GURU GURU - Laboratorium "30 Jahrestag" concert series (Stuttgart, Germany) - 5 October, 2002
From Aural Innovations #21 (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 á 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 8PM, 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 CD-Pils. 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 complimentary 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' beer.
Reviewed by Keith Henderson