Can’s Live In Paris 1973 reveals the electric live presence of Damo Suzuki

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Can Live in Paris 1973

“You had to be there.” We often hear this in the context of a joke that doesn’t land properly, that maybe the punchline only makes sense if you had the proper context for the humor to make any sense. Or perhaps we’ve heard it from those born to generations before us when the trends and culture of decades past leaves us with a shrug. Then again, there are times when it’s hard to fully grasp certain the full capabilities of a performer if you haven’t seen them live (which is, admittedly, another cliche—but it’s true). And when those artists stopped performing long before you ever had the interest or opportunity to do so, then the closest you’ll get to the experience is a concert film or, more likely, a live album.

Can never released a live album during their two decades together, and—not counting the odd bootleg—outside of the posthumous release of their Peel Sessions, they had no live albums to speak of until 1999. That year saw the release of Can Live Music (1971-1977), a double live album comprising highlights from live shows throughout the years in its title, a long-overdue document that made up in electrifying presence what it lacked in sound quality. The band’s on fire throughout, though at times like 16-minute opening piece “Jynx,” the amount of noise and distortion crowding the mix obscures the finer details. Outside of this pair of recordings, well… you had to be there.

The release of Live in Stuttgart 1975 in 2021 finally made good on what seemed like a five-decade missed opportunity. The first of now four archival releases in an ongoing series—one released each year over the past four years—is both a revelation in terms of finally pulling back the curtain on the band’s stunning live presence as well as simply because of the quality of the performance. (It’s also one of our all-time favorite live albums, though take your pick of any of them, really.) After vocalist Damo Suzuki had left the group in 1973, they’d settled into an era defined by not having a fixed frontman—Holger Czukay, Irmin Schmidt and Michael Karoli each provided vocals—but here, however, they just blaze into the sunset on a series of lengthy instrumental pieces. They contain flashes of recognizable Can songs but by and large share more in common with the progressive experimentation of jazz fusion than a rock concert. It still rocks, but it’s something else entirely.

The fourth in the series, Live in Paris 1973, offers a new landmark and a potential clearing in what’s in large part a real-heads-only proposition. It’s the first thus far to feature the band’s legendary, late vocalist Damo Suzuki, who helmed their most acclaimed trio of albums: 1971’s Tago Mago, 1972’s Ege Bamyasi and 1973’s Future Days. Recorded at L’Olympia in May of 1973, it captures the band in a moment of transition between the two latter albums, leaning heaviest on Ege Bamyasi—in a manner of speaking. Can didn’t play the hits so much as weave them into longer pieces that rode a sprawling groove through improvisational detours and unseen vortexes. (All of the live albums have track titles that are simply numbers in German: “Einz,” “Zwei,” “Drei,” etc.) That’s how they wrote and recorded their material as well, editing them down from longer improvisations into the (sometimes) more concise moments of hypnotic brilliance most familiar to those who weren’t there. (Which, 50 years after this was recorded, is a lot of us.)

It makes a certain kind of sense that it’s taken this long to finally hear Suzuki’s voice in the ongoing archive. The Japanese-born singer didn’t join the legendary German group until several years after they had formed, and even then he was their second lead singer, taking over after Malcolm Mooney had departed the group. He remained in the band for only three years, however, occupying a relatively short piece of their history. And yet it only takes one listen to a recording like “Vitamin C” or “Oh Yeah!” or, for that matter, the whole of Live in Paris 1973, to realize how much of an impact he left on the group’s work and legacy.

Instrumentally, Live in Paris 1973 feels spiritually connected to the other entries in the series, if in part because these are lengthier, less explicitly defined songs so much as fiery and commanding sonic explorations. And sometimes it’s the jam sessions that don’t feature those snippets of familiar songs that end up being the most thrilling of the bunch, like “Vier,” which showcases some of the band’s most incendiary psychedelia, pushing the throttle farther and farther until it feels like the stage might not be able to contain them anymore. Jaki Liebezeit bashes away at his drumkit with an intensity that feels unusual even among some of the group’s wildest peers, and with a ferocity that even their studio recordings don’t capture.

But Suzuki is the x-factor here, abrasive but mystical, his improvised, dadist lyricism impossibly attuned to the band’s volatile wavelength. Though ultimately one instrument in a collective—Can’s music is less an emphasis on one individual part than the movement of the whole—his presence is essential to the overall performance. You can’t always make out what he’s saying, in part because some of it has never been documented, as on the two wholly improvised pieces (including the 36-minute opener), and in part because not every moment on this otherwise stellar live document is pristine in its fidelity; his vocals on “Spoon” (represented here as “Drei”) are the murkiest part of the whole album, but they’re also some of the most feral and captivating.

The release of Live in Paris 1973 is unexpectedly bittersweet, arriving after Suzuki died earlier this month after a 10-year battle with cancer. The coincidental timing of its release feels elegiac, but the music itself reveals Suzuki as commanding and electric, not a sad remembrance but an exhilarating celebration. No moment on the album showcases this better than “Fünf,” which is built around the band’s most enduring moment of acid-laced funk: “Vitamin C.” On record it’s only about four-minutes long; here it expands to nearly 14, ending the album seemingly abruptly, but only after stretching that groove to its limits, Suzuki delivering his most cryptically repeatable lyric: “Hey you! You’re losing, you’re losing, you’re losing your Vitamin C!” There’s no crowd noise there to cap it at the end, but it’s easy enough to imagine—I know I’m in awe.

Can Live in Paris 1973

Can: Live in Paris 1973

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