Sad Little Sex Machine

Germanys grossest national product, the Von Steins

Photo by Jeanne RiceGunther Von Stein is a sex machine. A sad little sex machine.

"I don't attract anybody," he sighs. "My wang is too huge."

But a lot of great artists have to suffer for their art, you know? And thus out of Gunther's monstrously unlovable wang comes—in a sense—the hyperbolic horniness that gives his new-wave-gone-wrong band the Von Steins a little extra slickness. Because with Gunther and the Von Steins, it's always about the sex (excepting the occasions when it's about monkeys or domineering mother figures—well, actually, that's probably about sex, too, when you get down to it). If they cleaned up, they'd be Eurotrash. As it is, they could be one of Germany's grossest national products.

"We'd like to bring farm animals and mannequins onstage, just to see what would happen," Gunther muses. "Probably nothing. But it'd be a real turn-on. Know what I mean?"

Er, hopefully not. But it's that kind of creepy sprechen-sie-humpen come-on—delivered in Gunther's harried Mark-Mothersbaugh-meets-Sprockets falsetto to truly unsettling effect—that's music to the Von Stein brothers' ears. Theirs is the sweaty, button-punching nerd shtick gone ghoulishly awry, Kraftwerk's pocket calculator operator set to permanent "does not compute" by a steady diet of best-left-for-dead '80s pop, punk rock piss-takes, and whole closets full of dog-eared low-rent porn. (Be afraid: Gunther's onstage role model is Missing Persons' Dale Bozzio. "I really like her dance moves," he gushes. "That girl is so hot!")

So if it's an orifice, you can bet they're fixated on it—must be all those years of stern German potty training, or maybe their early childhood diet on the Von Stein dairy farm somewhere around Munich. ("We drank milk right from the nipples of cows!" Gunther claims proudly.) Of course, they might not be all they seem: persistent rumors that the Von Steins are really just a bunch of native OC kids doing a Disney-addled fake on the Fatherland's freakiest foibles could not be verified.

But even if their passports are phony, their stage act is all too real. Their set list reads like they learned English from the ads in the back of this very paper: "Do You Want Hot Sex? (Yes, Yes!)," "Quit Your Sexy Job!" and "Sexy Boy" (on which Gunther croons, "Policemen say I'm a sexy boy! Firemen say I'm a sexy boy!").

But somehow—despite the romance, the ill-fitting suits, the unibrows and the monster wangs—Gunther's still not getting it like he wants it. Maybe he's still adjusting to the culture change (to stave off homesickness, the Von Steins frequent Disneyland's "It's a Small World" ride).

"We love American girls," he explains. "They shave their legs too often, but they're hot on the beach."

Or maybe it's that the Von Steins are the wrong kind of sex machines—220-volt men in a 110-volt world. Forget Porsches; these purported Teutons are more like Volkswagen Bugs: quirky, endearingly retro and not anything you'd associate with gettin' it on, unless you were a masochist or a midget. Gunther hopes their years-in-the-making opus The Von Steins: On Display (to be released any month now) will change that.

"In the past, we've had really bad run-ins with recording," he says (not the least of which, in the spirit of cheerful full disclosure, was putting out a split single with a band I later happened to join). "Like, we'd record at people's houses, and if the recording guy wanted to smoke a cigarette, he'd push us all out of his house, thinking we were going to steal something."

But finally someone fought past such anti-immigrant hysteria—endemic to Anaheim, of course—and let them stay inside long enough to record an album's worth of amped-up, Devo-style, keyboard-punk odes to, well, sex, with varying degrees of subtlety. But they're still true to their roots. Which is more important to the Von Stein's aesthetic, we ask, the monkeys or the hot sex?

"Hot sex with monkeys," Gunther says immediately. "You knew that was coming, right?"

The Von Steins perform with the Barnburners, North, Option Red and Shythouse Ratz at the Galaxy Concert Theatre, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.galaxytheatre.com. Thurs., Sept. 6, 8 p.m. $8. All ages.
 
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