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Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Can: Radio Waves

CAN: RADIO WAVES (1971-1973; 1997)

1) Up The Bakerloo; 2) Paperhouse; 3) Entropy; 4) Little Star; 5) Turtles Have Short Legs; 6) Shikaku Maru Ten.

As with many similar jam bands whose moments of stupendous inspiration could come at any time and who always liked to keep them tapes running just in case, Can's dust-covered vaults used to be (and still are, I suppose) pretty huge, and before the Internet era at least it used to be pretty hard distinguishing officially sanctioned releases from bootlegs. Radio Waves, it turns out, is ultimately a bootleg, its closest official analogy being 1995's Peel Sessions, also covering the band's live-in-the-studio output from their peak years. However, since I am not even going to try and accurately cover every release that covers their radio sessions, these Radio Waves, released in 1997 on the German boot label "Sonic", will have to do as an example.

The package, as befits a proper boot, is a glorious mess: three tracks that actually represent live recordings made for radio broadcast, one track that seems to be nothing but a sped up version of ʽLittle Star Of Bethlehemʼ from Delay 1968, and two short studio tracks that were the A-side of ʽHalleluwahʼ and the B-side of ʽSpoonʼ, respectively, back in 1971. The two tracks in question can also be found on various compilations, but since they're included here, let us just briefly mention that ʽTurtles Have Short Legsʼ is a humorous combination of honky tonk piano, folk singing with a Japanese accent, and a mock-singalong chorus in the form of a variation on ʽWe Can Work It Outʼ; and ʽShikaku Maru Tenʼ is a soft groove that might well have been inspired by ʽThe Girl From Ipanemaʼ — although Damo Suzuki's impersonation of Astrud Gilberto has certain cultural and individual limits, as you might imagine. Anyway, both tracks are nice remi­niscences of how Can essentially mocked the idea of «commercial single»: most likely, they only thought of these things as throwaways, but they made them so bizarre anyway that they get by on the strength of all those dadaistic vibes.

Still, these are just brief appendices to the main attractions of the album, and chief among them is the very grossly titled ʽUp The Bakerlooʼ (damn the Internet, because now I know what it really means and I wish I could un-know it) — a monstrous 35-minute jam recorded during the Ege Bamyasi era and featuring the band in top form, even if the piece suffers from lack of editing and can hardly hold you in its grip for the entire 35 minutes. The groove is not very tight, there is no specific main theme, Suzuki frequently gets annoying, but everything is forgiven whenever Karoli picks up the guitar and begins switching between blues, funk, and psychedelic noise. The track actually fades out after 35 minutes — I have no idea how long they carried on afterwards, but the fascinating thing is that they keep it intense all the way through: in fact, some of Karoli's craziest soloing, accompanied with a rise in intensity on the part of both the bass and the key­board player, takes place during the last couple of minutes.

Next to ʽBakerlooʼ, the album's second live jam, called ʽEntropyʼ and recorded sometime in 1970, suffers from worse sound quality, but allocates more space for Schmidt, whose piano playing pretty much dominates the entire track — minimalistic avantgardist lines, mostly, but very ener­getic, alarmist-paranoid style. Again, though, the basic rhythm groove suffers from being under­developed: Liebezeit's drumming is a little insecure and undetermined, which would make both of these jams unfit for inclusion on Tago Mago. Finally, the live performance of ʽPaperhouseʼ, although also poorly recorded, is even more frenetic than the studio counterpart — once the fast section kicks in, they never go back and just boogie the entire way through to the end.

On the whole, despite the mixed-bag approach, this is actually a fun, diversified sample of Can's powers in their peak years — with the exception of the obvious mistake of ʽLittle Starʼ (surely they could have picked up a better Mooney sample if they really wanted to?), we have the serious side of Can fully exposed in the first three tracks and their humorous, lightweight side perfectly portrayed in the last two. Being a bootleg and all, not to mention being rendered somewhat ob­solete by later and more accurate handling of the vaults, culminating in Lost Tapes, neither Radio Waves nor The Peel Sessions can any longer be considered essential stuff, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for these rough shards, carried over from a more chaotic era.

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