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Faust at Cafe Oto, London- live review

Faust and Slapp Happy team up at this cool east London venue

a crowd at a prog gig
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

This is a rare treat that has been 45 years in the making. Last November, Dagmar Krause, Anthony Moore and Peter Blegvad reunited with Faust’s rhythm section – who backed Slapp Happy on their first two albums – to play the self-proclaimed “celebration of nerdy exclusivity and magical unwieldiness”, the Week-End Fest in Cologne.

Now the UK gets a chance to host this line-up, albeit just three gigs and all at the Cafe Oto in London. Consequently, people have travelled from the US, Japan and “even Nottingham!” to show their appreciation at these sold-out concerts.

Today’s Sunday lunchtime set is the finale. It’s freezing outside but we’re gathered cosily inside the venue as condensation trickles down the windows behind the spider plants and the soft white lights on the band warm the faces of the front rows.

A Brit-American-German hybrid assimilated into the RIO/Krautrock scene of early-70s Hamburg, Slapp Happy offered genteel, after-hours avant-pop born of Moore’s experimentalism, Blegvad’s singer-songwriter nous and Krause’s delicate, jazz cabaret vocal, creating “naïve rock” with a subtle, subversive twist. Playing two sets, their catalogue has tender endurance, from the dreamy skip of The Secret to the sad, woozy waltz of Small Hands Of Stone.

Guitarist Blegvad is a wry ringmaster in a charming work-in-progress seated arena where set notes, instruments or spectacles can be lost (pianist/guitarist Moore sits on his – twice), relating anecdotal nuggets and complaining as he fits his harmonica rack (“It’s like being in an iron lung!”).

Krause also shares stories, such as the band’s time spent with Warhol in New York, a prelude to the plugged-in VU/Kevin Ayers-ish Blue Flower, which finds her flawless delivery in particularly sharp form.

At any other time he’s Faust’s frontman, but today Jean-Hervé Péron takes a serene back seat and applies gentle basslines to sorties such as the countryfied Who’s Gonna Help Me Now.

And there’s not a wheat thresher in sight as Werner ‘Zappi’ Diermaier taps along to half the set, before leaving to catch a plane at 4pm. “I miss him already,” Blegvad laments, three songs into set two.

“Me too,” adds Krause dryly, suggesting that some sections might have gone just a little baggy.

Too soon it’s the end of the set, which is marked by Let’s Travel Light, a transcendental 1920s jazz shuffle – complete with kazoo – from the band’s 2009 album Ça Va.

Encouraging us to shed the corporeal realm and ride the ultraviolet ray to happiness, we drift home reluctantly, but on a new wavelength.

Embracing weird, wild and wonderful sounds, Prog's Associate Editor Jo's also a Classic Rock columnist, an avid tea-drinker and cupcake fancier.