VNV Nation live at Tel Aviv's Barby Club in 2017..
(photo credit: ROY DANIEL)
It was all about the music as VNV Nation inspired the crowd at Tel Aviv’s Barby Club Friday night. Dublin- born front man Ronan Harris and British percussionist Mark Jackson boldly pounded the bare stage with nearly three hours of continuous favorites spanning the 10 albums of their over two-decade career.
VNV stands for “Victory not Vengeance,” and the “future pop” ensemble boasts the motto that “one should strive to achieve, not sit in bitter regret.”
This poeticism extends to all things VNV Nation, from the artful, complex and politically charged lyrics, to the band’s industrial dystopian aesthetic.
At a time when the world stage is spinning and George Orwell’s ‘40s classic 1984 has returned to American best seller lists, VNV Nation’s message of persistence and resistance was startlingly relevant.
The evening opened with the pulsing and catchy “Space and Time,” and included a diverse mix of their darker, more gravely tunes like “Control,” which had the crowd pumping their fists and shouting in the call-and-response, to mellower songs like “Illusion,” which had everyone swaying and reaching lovingly toward the stage.
Particularly remarkable was Harris’s non-stop personal interaction with the crowd. He opened with an adamant appeal for people to put their phones away and enjoy the show in front of them, and never relented from that stance, constantly cajoling phone-holders. “Sir, it is now 1995!” Harris shouted, bringing the audience back to the year of the band’s birth. “Those horrible devices no longer exist!” At one point, he even took the phone of one watcher to film from his point of view, and when she attempted to climb up to retrieve it, he rushed her back down, saying, “Get off my stage! I have your power, now!” But Harris also showered love, shaking as many hands as possible, and telling the story of his personal affection for Israel. “Back in 2004, I came to this country for the first time... I came here to DJ, and it was... possibly the most amazing experience in my life – visiting this country,” he said. “This is a very special place. A very beautiful place... it’s a place of great energy. I felt it the first time I arrived here, and I never felt anything like it since I arrived here, and I can’t stop smiling.”
A fan gifted him a T-shirt which showed a photo of him singing and a heart-shaped Israeli flag, to which he responded, touched. “Toda
. I am so moved.”
Harris clearly cared about every detail of the show, and there were times when this was an odd distraction, such as during a jarringly stop-and-go performance of their usually powerful ballad, “Nova.” While it started strong, Harris interrupted the chorus multiple times to request specific lighting from the board. “Shine, shine your light on me, illuminate me – seriously, can I get some orange side light here?” It wasn’t the musically euphoric moment it could have been, considering the real power of the lyrics and the special place it has in the hearts of fans.
Fortunately, “Nova” was immediately followed by “Beloved,” one of the group’s most celebrated songs, which was delivered emotionally and largely uninterrupted, and was welcomed by an adoring and enraptured crowd as they sang along.
During the finale, “Perpetual,” one fan tried to give Harris his wallet. “I don’t want your wallet,” the singer laughed. “You want to give me something? Tomorrow, wake up, and look around you, and say to yourself: I don’t need to run on this wheel in this rat race. Then go outside and help someone. If everyone helped one person every day the world would be a much better place.”
VNV Nation attracts fans the world over with their penetrating words layered on top of haunting synth lines and iambic rhythms. Twenty years on, their message is as resonant as ever. As he sang in “Sentinel,” “On the day, the storm has just begun, I will still hope, there are better days to come.”