Can; a band widely cited as a huge influence in the careers of so many musicians. A band that has a loyal and devoted following, going on some 50 years and a band which changed the direction of Rock, introduced Experimentation and innovation and pioneered German Progressive Music and who, to this day, are responsible for a vast range of bands and artists all over the world who took that road less musically traveled and emerged indelibly stamped: “Under The Influence Of Can”.
The roots of Can can be traced back to Irmin Schmidt and a trip that he made to New York City in 1966. While Schmidt initially spent his time with avant-garde musicians such as Steve Reich, La Monte Young and Terry Riley, he was also eventually exposed to the world of Andy Warhol, Hotel Chelsea. In his own words, the trip “corrupted” him, sparking a fascination with the possibilities of rock music. Upon his return to Cologne later that year, an inspired Schmidt formed a group with American avant-garde composer and flautist David C. Johnson and music teacher Holger Czukay with the intention of exploring his newly broadened horizons.
Up to that point, the inclinations of all three musicians had been exclusively avant-garde classical. In fact, both Schmidt and Czukay had directly studied under the influential composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Schmidt chose to play organ and piano, while Czukay played bass and was able to record their music with a basic two-track tape machine. The group was soon fleshed out by guitarist Michael Karoli, a 19-year-old pupil of Czukay, and drummer Jaki Liebezeit, who had grown disenchanted with his work in free jazz groups. As the group developed a more rock-oriented sound, a disappointed Johnson left the group at the end of 1968.
In mid-1968, the band enlisted the creative, highly rhythmic, but unstable and often confrontational American vocalist Malcolm Mooney, a New York-based sculptor, with whom they recorded the material for an album, Prepared to Meet Thy Pnoom. As “Inner Space”, and with both Johnson and Mooney present, the band appeared briefly in the 1969 film Kamasutra: Vollendung der Liebe backing singer Margarete Juvan. Unable to find a recording company willing to release the album, the group continued their studio work until they had material for what became their first release, Monster Movie, released in 1969. This album contained new versions of two songs previously recorded for Prepared to Meet Thy Pnoom, “Father Cannot Yell” and “Outside My Door”. Other material recorded around the same time was released in 1981 as Delay 1968. Mooney’s bizarre ranting vocals emphasized the sheer strangeness and hypnotic quality of the music, which was influenced particularly by garage rock, psychedelic rock and funk. Repetition was stressed on bass and drums, particularly on the track “Yoo Doo Right”, which had been edited down from a six-hour improvisation to take up a mere single side of vinyl. Liebezeit’s tight but multifarious drumming was crucial in carrying the music.
Mooney returned to America soon afterwards on the advice of a psychiatrist, having been told that getting away from the chaotic music of Can would be better for his mental health. The liner notes of Monster Movie claim that Mooney suffered a nervous breakdown (“caught in a Can groove”), shouting “upstairs, downstairs” repeatedly. He was replaced by the more understated Kenji “Damo” Suzuki, a young Japanese traveller found busking outside a Munich café by Czukay and Liebezeit. Though he only knew a handful of guitar chords and improvised the majority of his lyrics (as opposed to committing them to paper), Suzuki was asked to perform with the band that same night. The band’s first record with Suzuki was Soundtracks, released in 1970, a compilation of music made for films that also contained two earlier tracks recorded with Mooney. Suzuki’s lyrics were usually in English, though sometimes in Japanese (for example, in “Oh Yeah” and “Doko E”).
Soon Over Babaluma from 1974 continued in the ambient style of Future Days, yet it regained some of the abrasive edge of Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi. In 1975, Can signed to Virgin Records in the UK and EMI/Harvest in Germany, appearing the same year on BBC’s Old Grey Whistle Test where a memorable performance of Vernal Equinox involved Schmidt playing one keyboard section with a series of rapid karate chops. Shortly after the appearance Schmidt suffered a broken leg which led to cancellation of the band’s UK tour.
The later albums Landed (1975) and Flow Motion (1976) saw Can moving towards a somewhat more conventional style as their recording technology improved. Accordingly, the disco single “I Want More” from Flow Motion became their only hit record outside Germany. Co-written by their live sound mixer Peter Gilmour, it reached No 26 in the UK charts in October 1976, which prompted an appearance on Top of the Pops, where Czukay performed with a double bass. In 1977 Can were joined by former Traffic bassist Rosko Gee and percussionist Rebop Kwaku Baah, both of whom provided vocals to Can’s music, appearing on the albums Saw Delight (1977), Out of Reach (1978) and Can (1979).
This concert comes from that 1976 period, and is one of the better sounding live tapes available. They have been recorded a lot in concert, however those recordings were made by members of the audience – and I have a strict rule against using audience recordings.
So crank this one up and enjoy. Certainly one of the bands that influenced me greatly since first hearing their debut album Monster Movie in 1969.
Been that way ever since.