American breakfast of Mountain Dew and greasy bagels. Bits of yesterday’s lyrics kept ringing in my ears: “Stromkabel hängen über’s Feld / Irgendwo zwischen deiner und meiner Welt” [Power lines hanging over the field / Somewhere between your world and mine]. There were some advent calendars waiting for the crew when they got on the bus. Then, with blood sugar levels up around 400 mg/dL, we took off for Boston. On the highway, we read that a group of sixty people in northern England were snowed in at their accommodations with an Oasis cover band. The story would make for a great Tarantino movie, we said.
Shortly after 2 p.m., several cell phones on the bus started vibrating: ORF had just run a TV report on the Bilderbuch tour with Maurice’s interview in front of the White House. “My papa recorded it,” said someone in the front seat. “Now, they’re all writing to us.” Meanwhile, I watched the New York skyline pass by on the screen of Snacky Mike’s phone: He was sitting beside me taking pictures through the window.
“This is already a little bigger than Vienna!” said Peter before we pulled out at the next gas station. The local security guard, an old jazzman, quipped, “What’s the difference between a musician and a pizza pie? A pizza pie can feed a family of four.” And we drove on into the night, as flashing lights from a PlayStation game on the screen over our mostly slumbering heads occasionally illuminated the bus’s dark interior.
Michael Krammer and Maurice Ernst next to a street sign reading “ALLEY CLOSED AHEAD”
Maurice Ernst enjoys a 9:30 Club Cupcake at D.C.’s 9:30 Club.
Outside the 9:30 Club in Washington, D.C.
Barricades outside the Capitol in Washington, D.C.
Maurice Ernst on stage
Nov. 30, 2021As in D.C., there was a big contingent of Austrian and German fans at the venue in Boston. The Paradise Rock Club was shaped like a tube that seemed more elongated to the left and right of the stage than in front of it. There was a cheerful reunion there with the Austrian organizer of the Seewiesenfest, where Bilderbuch had played once many years ago, and he was now handing out free soft drinks to his guests. The pizza backstage received a unanimous seal of approval — “So American, totally packed with toppings, totally greasy, totally far out!” — and was transported stomach-wards with cocktails.
Dec. 1, 2021On the morning of my last day with the tour, we continued on to New York. The whole way, two catchy tunes formed an outrageous remix were stuck in my head: Wilson Gonzalez Ochsenknecht’s “I got two tickets to New York City / Come with me, you look so pretty” and Alicia Keys’ “Even if it ain’t all it seems, I got a pocketful of dreams / Baby I’m from New York.” And while I pictured the 20-year-old Wilson pedaling away on his road bike in some photo studio with tinsel on his face, still unable to move from the spot, various highway signs, Dunkin’ Donuts ads, and a giant billboard that said “HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JESUS!” flew past the windows of our tour bus.
Arriving in Manhattan’s East Village after we’d unloaded the equipment for Webster Hall, some drunkard hollered at us, “You white guys, you look like a hip-hop crew from Belgium!” Shortly thereafter, Peter and Philipp had to pose on the street for a “What are you wearing?” video.
With the thousand-fold reflections and refractions of the spotlights in an outsized disco ball raining down on the faces in the crowd for the third time in a row for me that night, the crew struck up: “Frau Professor, haben mich erwischt / In meinen Händen einen Spliff, Spliff” (Professor, I got busted! / In my hands a spliff, spliff), at which two young women in the front row went particularly wild. About halfway through the gig, I retreated from the hubbub of jam-packed Webster Hall and went backstage to watch the next few minutes on a screen there. Then, the lights went out, and Maurice, Mike, Peter, and Philipp, relaxed and perspiring, came backstage and embraced Roosevelt. You could tell by their beaming faces how ecstatic they were after two long years to finally be able to play big live shows again. And hopefully, there will be more of the same in the near future — if, that is, people continue to take the necessary precautions. Bilderbuch had already boarded the bus for the next leg of the tour when I found a note on the backstage couch. “Phrase of the Day,” Peter had hastily scribbled, and then, first in German, then in English: “I’d like a Wiener schnitzel with parsley potatoes, and please don’t go easy on the cranberry sauce.” And just like that, they left a bit of Vienna in New York.
This article originally appeared in “Das Wetter,” Issue #27.