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Music Consumption: Damo Suzuki
05/18/2002 Damo Suzuki: live at Backward on Forward

An interesting evening for a number of reasons. Damo Suzuki was the vocalist of the krautrock group Can, and has been performing again with a similar aesthetic (although with a wide variety of musicians). The aesthetic in this case is essentially free rock improv, every night different from the next. In practice, results depend on the inclinations of the musicians he's working with. He's lately been touring with Boston noise/rock/surf band Cul de Sac, and the whole package swung by the 'burgh tonight.

The evening opened with a performance-grade soundcheck, but the real opener was one of the bassists doing live PowerBook dub. Rather engaging, actually. I wondered at his sound sources, which seemed to fit together quite nicely; didn't get a chance to talk to him, though. He was followed by the rest of Cul de Sac, who turned in a respectable set of surf-flavored noise rock. Instrumentation was interesting--two bassists, one of whom doubled on PowerBook, and the other who doubled on violin through a wah pedal (as was the case with his bass as well). The keyboardist provided even more atmospherics with a digital and an analog synth (the analog was particularly nice) and the guitarist exhibited fine taste in guitars (all cheapies--nice Hagstrom, too), with a load of different pedals in a high road case for easy hand access. The drummer was more than capable as well, and the set was hypnotic, melodic, and definitely worth a listen.

Damo joined them, and his vocals added a level of intensity as the set became even more hypnotic, jammy, and, well, long. I left at 1:00, and heard that they were going to play until 2:00. I did enjoy the hypnotic quality, but...this is the pitfall of rock improv: without constraints, the audience's minds will wander (or at least mine did). Everyone seemed pretty good at what they did, but yet something was off. I think Cul de Sac's set was stronger when they were doing their songs, which they knew and which had structure. That structure can indeed be a friend when even in an improv setting--you don't get that horrible blank mind, that lack of ideas that can befall you. In that sense, rock improv's probably easier than completely free improv, as you can just keep jamming on that riff you already have going...but that's the thing that can lull the audience to inattention instead of engaging them. (As an improv performer, I can't help seeing this set with these predicaments in mind.) In any event, the band seemed to be having fun, and the room was packed, so it was a successful night for them and an object lesson in general.

Do check them out, though--apparently the set changes from night to night, and everyone's good enough for these shows to have some really special performances in them.