On one hand, the latest Can archival concert release, Live in Brighton 1975 – streaming at Bandcamp – is a time capsule, right down to the heckler singing a snippet of Jigsaw’s glam-pop hit Sky High. On the other, there was no other band, nor has there been one in the time since, who sound anything like Can. And that’s even more surprising, considering how many different styles they shifted through. Vastly influential on both new wave and no wave, they were widely credited with spearheading the German motorik movement despite being a very organic, primarily guitar-driven band.
This smoking, haphazardly improvised, untitled seven-part suite captures them at their most psychedelic. It sounds like a good-quality digitized field recording. Holger Czukay’s bass is in and out of the mix. We’re reminded how much the European drummers of the psychedelic era could really swing, and the generous amount of reverb on Jaki Liebezeit’s kit underscores that.
The show begins with a steady, practically fourteen-minute one-chord stoner-disco instrumental jam, the Isley Brothers on the Berlin subway before the wall came down. You can practically smell the hash smoke wafting through the club. Organist Irmin Schmidt ranges from sinuous and resonant to blippy as Michael Karoli’s guitar alternates between minor-key chopping, sunbaked leads and lowdown, gritty noise. They drift into feedback at the end and stop cold.
Guitars waft in with the keys, drums flicker and then disappear early on in the second number: in retrospect it’s the missing link between Isaac Hayes stoner funk and Bauhaus’ Bela Lugosi’s Dead, with a little Interstellar Overdrive and Sympathy For the Devil as the rhythm picks up. Swaying, careening Karoli leads fly overhead, and then suddenly Czukay takes it out steadily and somberly.
They segue into segment number three, an anxiously swinging death disco vamp with more of that resonantly flaring guitar: the ending will give you chills. There’s a sad little solo piano intro, a wry drum solo, even sillier surf rock references, shrieking guitar and even a little theremin in the almost fifteen-minute fourth song.
The early part of the similarly long-scale fifth tune could be a primitive version of New Order, if that band hadn’t been Joy Division before. With sparks trailing from the organ amp, they motor further into space, drift toward a black hole but make a scampering getaway: it’s the high point of the set, energetically at least.
The band really take their time easing into interlude six, through ambience and skronk to what could be a parody of Booker T & the MGs. But they get serious and finally set the controls for the heart of the sun in the concluding number, building from somberly minimalist guitar and organ to the most uneasy yet catchiest point of the night. Shrieking, sinuous Karoli guitar work, endlessly tumbling drums, melodic bass slinking and piercing the washes of organ, and playful pointillisms contrasting with sirens will lure you into this strange and irresistible galaxy. Is it fair to include an iconic band along with this year’s releases on the best albums of 2021 page at the end of the year? That’s a dilemma worth considering.