Former Can vocalistâ’s improv career leads him back to Pilot Light
by Matthew Everett
Near the end of his 2002 performance at Pilot Light, Damo Suzuki stepped off the stage and, as his backing band, Cul de Sac, continued to play, embraced every single person in the room. It didnâ’t take longâ"there were only about a dozen people at the showâ"but it was an intimate and moving few minutes, a spontaneous display of intimacy and affection that could have been embarrassing but turned out to be profoundly moving.
Suzuki, whoâ’s best known for his stint as singer for the German band Can in the early 1970s, says he didnâ’t plan the moment at all. â“No, I hate to have any plan,â” he writes from Cologne, Germany, in a recent e-mail exchange. â“Itâ’s just I felt to do it. I hate to calculate things. It was just [an] emotional thing I did.â”
Suzukiâ’s entire career as a musician has been based on a similarly improvisational theme. In 1970, bassist Holger Czukay and drummer Jaki Liebezeit of Can met Suzuki on the streets of Munich. They were in a cafÃ©; he was busking outside. That night, he was on stage with the band. â“Yes, itâ’s true,â” he writes. â“In early afternoon they asked me in the street, in the evening [we] stand together on stage.â”
Suzuki fronted Can through their most successful period, singing on the albums Soundtracks, Tago Mago, Ege Bamyasi and Future Days. His incantatory vocal style, shaded by hints of trance-inducing mysticism, helped define the bandâ’s sound, which combined droning primitivism with instrumental virtuosity and avant-garde intentions. Following Future Days, Suzuki left the bandâ"and musicâ"for more than a decade. When he returned to performing and recording in the 1980s, both the music and the line-ups he worked with were largely improvisational.
The reasons for Suzukiâ’s departure from Canâ"and musicâ"in 1973 arenâ’t entirely clear. There were reports that he became a Jehovahâ’s Witness. He also got married and settled in Germany and had a bout with cancer. He seems reluctant to provide details, but he clearly doesnâ’t regret his decision.
â“It was 11 years I did not have any contact with music,â” he writes. â“It was [a] good time. I was working in normal society and formed my family. It was too early to have the answer at the age of 23 when I left the band. It was necessary to find [a] new way. Music is not everything. Itâ’s just part of it.â”
In the early 1980s, Suzuki began performing with the German psychedelic band Dunkelziffer, then reunited with Liebezeit in the Damo Suzuki Band. His associations were fluid and ever-changing. By the end of the 1990s, he was working with Damo Suzukiâ’s Network, a growing, global roster of musiciansâ"Suzuki calls them â“sound carriersâ”â"who perform with him when he visits their cities.
â“[Itâ’s an] assembly of sound carriers, who are open to create time and space of the moment by open mind,â” he writes. â“That means no egos. And share this positive energy to [the] audience. This is the way I make [music] since 2003 Never Ending Tour. We have no concept before we go on stage. Actually we donâ’t make music. Itâ’s energy and metaphysical transfer. Create positive energy through music is [a] weapon against any kind of violence in this world. Until now I have performed with around 1,500 sound carriers. I donâ’t count it, itâ’s not necessary, itâ’s not [a] kind of competition. There are some who performed with me more times. It will be much more.â”
The sound carriers for Suzukiâ’s show in Knoxville will be Jason Boardman, owner of Pilot Light and drummer for Double Muslims; guitarists Bill Warden (Black Sarah, New Madrid) and Scott Murren (Bright Shuttle); and bassist Cain Blanchard (Big Bad Oven, New Madrid). Boardman booked Suzukiâ’s 2002 show at the last minute and says he lost hundreds of dollars on the gig, but treated it as a birthday present to himself and a one-year anniversary gift for the club.
Suzuki would appreciate the idea of his performance as a gift. â“I was in big trouble with my health,â” he writes. â“I had cancer. When I survived without an operation, I thought the rest of my life I have to do something which I really like and find music again.... Once you are nearly dead you donâ’t lose anything anymore. So, I found my way to do [a] better thing. So I have my life now.â”
Who: Damo Suzuki
When: Friday, Oct. 19, 10 p.m.
Where: Pilot Light
How Much: $10
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