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Damo Debut
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Paul Higgins
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Re: Damo Debut
May 13, 2017, 19:40
Sorry I didn't get to pass on your message to the great man but here is my review...


An informative hand-written (in red) A4 on the window as you walk in tells us their are two supports playing tonight with the first of these being Agathe Max who hits the stage at 8pm sharp nodding to the sound engineer to cut the music so she can start. A French violinist based in Lyon she plays alone using electric violin but uses many effect pedals, loops and electronics too to bolster or broaden her sound. Maybe my ignorance or the sheer lack of violin-based music in my possession results in me only being able to conjure thoughts of Nico’s classic “The Marble Index” and John Cale’s viola work as comparison when Agathe begins but these thoughts quickly diminish as her performance unfolds and reels me in. Playing one long piece of music straight-through for thirty minutes its clear she is a mighty musician and the amount of moods and even different sounds she creates is truly breathtaking and quite hypnotic.

The mood is set perfectly for tonight’s proceedings and the menu includes experimentation, experimentation and for desert a whole lot more experimentation. Improvisation is also the key ingredient of tonight and the sheer size alone of second support act The Cube Experience hints that we are in for a treat of epic proportions. I soon realize those jazzy or psychedelic shirts I spotted before belong to the members of this band and the audience seem so in tune with tonight’s music endeavourers that you’d think they were all big fans of the band already and familiar with each song. It takes mere seconds it seems for the band to win over the audience and almost drug-induced ecstatic trance-like states appear present in various crowd-members. To the left an elder-in-her-years lady dances with wild abandon like she was on acid watching Janis Joplin in the late sixties. I’m won over in no time by this band too and their jazzy/rock fusion jamming antics from another planet make me think of Sun Ra collaborating with Funkadelic playing to aliens on Mars. God they are good and the younger-than-the-rest frontman soon tells us ‘like Damo our stuff is all improvised too.’ Wow! The multitude of sounds to be heard is absolutely stunning and this seven-piece (yes seven!) really are something out of this world. They are funky, psychedelic, and jazzy but mostly they rock big time! With a white bearded wonder playing mellotron and ‘sounds’ from a laptop to a cool jazzy keys man in shades to a saxophonist each member plays his part to create the whole sound which is thrilling and huge at the same time. While jazz and rock may be musics of the past the frontman layers electronic trickery all over the top dragging this music out of the past and way into the future. If you thought new jazz-rock-electronic enthusiasts The Comet Is Coming are good I really think you will find The Cube Experience are even better!

Things are hotting up nicely for this evening and the gaps in between acts seem to vanish in no time although the joy of hearing stuff like The Birthday Party or Alan Vega blaring from the sound-system probably helps to make these waits seem less painful. In next to no time all of Damo’s one-off band for the evening have done their sound checks and we await our Japanese hero to arrive. To the right is slightly frightened looking piano teacher Aonghus Reidy on keyboards. Next to him is tall and long-haired Paul Allen from long-standing psychedelic rockers The Heads – a band formed in 1990 who have since released a ton of albums. Allen has also played in a band called Anthroprophh along with tonight’s bass player Gareth Turner and Jesse Webb who is playing drums. I hope this is not too confusing but Turner and Webb also played in a band together called The Big Naturals. Adding a jazz element is composer and baritone/saxophone player Helen Papaioannou who is known for her improvised and classical work and cornet player Harry Furniss – leader with jazz-art-punk improvisers Iceman Furniss Quintet.

Kenji Suzuki doesn’t keep us waiting long and it’s not a shock that he gets a heroes welcome as he climbs up onto the stage clutching a material man bag. He’s dressed simply in worn jeans, simple black suede shoes and a ‘free Hoshino’ t-shirt. His hair is grey, long and wispy and he rarely changes from his two-hands-on-mic stance in eyes-closed state as he works hard at his proffession and rarely comes up for air. There are hardly any gaps and Damo hardly ever stops singing if you can call it that. The music begins slow and moody at first and Damo’s voice is deep and gravely to start with even straying into Howlin’Wolf/Captain Beefheart/Tom Waits territory but other than that as a whole its very difficult to find comparisons between Suzuki and any other artist. While I was sat in the bar I picked up a paper and read an Adrian Sherwood interview where he said all the best reggae vocalists like Big Youth, Bim Sherman and even more so Prince Far I used their voices as another instrument. Perhaps we can also apply this to Damo and his unique way with words which don’t even qualify as conventional lyrics or singing. Sometimes it’s hard to fathom what words he is even singing but his relentless barrage of vocalised spurts is original and oddly artistic and very creative. He repeats the same lines often although no attempt at verse-chorus-verse is ever present and it’s easy to see Mark E. Smith has learned a thing or too from Damo in how effective repetition can be.

While Damo is clearly the star of the show these are top quality players he has on board and each member plays an important part. If anyone wrestles Damo for the limelight it’s guitarist Paul Allen with his sonic antics and face-pulling but the name of the game is experimentation and I think he knows well how to balance holding back and letting go at the right time in equal measures. The brass section of Helen Papaioannou and Harry Furniss do a wonderful job too adding subtle touches at times and psyched-out blasts at others according to the mood or feel of the music. Moods change in the music often as well as tempos and bass player Gareth Turner tucked away at the back sometimes lays down his four-strings and plays a drum standing up to add to Jesse Webb’s already-impressive relentless backbone beat. The interaction between these too is easily spotted as they appear to play off each other. Keyboardist Aonghus Reidy plays a vital role but is often only noticeable in the quieter moments of the playing.

Damo sure is a cult hero and I’m sure everyone in attendance is a Can fanatic just like me but its a pleasant shock that there are no Jack-the-lad chancers in the audience calling out for “Mushroom” or “Mother Sky.” It’s like everyone knows the score and what Damo is about NOW. Perhaps I should have seen it as a nod of appreciation but I observed myself (wrongly?) looking on in disgust at a punter in the crowd wearing a “Future Days” t-shirt. Damo has no interest in reviving the past or living off of former glories. I don’t know if he was asked to re-join or not at the time but when Malcolm Mooney re-joined Can in the late eighties to record what would be the final Can album the results were less than impressive. It’s quite possibly the worst Can album. Some things are often left alone and as they were it would seem. The closest there has ever been to a Can reunion involving Damo was when him and Can drummer Jaki Leiberzeit performed together again in The Damo Suzuki Band in 1998 particularly on the album they made called “Vernissage.”

When asking a fellow-forum member what to expect (or not to expect) tonight on the Head Heritage (Julian Cope) site his response was something like Damo’s ‘sound carriers’ can either be sensitive and reactive to the music as he is (which results in a treat) or worse-case-scenario Damo ends up with a bunch of ‘showboating egomaniacs’ which obviously isn’t so good. I’m pleased to say I was lucky enough to be struck with the better deal of these two scenarios at The Exchange tonight. With most of these players already experienced in the world of improvised music perhaps the seven people present on this stage tonight tapped into a near telepathic vision of how things should unfold much like our heroes Can did all those years ago.

Although the hour-long performance wasn’t short on thrills the finale probably blew me (and the rest of the audience) away the most. The two drummer assault of Turner and Webb locked-in to an almost heart-attack paced rhythm as the brass section squealed away uncontrollably and guitarist Allen distorted and mangled his guitar sounds as things became even more frantic and Damo’s words seemed to spurt forth wildly matching the pace (or driving it). Eventually guitarist Paul Allen DID steel the show and attacked his guitar with an electric drill creating one hell of a glorious racket as I feel an ocean of people whip out their phones behind me and captured the moment on video or photo. It’s a fitting end to a wonderful performance and a complete one-off that is likely to NEVER happen again. We lived in the moment, we enjoyed the experience and now it is gone forever but we still have the great memories. Damo will be playing with a new bunch of musicians at his next show creating a whole new show of new music again purely in the moment.

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