A couple of days ago, I asked here whether anyone had seen the Michael Rother & Friends/Hallogallo 2010 show yet. Olmanal was one person who responded. The show in Ghent was great, he said, but noted, “‘Deluxe (Immer Wieder)’ with Steve Shelley pounding away on the drums, may not be exactly how you remember it.”

A couple of days ago, I asked here whether anyone had seen the Michael Rother & Friends/Hallogallo 2010 show yet. Olmanal was one person who responded. The show in Ghent was great, he said, but noted, “‘Deluxe (Immer Wieder)’ with Steve Shelley pounding away on the drums, may not be exactly how you remember it.”



Watching Rother, Shelley and bassist Aaron Mullan (listed as from Tall Firs, though I prefer his other band, Glass Rock) at the Barbican in London last night, Olmanal’s warning turned out to be something of an understatement. When “Deluxe” hoves into view, you can still pick out that immeasurably beautiful, serene melody from the Harmonia original. But around it, the music is much more bombastic and heavy, and it feels as if the grace has been sacrificed for quite a lot of rock heft.

This turns out to be the plot for most of the show. Michael Rother, encamped behind a desk with laptop, water bottles and FX, begins a song with a splutter of electronics and loops, then carves out a frictional, meaty version of one of his strafed riffs. Shelley locks into a generally steroidal version of motorik, so loud that it often dwarfs Rother’s work. Aaron Mullan, mainly, is hard to pick up.

At times, the sound they make is genuinely rousing. But more often (and I suspect, judging by most reactions, that I’m very much in the minority with the caveats), it leaves me a little frustrated. There’s much to be admired in Rother’s treatment of his old songs as open-ended; that their arrangements shouldn’t be preserved in aspic, but allowed to evolve over the years. If we continue to celebrate Neu! as a forward-thinking band, it stands to reason we should applaud Rother for handling his mighty consistent music in a contemporary way.

But I have to say, I prefer the clean lines and elegant simplicity of the originals to what amounts, cruelly, as a technobludgeoning. “Silberstreif”, for example, still begins with one of those lovely, twanging lines that Rother perfected on his early solo albums. Again and again, though, Shelley’s drumming leaves the delicacies in his dust. He’s a tremendous player, no doubt, and parts of the show feel like a celebration of his resolute, linear pummelling.

But for some reason, he plays in a very mechanical way – following the “endless line”, for sure, but in a muscular and somewhat mechanical fashion which misses the bounce – the funkiness, of sorts – provided by Klaus Dinger and Jaki Liebezeit. I kept thinking what a different, lighter tack Joe Dilworth, from Th’Faith Healers and Stereolab, would’ve brought to the show.

I have a hunch why Hallogallo 2010 sounds like this, and it comes down not to Shelley’s technique (God knows I’ve seen him play much more subtly many times over the years with Sonic Youth), but to Rother’s musical preferences over the past few years. Time and again, Rother has talked about his love of Secret Machines (Ben Curtis, once of that band, even figured in an early version of Hallogallo 2010, I think), and consequently, he seems to have reconfigured many of his quicksilver old tunes in the thudding image of that band; a kind of bruising, stadium rock revamp of motorik, and not one I particularly liked.

It’s only in the encore, really, that the approach totally works for me, when Hallogallo 2010 have a go at one of Neu!’s heaviest, most grinding tunes, “Negativland”. Here, the faintly industrial scrapes, the sheet metal guitar sound, are tremendously effective, and Shelley and Mullan are brilliant at pulling off the lurching changes of speed that punctuate the piece. For the rest: well, I guess I’m just a bit of a lightweight.