1970s avant-garde German band Can pull a classic show out of their archives, while Mdou Moctar plays desert blues in Niger. Indie band Xiu Xiu are up to their twelfth record, but it’s the first time I’ve checked in with them. Read on for details.
Live in Stuttgart 1975
When Damo Suzuki left German avant-garde band Can after 1973’s Future Days, they didn’t replace their shamanistic front-man. Instead, guitarist Michael Karoli and keyboardist Irmin Schmidt took over on lead vocals, and the band’s studio work lost a lot of its appeal. But Live in Stuttgart shows that the post-Suzuki version of the band remained a formidable live act. Their studio albums from the period feel too smooth and sanitised, but live their personalities as players shine through. Drummer Jaki Liebezeit was one of the most formidable players of the rock era, with the steadiness of a drum machine, while bassist Holger Czukay’s grooves are crucial to the band’s live sound.
At this point in their career, the band didn’t play a setlist. All these tracks are improvised as the surviving member of this quartet, Irmin Schmidt, explained to Flood.
The key, because we risked going on stage, always, without knowing what we were going to play. We came on stage and reacted to the atmosphere of the room, of the crowd, the ambience of the scene, and the lights. Of course, to each other. All spontaneously together. That, of course, is a risk, because…if you don’t have a set of songs, you invent.
The lengthy jams of Live in Stuttgart aren’t necessarily something I’ll return to often, but Can in full-flight are impressive regardless.
It’s a tough time for Tuareg guitar hero Mdou Moctar, as Niger’s wracked by civil unrest and the Covid pandemic. He’s unable to play live due to the threat of Jihadist group Boko Haram, but this new album provides a career summary, taking in both the acoustic music of his early recording years and the desert blues rock of his more recent rock. Moctar described Afrique Victime to The Skinny as “early Van Halen meets Black Flag meets Black Uhuru”.
Despite the diversity, the main attraction is Moctar’s searing lead guitar. Opener and single ‘Chismiten’ is a great teaser for the record, showcasing the raw studio sound and Moctar’s bluesy riffing. There are other strong rockers – ‘Taliat’ and the brief psychedelic guitar of ‘Untitled’ – but the centerpiece is the title track. Moctar’s work has generally stayed clear of politics, but the closing title track is a clear political statement. “Africa is a victim of so many crimes / If we stay silent it will be the end of us / My brothers and sisters, tell me why this is happening?“
The acoustic songs are pretty – ‘Tala Tannam’ is a love song that translates as “your tears”, while closer ‘Bismillah Atagah’ is lovely. Moctar’s great even when he’s not coaxing wild blues out of his Stratocaster.
I’m not a huge fan of blues-based music, but Moctar’s edgy desert blues are always fascinating.
Jamie Stewart has been making experimental music with Xiu Xiu since 2002’s Knife Play. Percussionist and keyboardist Angela Seo, the band’s only other member, has been on board since 2009. Stewart’s gloomy yet theatrical baritone is softened on Xiu Xiu’s twelfth album by the presence of guest vocalists.
It’s too unsettling to serve as regular listening fodder for me, but there are some excellent tracks. Paired with Liars, ‘Rumpus Room’ is propulsive and fun. Grouper’s Liz Harris guests on lead single and standout tracks ‘A Bottle of Rum’, and she sounds great with Stewart over the moody and impulsive indie guitars. Likewise, the vocal blend of Stewart and the quivering tenor of Owen Pallett is captivating on ‘I Dream of Someone Else Entirely’.
I doubt I’ll ever become a major Xiu Xiu aficionado, but they’re creative and there are enough great tracks here to make Oh No! worth a spin.