Hallogallo 2010, Barbican, London
Motorik still euphoric in a Neu! setting
Wednesday 27 October 2010
When Michael Rother and the late Klaus Dinger created the cosmic-bulldozer riffs for which their band, Neu!, became famous, there wasn't exactly an overwhelming demand for them to perform live. Like Nick Drake and Tim Buckley, Neu! were only truly celebrated in their absence, the lingering power of their music forcing its way into the collective cultural consciousness.
A decent argument could be made for the "Neu! motorik" – the distinctive rolling groove which carried along the band's long, soaring space-jams – being one of the first viral music successes. But by the time David Bowie and Brian Eno began dropping the band's name, around the time of Low and Heroes in the late-1970s, Neu! were no more, Dinger and Rother having gone their separate ways.
This concert, then, is something of a long overdue affirmation for musicians and audience alike: some of us have waited the better part of four decades to hear this music live. It also confirms that, contrary to received wisdom, you can go back, provided you have strong enough support. Rother is returning to Neu! classics like "Hallogallo" and "Für Immer" in the company of the Tall Firs bassist Aaron Mullan and the Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley.
Rother spends the entire show half-hidden behind a chest-high table that supports his laptop, wires and effects gizmos from which he teases the distinctive distorted sound for his white Stratocaster guitar. But Shelley is a gripping enough focus of attention, driving the grooves along with implacable power. The show opens with a twitch and a throb of laptop noise and a few tentative tendrils of guitar; then Shelley launches into that familiar rolling beat and we're off.
The sound is like an overloaded bomber lumbering down a runway, straining for take-off, which comes just before the runway runs out as Rother sends the first of his characteristic, wiry guitar lines swirling off into the skies. A wave of euphoria sweeps around the hall as the infectious trance-rock groove of "Hallogallo" does its stuff.
Mullan's importance becomes clear when, during the second piece, his equipment fails and he has to have his bass direct-injected into the PA system. When his part reappears in the mix it supplies the hypnotic, throbbing undercarriage upon which Shelley builds up a rolling groove on tom-toms and snare, pushing it along with a series of fills and cymbal splashes as each piece develops a bulldozer momentum. Switching between sticks and mallets, Shelley sets up a tribal pow-wow groove of the sort that Jaki Liebezeit used to provide for Can, while Rother retains control over a heavily-distorted guitar sound that always seems to be on the verge of chaos.
Ultimately, this is an exercise in the raw power of linear musical logic, the Krautrock equivalent of Status Quo. It is always apparent where the music is heading yet there is a magnetic fascination to the way its grip seems to tighten as each piece develops. But could the Quo conjure such rushes of euphoria as we experience tonight?
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