Live In Paris 1973 Captures Damo Suzuki And Can At Their Absolute Peak
When Can’s original vocalist Malcolm Mooney left the band, they discovered Damo Suzuki by complete happenstance. The Japanese-born traveler was busking his way through Europe, and Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit witnessed one of his performances while in a cafe. Instantly captivated, they invited him to perform that night with Can. He was able to immediately lock into the band’s grooves with a similar feral intensity that Mooney brought to the table, but with a shamanistic energy that Mooney never had.
With Suzuki as singer, Can put out their most acclaimed records, Tago Mago (1971), Ege Bamyasi (1972), and Future Days (1973). Then, as fast he wandered into the group, Suzuki left to marry his girlfriend and join the Jehovah’s Witnesses. (He would later leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses and return to music, but not with Can.) Thus, the studio output of classic-era Can with Suzuki on vocals is only those three albums and half of a soundtrack compilation, forcing Can fans to look elsewhere to scratch that itch. Because the band never released any official live albums while they were active, these fans needed to rely on bootlegs of live performances.
Thankfully, a British fan named Andrew Hall followed the band from show to show with a tape recorder concealed under oversized trousers, until he was eventually formally invited by the band to stand next to the speakers. It’s because of Andrew Hall’s recordings that founding member Irmin Schmidt and producer-engineer René Tinner can now release Can live shows in all their glory. Set for release next week, Live In Paris 1973 follows Live In Stuttgart 1975, Live In Brighton 1973, and Live In Cuxhaven 1976, all released in 2021-2022, with the notable difference that at the time of this recording, the band still had Suzuki on vocals.
Though the Live In Paris 1973 release date was announced weeks ago, the arrival of a live album documenting Can’s Damo Suzuki era has become quite timely for an unfortunate reason: Suzuki passed away last Friday. Though the cause of death is not yet known, he has battled colon cancer twice, first in the 1980s, and again in 2014, when he was given only a 10% chance of survival. Suzuki leaves behind a formidable legacy, and this latest live release captures him and Can at their absolute peak.
Can have been covered by Radiohead and Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, name-dropped by the Fall, Portishead, and LCD Soundsystem, sampled by Kanye West and A Tribe Called Quest, and had their songs repurposed as band names by Spoon and Yoo Doo Right. As such, Can has become one of the most beloved bands from the genre known as krautrock. The musicians born around World War II or immediately after the war grew up in a cultural void, thanks to Adolf Hitler’s traditional values in art, the allied occupation of Germany post-war, and a post-war culture of willful forgetting: No one wanted to talk about the horrors that just transpired, even though Germany was still in the state of rebuilding itself after structural and economic devastation.
Many German musicians did not want to sound like the British or American music that was popular at the time, and so they created krautrock as a way of forging a distinct musical identity. Some, like Amon Düül II, did this by embracing psychedelic rock. Others, like Kraftwerk, by embracing new technologies such as the synthesizer. Some, like Neu!, set themselves apart by creating a new drumbeat–the motorik, or Apache beat–that represented Germany’s onward momentum out of the post-war depression.
Formed in Cologne in west Germany, Can’s version of krautrock drew inspiration from the American and German avant-garde. Keyboardist Irmin Schmidt and bassist Holger Czukay were both originally students of German modern composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, and while visiting New York City, Schmidt had absorbed the music of American minimalists and the Velvet Underground. Meanwhile, drummer Jaki Liebezeit was originally a free jazz drummer, but was frustrated with free jazz’s lack of repetition, which he considered fundamental in music.
Despite that background, Can’s music is not difficult thanks to what are essentially funk grooves. Imagine all of those influences merged with the music of Sly & The Family Stone, James Brown, and late-’60s psychedelic rock, and you’ll arrive at Can. It’s particularly noteworthy that Can were so interested in Black music like funk and jazz, and then eventually reggae and disco, which Nazi Germany would have decried as degenerate forms of art. As an additional “fuck you” to the Nazis, their first two vocalists were both persons of color. Even after Suzuki left, they eventually brought in Rebop Kwaku Baah (from Ghana) and Rosko Gee (from Jamaica), both originally from the English band Traffic. Even if they were not explicitly anti-Nazi in their lyrics, they demonstrated it in their values.
Furthermore, krautrock bands like Can represented German politics in a microcosm: After dictatorship came democracy. Despite the acid-dripping guitar leads of Michael Karoli – sometimes building to a wall-of-sound head that predates shoegaze by a few decades – and the superhuman precision-and-pummel of Jaki Liebezeit, what separates Can’s music, and krautrock at large, from then-popular hard rock groups such as fellow German bands Lucifer’s Friend and Scorpions, is a focus on the interplay between every instrument rather than any single musician. Even Suzuki’s vocals tend to swirl above the din as just another texture.
Listen closely to the Can studio records and you can hear little pockmarks, the result of painstakingly manual tape manipulation from Holger Czukay, who spliced together different takes using primitive overdubbing to create one long, insane groove. However, the live shows don’t have the benefit of those touches. Instead, these are displays of raw, visceral talent. Whereas most krautrock musicians didn’t play their instruments well – the tenet of groups like Amon Düül and Kluster, the original incarnations of Amon Düül II and Cluster, was that anyone could play music – Can differed because they were masters of their craft. They also performed on a telepathic level associated with long-performing jazz groups. Schmidt once described their live sets by saying. “We didn’t talk to each other onstage at all. Everything we had to say to each other, we did with our instruments.”
Like the other recent live albums, Live In Paris 1973 dispenses with track names, changing them instead to track numbers, which is fitting because, as Marc Masters wrote in High Bias, “they were more given to live improvisation and night-by-night variance than perhaps even the Grateful Dead.” Every live show was an opportunity to explore a song in a totally new way, and by framing crowd favorites in such a way that you don’t know right out the gate that they are old favorites, it lets listeners by surprised, as if they’re watching the band play in front of them, not knowing what’s going to come next.
Fans will doubtlessly be able to quickly decode that the second part of “Eins” (“One”), “Zwei” (“Two”), and “Vier” (“Four”) are all live renditions of Ege Bamyasi: “One More Night,” “Spoon,” and “Vitamin C” respectively. Ege Bamyasi presented a marked change in Can’s sound, reining in the mushroom-cloud chaos of Tago Mago into bite-sized songs. But these three tracks are stretched out here into jams up to 16 minutes in length, so they feel like Tago Mago versions of the songs. “Spoon” is notable for its use of the drum machine making that strange percussive noise throughout, which scored the band its big break when it hit #6 on the German charts thanks to its use as the theme song to German thriller television show Das Messer. In this live version, however, it is reminiscent of “Peking O,” where Liebezeit mixed organic drums with a synthetic drum machine. Before the climax of “Zwei,” those drum machine sounds eventually lock into a rhythm with Liebezeit’s own drums, which eventually take over in a hypnotic machine gun rhythm.
Unlike the most recent Live In Cuxhaven 1976, which packaged up only 30 minutes of material, Live In Paris 1973 is 90 minutes in length. (The 36-minute opening track alone is longer than the entire Cuxhaven disc.) Notably, bootlegs of this particular show have been available for some time now, with good reason: Recorded on May 12, 1973, mere months before the release of Future Days, where the band pivoted yet again towards ambient and a far calmer sound, Live In Paris 1973 captures the band at their noisiest. Tinner has restored the sound to be cleaner and grander, clearing away the mud but leaving the sweat, blood and sinew for all to see. Most notably, Liebezeit’s hits are no longer muted but sound like mortar shells, especially while he’s backing Karoli’s guitar solo on the first part of “Eins” (originally titled “Whole People Queueing”) or interacting with Suzuki’s hook on “Vier.”
Suzuki was a punk shaman, repeating strange mantras that do not seem to make sense at face value but reveal depth through repetition or his delivery. “Sitting on my chair where nobody want to care”; “You’re losing, you’re losing, you’re losing your vitamin C.” Because of his accent, you may require a lyric sheet to deduce his lyrics, which ultimately become new puzzles. While the rest of the band soldiered on bravely without him after he left, his melodic daydreams and earthly lyrics – which Karoli and Czukay couldn’t emulate – were sorely missed moving forward. But you can get them here on Live In Paris 1973 in one of his final performances with the band.
Live In Paris 1973 is out 2/23 on Mute.