The impact of Damo Suzuki—and Can, the band he sang with from 1970 until 1973—is hard to fathom. Godfathers of the influential Krautrock movement, their contributions to jam-tinted avant-garde and psychedelic rock bliss are far-reaching. It’s rooted in an improvisational path which Suzuki continues to travel, steadfastly committed to unrehearsed performances that delight both the band and the audience.
On March 19, Damo Suzuki visits The Empty Bottle with Damo Suzuki’s Network. “It’s quite difficult to remember,” he says via Skype from his home in Cologne, Germany, of his most recent Chicago performance. “American cities look quite the same to me, everywhere,” he laughs. “It’s also difficult because recently, I had my one thousandth concert. So, I cannot remember one thousand concerts, it’s really difficult.”
Live, Suzuki both chants and enchants, contributing a freeform array of multilingual lyrics, phrases, words and improvised sounds, all surfacing as he sees fit. Meanwhile, interwoven instrumental passages knit a comfortable and enveloping nest, alternately ringing in feedback-riddled abandon. Backing musicians psychically scribble down notes for an on-the-spot choreographed dance of melody and cacophony, one reflecting nothing less than life itself.
“For me it is important not to have any information before we start,” Suzuki points out. “So, what I’m doing now is playing every night with a different formation. I call musicians ‘sound carriers,’ we meet together and we create information. We don’t speak of, ‘Let’s play rock, or heavy things, or noisy things.’ If you don’t have any information, you can go many different directions.
“Energy is the most important substance for everybody’s life, not only music-making,” Damo says. “The beginning is always with energy. I like to have only positive energy, because this world is really dark enough, so, why should I make something dark? You can share this energy as well, in a good performance.”
Now seventy, Suzuki left his home in Japan as a teenager to travel Europe. While busking on the streets of Cologne, the founding members of Can—while at a café, discussing how they should fill a vacancy left by their previous singer, Malcolm Mooney—came upon Suzuki performing, and invited him to join the band. Although Suzuki would go on to record just a few albums with the influential outfit (“Tago Mago,” “Ege Bamyasi” and “Future Days”), those albums are regarded as the band’s peak, material that sowed the psychedelic seeds of ambient, post-punk and a host of other styles to come.
Curiously, by his own admission, Suzuki doesn’t listen to music at home. “The only music I hear is at concerts,” he says. “If there is an opening band, I’ll hear that music. But otherwise, it’s not necessary. Because in my brain, all the time, music is going on. And that’s my music, not somebody else’s music.”
Suzuki also begins each day with the same practice: “The first thing I do, I stand in front of a mirror and (look at) myself, ‘I am Damo, I have a responsibility for this person. Keep a smile on, don’t get angry; if it’s possible, support people; so that I’ll be happy at the end of the day.’ If you have a good feeling to share … then you’ll have a much better experience.” He considers it “being good to Damo Suzuki.”
And his performances are all about sharing that good feeling. “What is the meaning, is so that you can be there, you can feel your special moment with us. This only once happens, and never happens twice. Everybody in the audience can make their own stories, it’s interactive. I like to have in that space creative energies, everybody brings something,” he says.
“Everyone feels creative freedom on the platform.”
March 19, 8:30pm at The Empty Bottle, 1035 North Western. $20, 21+
UPDATE: The show has been canceled.
Bill Furbee is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Cincinnati CityBeat, Detroit Metro Times, No Depression, Ghettoblaster, American Libraries magazine and other publications. He’s also a frequent contributor to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! and a board member of the Cincinnati Music Heritage Foundation, and enjoys repairing pinball machines in his time off.