OFF: Guru Guru review

Henderson Keith keith.henderson at PSI.CH
Fri Oct 11 12:09:19 EDT 2002

GURU GURU - Laboratorium "30 Jahrestag" concert series (Stuttgart, Germany)
- 5 October, 2002

So, my first true krautrock gig!  And not a bad choice to have made for this
special occasion.  And no, the 30th anniversary mentioned above is not for
Guru Guru themselves (that event occurred at Finkenbach '98; check out the
fine live document from that show on Funfundvierzig LP or Captain Trip CD!),
but rather a special selection of shows at the Laboratorium celebrating
*their* 30th birthday.  I found the place to be a quaint little club built
inside what seemingly was a sizable two-car garage in a previous life.
Decorated in black and white a la a piano keyboard on the one side, the
structure is behind, yet attached to, a separate bar that I quickly
discovered was *far* too small for any possibility of live entertainment.
But in any case, even the "Lab" itself was not quite large enough for the
200 or more patrons to fit comfortably, so we all wedged our way into every
nook and cranny of the place to catch Mani Neumeier's current four-piece
psychedelic-flavored world ensemble.  Arriving at just past 8 PM, I was
surprised to see that the stage contained only Guru Guru's equipment and no
hint of any warmup act.  (Nights seem to be shorter here at clubs given the
nature of the critical public transportation.)  The program was set to begin
at 8:30, so I thought certainly the night wouldn't be that early, but then
that turned out to exactly be the case since the 2:10 set did end just
before 11 PM.  I think the long duration of this club must also be
predicated upon not annoying the neighbors with late night gigs!

So, I had only a short time to sample the local brew of Stuttgart, which is
Dinkel Acker CDPils.  Sadly, it wasn't quite what I'd hoped, a rather bland
sort of thing and I will stick with my newly-discovered local Swiss
concoction from Rheinfelden that is Feldschlösschen Hopfenperle.
Challenging to pronounce, but enjoyable to consume.  OK, yeah, the music!
So, upon fighting through the crowd themselves, the Guru Guru four alit upon
the stage and armed themselves with the instruments of choice.  Before the
others were ready, Mani himself took off and performed an ad hoc solo as a
warmup exercise.  Roland Schaeffer, a long-time multi-talented sidekick (who
spent some time in Brainstorm way back in the early days of krautrock lore)
pulled out what appeared to be a floor lamp sans the shade.  A subsequent
perusal of Guru Guru liner notes suggests that the double-reeded 'oboe
-on-steroids' is really called a 'nadaswaram.'  In any case, the winding
lyrical lines of the opening piece "Iddli Killer" were perfectly suited to
the nasally-toned snake-charming instrument.  Another track from the 1995
album 'Wah Wah' got more of the band involved, with "Rastafari in Bayuvari"
showing off Mani's quirky humor and his ability to work a microphone and a
pair of drumsticks simultaneously.

Next, Neumeier came out from behind his phalanx of cymbals with a single
floor tom in hand to be the true frontman for "Living in the Woods."  This
one, a tribal number with the 'drumming man' himself claiming to 'make us
happy' was a mellow affair and luckily the crowd was appreciative of such
subtlety as to not talk entirely over the performance.  (Man, I really hate
when that happens and in clubs of this sort, it usually does...well, at
least in the states.)  Somewhere around this time, Mani debuted his
signature 'duck' and attempted to make a band intro through said
vocal-altering device.  Luckily I didn't have to rely on this introduction
for my review.  Guru Guru quickly re-established a rocking pace with the
straightforward "Jet Lag" and "Moshi Moshi," some more material from the
mid-1990s.  While these tracks worked well to establish momentum, it was the
more colorful and earthy flavors of the band that provided superior treats
for the more refined ear.  "Marabut" from the newest offering '2000 Gurus'
was one such moment, Schaeffer now taking lead vocal duties.  Fortunately,
we weren't offered any of the processed beats and loops that the group tried
(with mixed results) to add to their style on that particular album - this
was a true rock show as it should have been.

The second half of the show produced most of the true highlights - Mani
recounted (speaking in English oddly enough) that we'd visited India, the
Caribbean, the Orient, etc., and now it's time to travel to space.  And so
the wondrous "Space Baby" (seen previously on the '30 Jahre Live' recording)
was brought forth with a long intro of cosmogenic noodling and swirling (all
without synths) countered finally by several bouts with the hard-hitting
chorus.  Eventually, after some more laid-back jamming, the foursome reached
the finale piece, a rousing 15-minute version of "Ooga Booga" (from the 1972
'Kanguru' album) with a interesting and brief solo bit by Neumeier
(including more 'duck-work' and 'mouth percussion').  Hans Reffert, a
'jack-of-all-trades' sort of guitarist, along with Schaeffer (now on guitar
himself) together finally turned up the amps together to reach full
potential and so the finishing bars were quite a flurry of psychedelic
sounds.  The crowd reacted strongly at set's end and rather than fight their
way through to the dressing room, they simply turned around (after a quick
bow) and began again.  After playing a newer rock tune I didn't recognize,
Mani escaped to the back finally and bassist Peter Kuhmstedt began to play
the familiar monotone riff from "Der Elektrolurch."  With Neumeier
reappearing in a gold-sequined costume and funny decorative headpiece
(complete with blinking LED lights), the band proceeded to ad lib for quite
awhile with the bass riff continuing, but they never really did play the
bulk of the song in earnest.  A second encore offered mainly Reffert a
chance to play his lap steel guitar to a jazzy backdrop, and for me that was
rather anti-climactic given my disinterest in this instrument (due to its
'country' flavors I suppose).

All-in-all, my first rock show in Germany was a great success, and I didn't
mind the light rain falling as I made my way back to my hotel room down the
street.  My clothes smelled terribly like cigarette smoke (even moreso than
in the US...too many people over here smoke!) but they'd get cleaned soon
enough.  In the morning, the rain still fell and I took my time getting
myself motivated to explore Stuttgart accordingly, and then discovered while
enjoying my complementary breakfast that I was sharing the hotel with the
band.  But I decided not to bother Hans and Roland while they enjoyed their
quiet morning with coffee and croissants (Mani seemed to be a late sleeper),
and instead simply took my leave and eventually made my way back to the
Hauptbahnhof and points south.  The merchandising after the show was very
limited (a nice Guru Guru history book was offered that I would have gladly
purchased if it wasn't completely in German), but I did snag their last copy
of the 1995 album 'Wah Wah' which features some of the better 'new' tracks
they played this night.  So my hope now is that the Finkenbach festival
(that I believe Guru Guru is largely responsible for, but I could be wrong
about that) is on again for 2003, as I'd like to see them again soon,
preferably in a place with more fresh air and elbow room.  And 'hoppier'

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