NEU! MARCHES BACK
UPDATE: Hear a live performance and the Echoes Interview with Michael Rother at end.
It was a mesmerizing evening of non-stop driving groove and ecstatic electric guitar when Michael Rother brought in his Hallogallo 2010 group to Philadelphia last night at International House.
Michael Rother was a founding member of the German electro-groove duo called Neu! With drummer Klaus Dinger. He went on to co-found Harmonia with Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius of Cluster. Founded in 1971 after the two musicians departed a short-lived edition of Kraftwerk, Neu was known for their non-stop, monster mantra grooves provided by Dinger, whose drumming presaged drum machines. Atop his forward motion metronome, Rother layered soaring melodies and dive-bomber distortions, but with an economy of sound that relied more on timbre than notes. With Harmonia, the music was no less driving,although prettier, more ambient sounds began to emerge in his music. On his own. Rother has released a steady stream of albums since his landmark and still gorgeous solo debut, Flammende Herzen. He maintains the motoric grooves, provided early on by Can drummer Jaki Liebezeit, but his melodies tended to be more symphonic, melancholic and often triumphal.
Rother is experiencing a renaissance as yet another music generation is discovering the sound of Neu, Harmonia and Rother himself. He can cite Brian Eno, who actually recorded with Harmonia, John Lydon and Ultravox, Sonic Youth and more recently, Radiohead and The Album Leaf among those his music has influenced.
With Steve Shelley, drummer from Sonic Youth and Aaron Mullan, from Tall Firs, on bass, a youthful looking Rother, appearing at least a decade younger than his 60 years, re-created landmark works from Neu, Harmonia and his solo output. They call themselves Hallogallo after a Neu track from the first album and that song, now titled “Hallogallo 2010” in a heavier version, summed up the sound of the show. After an ambient opening, Shelley kicked in to the unrelenting groove while Mullan layed down a sparse but deep bass line. Rother, standing stoically behind a table laden with a computer, mixer and a pair of Kaos pads, ripped out the soaring melody with his Fender Stratocaster.
Moving through solo tracks like the lyrical “Aroma Club B3,” Harmonia’s trancey “Deluxe (Immer Weider)” sans vocals, “Neutronics” from the Neu tribute album, and a new song called “Two Oceans,” Rother mixed in electronic loops, ambient pads and rhythmic support off his computer, but it was Shelly and Mullan who kept the groove alive, bringing vitality to a music could become repetitious, but never did. The band improvised across the modal themes, not in a Coltrane/Hendrix sense, but in an orchestral, live compositional sense. Elements of surf guitar, Eastern tonalities and acid sustain emerged in Rother’s playing. You haven’t heard this much fuzzed, phased and filter-swept guitar in years as Rother deployed lines that were minimalist in scope, but epic in resonance. I could’ve done without the random stereo panning, which should’ve been a bit more sophisticated at this point in time.
Although the music is unremitting in its drive, Rother’ heroic phrasing makes it sound euphoric, like a charge to the top of the hill. It’s been 38 years since their debut and the music of Neu still sounds vital. Klaus Dinger, passed away in 2008, (see Obit) but Michael Rother & company make sure this isn’t a washed out nostalgia trip, but a look at new possibilities. They played to a packed and devoted house of over three hundred at Philadelphia’s International House.
I must admit, after playing Michael Rother’s music non-stop on WXPN‘s Diaspar show in the 1970s and 80s, the guitarist fell off the map for me. But while I wasn’t looking, he’s been releasing incredible albums over the last 20 years including the CDs Remember and Traumriesen, that take his music in new and tantalizing directions. Neu’s music is currently being reissued in a vinyl only box set with all three Neu albums, an aborted CD from 1986 and other outtakes
Look for an interview with Michael Rother shortly on Echoes. Rother & Hallogallo 2010 will be returning to the states in September with dates in Columbus and Chicago (see Tour Schedule).
JUST IN: A link to the complete New York City performance at the Lincoln Center, although you’ll have to really crank it to get anywhere near the intensity. Neu! Live in NYC.
Hear the Echoes interview with Michael Rother
John Diliberto ((( echoes )))