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Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

Bauhaus by Night

January 28, 2011 | by

Untitled (Night View of Trees and Streetlamp, Burgkühnauer Allee, Dessau), 1928.

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Michael Rother Comes To Hoboken

August 10, 2010 | by

Rother at Lincoln Center, August 6, 2010. Photo © Kevin Yatarola.

Last Wednesday at around 9 PM I sipped bourbon in Hoboken and waited for Michael Rother to take the stage. That is not something I thought would ever happen.

Rother is co-creator of the influential seventies German band Neu!. (Though talking about them is indeed exciting, that exclamation point is actually part of the band's name.) Neu! hasn't been an active band for some time now: they recorded their fourth and final album in 1986, though for various reasons it was finally released just a few weeks ago. In 2008 the other Neu! co-creator, Klaus Dinger, died. So the idea of ever seeing Neu! music live seemed unlikely.

Yet there I was last Wednesday at Maxwell's. I was alone, because no one I'm interested in is interested in Michael Rother. This is not music you can drag your girlfriend to, or at least I can't—mine said that the show would just be people standing there bobbing their heads forward in 4/4 time. (Which was true.) Most Neu! songs are completely instrumental, perhaps the biggest hurdle for many people. I also tried to persuade a high school friend to come (he'd never heard of Neu!) but even after we'd had a few drinks, and even after I'd offered to pay for his ticket, I found myself going it alone.

Given the resistance of both girl- and high school friends to seeing one half of a band they don't care about, it was perhaps no surprise that the place wasn't full. I was leaning on the bar with my bourbon, half-listening to the ethereal opening act, when I noticed Michael Rother standing next to me.

Of course, when you see an artist you admire, your first thought is, "What should I say to him?" To which the answer is: nothing. Because there's rarely anything to say to someone you don't know, except perhaps "They say on Monday it'll cool off" or "Milk, no sugar." Yet music (like books, or movies) gives us the strange impression that this person is anything other than a stranger.

I went up to Michael Rother and said, rather lamely, "You're Michael Rother?" "Yes," he said. "I just thought I'd shake your hand," I said, and I did, and he laughed. Our meeting wasn't much—these things generally aren't—but at least I made Michael Rother laugh. Then I ordered another bourbon.

Right before the show began I walked straight to the front of the crowd. At a general admission show this is sometimes a difficult and rude thing to do, but it's not as if the venue was at capacity. The room had filled by now, though not with girls—I counted seven in total. The crowd was almost completely white and in their thirties. I saw many pairs of glasses and one-and-a-half violations of the first rule of concert going: don't wear a shirt featuring the performer you're going to see. (A guy in a Kraftwerk shirt was the half-violation—Michael Rother was an early member of that group.) I stood in front of where Rother would be. The table which supported Rother's laptop—not a Mac, surprisingly—rested for some reason on four paint cans.

They began. I won't describe the show at length. I once heard that describing music is like doing card tricks on the radio, and that's true. I will say that it was arguably the best concert experience I've ever had. Last year's Leonard Cohen show was incredible; Van Morrison's Astral Weeks in concert had quasi-religious power. But I couldn't believe the intensity of being in such a small room with this music, with its booming, propelling drumming, its repetition, repetition, repetition, and then playful, slight variation. The music's power is so primitive that in theory all humans should love it, but as we have seen this isn't the case. To say that the music of Neu! has held up well over time is like saying the same about the ocean: it's so obvious that even mentioning it seems silly. This is music that doesn't sound like it was created decades ago—it sounds like it is created the second it is played, or maybe even a moment or two in the future. The name Neu! ("new" in German) couldn't be more appropriate.

During the show the only time a microphone amplified voice was when Rother introduced the band. Then he quickly began another song, saying, with Teutonic terseness, that he didn't want to "waste so many words." He'd used maybe fifteen.

When it ended I hung around for a few minutes, snagged the setlist from the stage, and walked to the PATH train. I'd never witnessed such a perfect concert. If only I could've found someone to go with.

Towards the end of my trip home I ran into another high school friend. He's someone who knows a thing or two about music and I expected him to have heard of Neu!. He hadn't. I thought of telling him to go to Michael Rother's free Lincoln Center show on Friday.

But no. I didn't want to waste so many words.

Josh Lieberman lives in Brooklyn, New York.


And Then We Came to the End

July 9, 2010 | by

In the World Cup, as in any tournament, half of the field is eliminated in the first round, and half again in each succeeding round—a method of crowning a champion devised by Zeno and guaranteed to bring the whole thrilling spectacle to a buyer’s-remorse anticlimax. (You can see the diminishing interest in the now-trickling coverage in outlets both mainstream and semi-pro.) Whichever second-rate European nation triumphs on Sunday—if they can control the midfield as smugly as they did against Germany in Wednesday’s semifinal it will surely be Spain—will look a lot less truly top-dog than simply last-man-standing.

In his Winner-Take-All Society, the academic Robert Frank famously described the American economy as such a tournament, devoted to the production of champions at the expense of the welfare of many many losers; in South Africa this summer we will have thirty-one of them to one likely-uninspiring winner, a fairly devastating ratio. But it’s not only the partisans of those thirty-one countries that’ll be left bewildered, wondering what might have been, all the rest of us will, too, indeed anyone who paid any attention to the opening of the tournament and its round-the-clock stream of giddy action and deluded, infinite-horizon expectation. The games played in those early days were often stilted by deliberative tactics, player caution, and coaching prudence, and their outcomes were rarely decisive. But they embodied what another academic, Barry Schwartz, might’ve called the paradox of chance—we want each game to contain all the possibilities and promise of the entire cup, to unfold as though the shape and character of the whole month-long tournament hangs completely on its outcome, but we don’t want any particular result to disclose the possibility of any other. On this score a tournament is designed to disappoint. But those early games offer, always, the best of both worlds, yielding perhaps less quality of play than the contests that follow but making up for it, many times over, in volume. Or, as I like to call it, abundance.


Deutschland Über Alles

July 6, 2010 | by

The semi-finals of this World Cup have led to an earth shattering cosmic twist: everybody now likes Germany.

Most of the credit for this goes down to the way they play. Germany was dazzling to watch, especially in the crushing of Argentina and England. They lost their captain, big star and only member of the team to play outside Germany, Michael Ballack1, a month before the finals began. The team they brought to South Africa is made up of young players who mostly came up through the German youth system (and many of whom helped the country win last year's European youth championship). They’re a marvelous spectacle—they keep their shape, looking to play on the counter attack. And when they do, the ball moves so swiftly and intelligently from one end to the other that no one can keep up with them. They also seem largely free of the diving, grandstanding, and waving of imaginary cards. Unlike so many other teams in the tournament, they get on with things.

Speaking of diving and imaginary card waving, Spain came into the tournament as the European favorites, with ball movement and a promised redemption for previous failures. But even if they win, they will leave with their haloes gleaming a little less brightly. We have been denied the glory of Xavi and Andres Iniesta running the midfield at a tempo and geometry they dictate. Instead we have been forced to watch the odious Sergio Busquets collapse in a heap every time someone looks at him funny, while Xavi and Xabi Alonso get in each other’s way. Up front, Spain has been entirely dependent on goals from David Villa. Fernando Torres, who came into the tournament as the Spanish golden boy, has had so bad a time of it that The Guardian—in a misguided attempt to salvage his reputation—called him a more talented Emile Heskey. Perhaps worse, it turns out he dyes his hair. Read More »


  1. He was injured in a tackle (and I use that word in its loosest sense) put in by the Ghanaian midfielder Kevin Prince Boateng, whose half-brother Jerome is the German left back. The Boateng brothers apparently no longer speak.


The Zombie Cup—It Lives!

June 18, 2010 | by

It seemed for about a week that this would be a tactical tournament—a dullish Cup, shadowed by Inter’s Champions League triumph, marked by negative play and cautious counterattacking lineups, and ultimately crowning, perhaps more decisively than a champion, the incisive geeksite German efficiency seemed the closest we’d get to actual electricity.

How quickly things change—and how high a German defeat lifts the hearts of fans the world over. For my money, Joachim Löw can still boast the tournament’s top performing side, as well as its top performing cashmere: Germany looked as dangerous a man down against Serbia as any team this side of Argentina, and, having gone down to that inferior squad, may no longer be plagued by the panic of preeminence that seemed to trip them up in a lackluster first half. Ghana, beware.

The true maestros of today’s early-game tournament resurrection were, of course, the referees. There will surely be howls of outrage in the coming hours and days over the nine yellow cards (six in the first thirty-six minutes) in Serbia’s defeat of Germany, and over the preposterously disallowed U.S. goal against Slovenia, which would have delivered three points to the Americans and made them the first team in the tournament’s history to recover from a 2-0 halftime deficit and actually win. But as fans of the game, we shouldn’t be howling—or howling too long, anyway. However erratic, those decisions are not injustices, they are refereeing, and a happy reminder that soccer is not a game of numbers, like poker, mastered by biding one’s time, but a game, beneath the tactics, of chance. You buy your ticket and you take the ride.