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Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Can: Live Music 1971-1977

CAN: LIVE MUSIC 1971-1977 (1999)

1) Jynx; 2) Dizzy Dizzy; 3) Vernal Equinox; 4) Fizz; 5) Yoo Doo Right; 6) Cascade Waltz; 7) Colchester Finale; 8) Kata Kong; 9) Spoon.

This one is somewhat more official. This double CD compilation first came out as an integral part of the Can boxset in 1999, but later on became generously available as a separate archival album in its own rights — although, clearly, it should be not be a part of any collection that does not already include all of the band's principal studio recordings.

As usual, the track listing is a bit of an (intentional) mess. Even though the title says 1971 (pro­bably to lure in ardent fans of Tago Mago), the earliest recordings here are from 1972, and the entire first disc is assembled from performances in the UK and Germany in 1975 and 1977; addi­tionally, the quality of the sound varies significantly from track to track, predictably worsening for the early dates and improving for the latter ones (an aggravating matter for Suzuki fans, but then Suzuki always sounds like crap even on the studio recordings — seems like he regarded singing directly into the mike as a way-too-binding procedure).

Still, the almost 40-minute long ʽColchester Finaleʼ, a lengthy improvisation that was, indeed, recorded at Colchester (University of Essex), is well worth any serious fan's money. Non-serious fans will not find any major surprises, and some might even complain about a lack of focus as reflected in the often chaotic rather than metronomic drumming on Jaki's part, but my only com­plaint is the acoustics at the University of Essex, which prevents me from savoring all the tasty nuances of the band's guitar and bass players. The band is totally in Tago Mago mode here, not quite as ferocious as on ʽUp The Bakerlooʼ, but, fortunately, the last third of the performance is nothing other than ʽHalleluhwahʼ, on which Liebezeit really comes to life and the band culmi­nates in a noisy, explosive climax that sounds as if it might have been fatal for some of their equipment (though probably not — Who-style destruction was not one of their trademarks).

On the other hand, the entire ʽColchester Finaleʼ has nothing but its impressive length factor on the 14-minute version ʽSpoonʼ from Cologne, with much better sound quality and a throbbing intensity that just goes on and on — they almost literally play it according it to the «stop when you drop» principle. The original pseudo-pop three-minute single is taken here as merely a pre­text, or, rather, it is the single version that should be now regarded as a «taster» of the real ritual to come, because no self-respecting supernatural spirit is going to reply to a meager three-minute summon — but the ruckus they raise with these 14 minutes, on the other hand, suffices to make everybody who matters crawl out of their graves.

The real good news is that the 1975 performances, despite the lack of Suzuki and the general feel of the band having already outlived its «peak period», are every bit as musically strong: the non-album improv ʽJynxʼ, the extended version of ʽVernal Equinoxʼ from Landed, and the unexpec­ted return of the old Malcolm Mooney warhorse ʽYoo Doo Rightʼ, but with next to no vocals this time, all qualify as powerful voodooistic rituals in their own right. ʽJynxʼ is the more avantgarde of the three, with heavy emphasis on percussion and psychedelic / industrial sound effects, but it still has enough funky bottom to it to be considered a proper musical groove, and Karoli's blues / funk / classically-influenced soloing on ʽYou Doo Rightʼ is just wonderful to observe — an effort­less flight of the imagination that shifts direction every 15 seconds or so.

Only the two tracks from 1977, with Rosko Gee on bass, predictably pale next to everything else, but they are (a) short, (b) well-recorded, and (c) still moody enough to act as breathers between all the hard, hot stuff. Besides, ʽCascade Waltzʼ is actually from Flow Motion, and ʽFizzʼ is dark and spooky enough to fit on Saw Delight, so it's not as if they didn't fit in here somehow. It might have made more sense to correct the track listing and shift them towards the end, but I guess the idea was to save the best for last — so that, once you begin to think you can't have any more, ʽSpoonʼ would come up and bury you six feet under.

Anyway, I am honestly not sure about just how many live albums like these the band could shake out of its vaults — considering the sheer amount of hours they spent playing with the recording equipment on — but I do suppose that these tracks were not selected randomly, and that they truly represent the band at its live best (questionable and vague as that notion is when so much of your music is improvised), so there's hardly an option here not to give it a major thumbs up. But do remember that, for the most part, this is Can at their most extreme: a 40-minute long jam from these guys is not the same thing as a 40-minute long prog-rock epic à la Thick As A Brick, and unless you are a strong believer in the healing powers of long, repetitive, hypnotic jamming with no post-production treatment, you'd better go back to the «doctored» studio tracks, where mo­mentary inspiration was always tempered with symbolic reasoning, and a pair of scissors.

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