Home Music Can: Live in Stuttgart 1975

Can: Live in Stuttgart 1975

There are only a few bands – the Grateful Dead is one obvious example, while Can is the obvious example – for whom the distinction between studio and live albums is mostly a false one. Unlike the Dead though, Can have been very sparing with the number of official live releases, perhaps because the plethora of bootlegs available has negated the need for them, but they remain a crucial part of their work. With Can, both studio and live records are just that; a record of where the ever-evolving band was at that particular time and, again as with the Grateful Dead, the performances, even on consecutive nights, can be so different that – although it could be a dangerous theory to pursue – there can never be too many Can live albums. Mute are now pursuing that theory, and the first in the series, recorded in Stuttgart in the autumn of 1975, is a spectacular start to the series.

At first glance, beginning with a recording from 1975, when the band’s most iconic period was behind them – though their most commercially successful work still lay ahead – seems like a mistake, but in fact, Live in Stuttgart 1975 corrects the skewed impression given by their official discography. Until now, the transition between the band’s increasingly ambient-oriented works, Future Days (1973) and Soon Over Babaluma (1974) and the relatively straightforward jams of Landed (1975) has been a slightly jarring one. Although the lineup of those albums was the same – the original core members Holger Czukay, Michael Karoli, Jaki Liebezeit and Irmin Schmidt – there was a feeling that somehow the band’s experimental edge had dulled after vocalist Damo Suzuki quit just before Soon… But in fact, as this album demonstrates, the newly streamlined Can of Landed has as much to do with editing as it does any major change in the band itself and Live in Stuttgart arguably muddies the overall picture of the band’s progression even further. In doing so, though, it re-establishes the restless, adventurous spirit that flowed through all of the band’s work, regardless of how the studio albums actually turned out.

If any new fans had showed up to this gig on the strength of the band’s latest album – released a month before the show – they would have been bemused, to say the least; but older fans would, too. The five long tracks that make up the performance typically have no titles except for German numbers, but although bits and pieces are slightly familiar, they mostly don’t come from any of the band’s most recent works, but from their most fertile era of experimentation around 1971-73. Also, if Landed appeared to show the band turning its back on the funk that had previously held some of their most far out jams together, Live in Stuttgart 1975 shows that as far as live performance was concerned, it was business as usual. Whatever the rock stylings of Landed might have suggested, in live performance the rhythm section (a misnomer really as, at their best all of Can is a rhythm section) of Liebezeit’s drums and Czukay’s bass remained as impossibly flexible and propulsive as ever. The funkiest and best of the tracks is perhaps “Drei”, which stretches elements of the earlier classic “Pinch” and melds them with something like On the Corner-era Miles Davis to stunning effect, Michael Karoli’s guitar managing to be understated while covering both the funk rhythm and a kind of fractured soulful lead too. It’s a mesmerising piece of four-way musical telepathy, which is just as well, since it goes on for more than half an hour, transforming in the process into oddly Russian-sounding space-rock via strangely ecclesiastical organ segue.

One of the mysteries of the live Can experience – and indeed some of their studio work – is how they manage to avoid falling into sheer self-indulgent wankery; but somehow, they always do. The thing that’s missing from Live in Stuttgart – aside from vocals – is the band’s hugely inventive use of editing, but in fact that absolutely works to the band’s advantage. In presenting an unedited, long, live show, the listener falls in with the band’s rhythms and energy; naturally, over an hour and a half, the musicians tire, start to run out of inspiration, regroup, and the fact that we hear them doing it without falling apart or repeating themselves is nothing short of stunning. The band’s often-mentioned telepathy really feels like that; as one member seems to wind down the others come to the fore and when, as at the end of the intense “Drei” they find themselves exhausted, they switch modes into a piece of mellow, laid-back – though still energetic – beauty, taking the audience with them. Indeed, the summery tone of “Vier” underlines one of the most often overlooked aspects of Can, their utter soulfulness. While German bands in general, and the whole concept of motorik, or worse, “Krautrock” are often subjected to clichés about robot-like efficiency, Can’s undoubted efficiency is 100% human, and full of feeling and warmth. It’s human too, in its unpredictable nature; “Vier,” after coasting along for seven minutes as a sunny and celebratory jam worthy of Woodstock, warps into something almost discordant and sinister in its final thrilling passage before crashing to a halt.

With the closing track, “Fuenf” – a mere nine minutes long – the band is audibly running out of inspiration, but they do something interesting with it, injecting from somewhere – specifically from Jaki Liebzeit – a new-found energy. Karoli’s playing is intense and jazzy against the punishing drumming and Schmidt’s sheets of dissonant organ noise. When it ends, abruptly, the audience reaction is immediate and exuberant; clearly, this is the right way to end a Can show. Without the date in its title, Live in Stuttgart 1975 would be difficult to pinpoint in Can’s chronology, but what it demonstrates is just how the band was able to progress through the mid-‘70s, releasing albums that embraced rock, reggae or disco without losing the essence of the band in the process. The magic that happened when these four extraordinary musicians were in the same place at the same time was elemental and unstoppable, and the 40 minutes or so of that magic that was captured, cut up and packaged on records like Landed or Flow Motion was just the tip of a much bigger and more vital and evolving iceberg; there really can never be too many Can live albums.

Live in Stuttgart 1975 is a superb live album that sheds a revealing light on the nature of one of the 1970s’ most enigmatic and mercurial bands.
89 %
Improvisational majesty

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