Can

Record Review

Phases and Stages

Can

DVD (Mute/Spoon) Can guitarist Michael Karoli, who fell to cancer in 1999, best sums up the fusion of high craft and high art that made this Seventies German unit arguably the most critically revered group in all of rock. "Noise was fully integrated into the music," offered Karoli. "If noise was disturbing, then we knew it was the music that was wrong, and not the noise." This was obvious from the first notes of 1969's devastating "Father Cannot Yell," the first piece of music Can ever recorded. Karoli's acid-fried soloing and the discordant textures of Irmin Schmidt's keyboards were forever dueling with the incomparable rhythm section of bass behemoth Holger Czukay and inhuman beat maestro Jaki Liebezeit. This provided the music's perpetual conflict, an ongoing chemical process -- both personal and cosmic -- that was never at rest. The band that defined Krautrock celebrates their 35th anniversary with a loaded 2-DVD set featuring two 80-plus-minute documentary-style features as well as the "Can-Free-Concert," a 51-minute 1972 concert film artfully directed by Peter Przygodda, best-known as Wim Wenders' primary editor. Member biographies, a 2003 lifetime achievement award presentation, an interactive discography, and a third audio disc of band members' recent solo work round out this wealth of material. The downside is for fans owning the band's out-of-print 1999 Box, containing both "Can-Free-Concert" and the DVD's priceless Documentary compilation of clips both vintage and recent. The new film, Can Notes, is a disorganized contemporary look at the four core members, following them around as they promote the 1997 remix CD Sacrilege and the 1999 Box. The interviews are fun, and the live glimpses of the members' current projects are instructive, but between that and the similarly unessential audio CD, Box owners have to be let down. Regardless, the Documentary features amazing vintage television performances, standout clips like one featuring Schmidt mauling his keyboard donned in a supercool Silver Surfer jacket as Czukay conjures chaotic shortwave-radio sculptures, and a 1971 clip of "Paperhouse" with Japanese-born then-vocalist Damo Suzuki in dire need of an exorcism. 1988's first-ever meeting between Suzuki and original vocalist Malcolm Mooney is priceless. "Can-Free-Concert" is a hypnotically improvised set showing Czukay in all his surrealist Fu Manchu'd glory, tearing apart his bass like a snake handler extracting venom, while a side-stage juggler tosses fruit and umbrellas in the air. To borrow from a famous quote (and a former Chronicle music column), writing about this dazzling audiovisual cornucopia is indeed "dancing about architecture."

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