German kosmische group Neu! may have had only one idea, but it was certainly a very good one: strip down two decades of rock and roll into its indivisible parts – a pounding rhythm, provided by drummer Klaus Dinger; a pulsing guitar riff and the hint of a melody from guitarist Michel Rother, with singing reduced to its primal base.
The next step was to spread that idea over three albums – Neu! 1, Neu! 2 and Neu! 75 – with varying degrees of success, and in some cases, at varying speeds. Willing to risk a few hundred Deutschmarks, Hamburg label Brain released the three records between 1972 and 1975, picked up United Artists at a later date. Now they are cult classics that have spawned two generations of bands.
Neu! is back and is called Hallogallo 2010, a name taken from the first song on Neu! 1. Dinger died in 2004 and so is replaced on the drums by Sonic Youth's Steve Shelley. Shelley is a reliable player who gives the music space with his characteristically unfussy playing. One bass drum-kick too much space. perhaps. The set opener, "Fur Immer," features Dinger's signature motorik (motor skill) beat – a relentless and punishing allegro four-to-the-floor. But Shelley's take missed the fourth kick beat in the bar, leaving a hole, and so undoing the pattern's bludgeoning totalism.
The sound was fizzy and clear from the two-year-old PA and the lights were unobtrusively automated. Rother was stage left behind a table of equipment, while virtually inaudible bassist Aaron Mullan (Tall Firs and Sonic Youth's sound engineer) stood opposite, with Shelley in between behind a Plexiglas screen, like you would see at a stadium concert.
The gig went by at a fair clip, and the hits were given their proper treatment. Even Rother's phased guitar noodling was just about the right side of bearable, if not incessant. The very young crowd made a good attempt at dancing and were engaged with the set's ebb and flow, despite no acknowledgment from the stage. except an occasional beatific smile. Everything was just so, and on paper, this should be have a great gig. But as it was, it was just OK. Having listened for so many years to so many reinterpretations of the Neu! sound – and played in a few – it lacked a bit of punch.
But it was the crowd that weren't working. I felt enormously proprietorial, having bought Neu! 1 on actual vinyl more than 20 years ago from a real record shop. It was too personal to share with young people who had plenty of energy to dance and cheer late on a Monday night. I'm just too old for this classic rock.