Barbican Hall, London
A truly devastating moment occurred in the preparation stages of Can’s 50th anniversary celebrations. Jaki Leibezeit, cerebral drummer and one of the krautrock group’s founding members, died from pneumonia. It was January of this year; four months before the performance and almost two years since the initial concept of the show was proposed. The news was not only a blow for friends, family and fans (many of whom are in attendance tonight) but also a colossal emotive jolt to an evening intended to parade Can rather than mourn the loss of one of its creators.
And yet, aiding to the inspired itinerary curated by the Barbican team, tonight disassociates itself from morbid grief and taps directly into the revolutionary breadth of Can’s back-catalogue. With the aim to replicate the avant-rock band’s sonic abandon, the first half features founding member Irmin Schmidt conduct the London Symphony Orchestra alongside guest composer Gregor Schwellenbach. But this, the world premier of the duo’s composition, Can Dialog, isn’t merely an 80-piece instrumental revaluation of Can cuts. What Schmidt and Schwellenbach deliver is something wholly unfamiliar; a symphonic Can collage of recognisable motifs and melodies from the band’s most lauded pieces such as Halleluwah and Sing Swan Song.
“(Orchestra) is an invention which shouldn’t be forgotten,” Schmidt mentions when discussing the original notion for Can to converge elements of classical, jazz and rock together under one unified idea. And as the LSO’s trumpets tumble from one minimalist measure to another, and violins strum irregularly, and bass sections actively thwack the bodies of their instruments with their bows, it’s evident that both the founder and composer’s compassion for developing Can’s classical leanings is unending.
Following a 45-minute interval, which included a grainy foyer screening of Can’s 1972 live performance at Cologne Sporthalle, Thurston Moore quietly ambles over to his Hi-Watt amplifier. Beside him are noise rock dignitaries including My Bloody Valentine’s Deb Googe, and Can’s primary lead vocal narrator Malcolm Mooney. Behind them sit Valentina Magaletti and Sonic Youth’s Steve Shelley on two separate drum kits. A hugely opposing setup to the orchestral audacity of what preceded them but certainly a more familiar aesthetic for a traditional Can performance. Here, it seems that it’s Moore’s intention as group leader, to accentuate Can’s use of sonic distortion, reinterpreting trademark grooves as frenetic feedback-fuelled freak-outs. Yoo Doo Right and Outside My Door highlight the Can Project’s desire to not completely reinvent Schmidt, Mooney and Leibezeit’s initial motivations but to reimagine their sound as the sole stoic precursor to the new wave movement and post-punk. For the most part, it seers with a genuine psychoactive charge. But at times, Moore’s imposing presence and identifiable playing style becomes equally as distracting as it is engrossing.
But what both the LSO and Thurston Moore achieve tonight is the perfect concoction of minimalist experimentation and amplified jamming. It’s an honest homage to Can’s life and legacy for both the living and deceased members. We may have recently lost one of the world’s most adept drumming talents, but Schmidt, Mooney and Moore are proving that his vigour continues to prosper in the hands of his peers and successors.