The Can Project review – warm tribute to avant-rock innovators

Barbican, London
The London Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Can founder Irwin Schmidt, before Thurston Moore led a more freestyle rock jam in an amiable homage

German avant-rock innovators Can may have influenced some big-time fans – from David Bowie and John Lydon to Joy Division – but as their biographer Rob Young has noted, theirs was “an anarchic democracy and everyone who joined it had sacrificed another, surer path to be there”. The Barbican and Goethe Institute’s 50th anniversary gig reflected their eclecticism by presenting the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Can founder/composer Irmin Schmidt alongside a freely jamming band led by longtime fan Thurston Moore – and it was a warmly ambitious accolade, even if the originators’ mix of anarchic democracy and the liberating monotony of classic krautrock’s machine-mimicking grooves was a hard balance to catch. The 79-year-old Schmidt opened the show with the LSO to perform his symphony Can Dialog (co-written with Gregor Schwellenbach), and 2008 ballet suite La Fermosa. Can Dialog wove classics including Halleluwah and Sing Swan Song into percussively spiky minimalism, and densely layered orchestral structures, sometimes echoing Schmidt’s former teachers Karlheinz Stockhausen and György Ligeti in music of sonically fascinating, if rather inchoate, glimpses.

After an interval foyer screening of a mostly inaudible 1972 Can live show, Moore then led an octet including Can’s first vocal-ranter Malcolm Mooney. Landmark tracks such as Outside My Door emerged from percussion whispers and glowing electronica into thunderous double-drums grooving; a sly Hammond vamp introduced She Brings the Rain; Yoo Doo Right was an ecstatic group jam. The soundscape was fittingly rich, though the set’s intended drummer – Can legend Jaki Liebezeit, who died in January – was sorely missed.


John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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