Cafe Mono, Glasgow
My first time seeing a gig at this venue. By day it’s a record shop and vegan cafe, and a bit of a haunt for the more discerning of Glasgow’s hip crowd. (Not that I would know). But by night, as I discovered on Wednesday, it efficiently transforms itself into a cosy little live joint. The stage is underneath a big round skylight thing, so on pleasant balmy nights like this the place is bathed in nice evening sunshine. (Although in Glasgow that’s rare).
A brief word about the support act Kaputt first. A five piece art-rock outfit with the novelty of a female saxophone player, they wear their all-too-obvious influences (Beefheart and Talking Heads) on their sleeves. But they do it with such nonchalant arrogance, and with such obvious charisma (and enviable youth) that you can’t help but love them. They had an enthusiastic fan base of misfits moshing around up front, which really helped to set the scene. The most engaging thing about them is their sense of chaos and unpredictability. I can see them either hitting the big time by writing an accidental ear worm of a hit song that gets used in an advert, or changing tack completely and becoming a function band or something instead. Either would be perfect.
Anyway, the main act.
So Damo Suzuki himself, in case you don’t know, was the singer in Can for their defining years at the start of the seventies. He’s little, he’s Japanese, he has long hair and he sings and chants in improvised gibberish. And he hasn’t changed a bit. (Well, the hair is grey instead of black, but that’s all). In the photo I’ve posted here I’ll let you guess which one is me and which one is him.
Damo Suzuki’s Network, as it is, is not actually a band as such. He travels from city to city playing one night stands with pick up bands he calls his ‘sound carriers’. I had a brief word with one of his ‘sound carriers’ after the gig (an avant garde maker of electronic noises who calls herself Phantom Chip) to get the lowdown – apparently they don’t even get a chance to rehearse or anything, just a brief meeting then it’s all just a big scramble on to the stage to see what happens.
Joining Phantom Chip with Damo tonight were a kind of acid rock combo called The Cosmic Dead. A quite beautiful sight with their shaggy beards and copious effects pedals.
So a completely improvised set with some hard rockers and a synth player backing a little Japanese poet they’ve barely met. It could all have gone so wrong. And for a good five or six minutes, with everyone gingerly making noises and trying to find a common groove, it did seem to be going that way.
But once they clicked, they CLICKED. They played two ‘tunes’ this night, both about 20 minutes long. The first tune was a scattershot affair, with yer polyrhythms and whatnot. There was no safe ‘bed’ of melody or key underneath. It coasted on pure tribal energy. But believe me it rocked like a monster, and a creeping euphoria filled the room as the heads started bopping and Damo himself became transported and started growling in a kind of Fozzy Bear voice.
The second tune was much more grounded. At a wave of the hand from Damo, the drummer started a slow, ominous beat, which got gradually faster and more intense as the bassist played an incessant two note riff over the top.
If you wanted to break it down and be cynical about it, the players were obviously fans of Can, so were really just trying to emulate them. But in the moment that hardly seemed to matter. This was intense and living music. It felt truly special.
Damo himself seemed like a wizard out front. Whether he was telepathically controlling the music or just coasting on the randomness, it was magic at work.
Contrary to my recent post about women not liking Can, there WERE women there. Quite a lot in fact. It was a very diverse bunch of people. I had expected it to be predominantly 40/50yrs+ muso record collector types, and that contingent was certainly in full effect. But we also had:
– Bearded hipsters (checked shirts and skinny jeans)
– Rockers (tattoos and black tshirts)
– Art-school posers (asymmetric haircuts and ironic sunglasses)
– Proper geeks (anoraks and body odour)
I sound like I’m scoffing here, but honestly it was great to see such a diverse bunch of people all in one place for the same cause. A real tribe of lovable misfits. I’d guess there was about 200 people there, so a decent-sized crowd.
It made me think..
I don’t go to enough gigs. There is real joy in this kind of communal experience. I had a great night!
In respect of Damo himself, he’s obviously ploughing a little furrow of his own (and has been since about 1969), and his “success” with Can seems like it was probably just a fluke. The right little weird singer meeting the right band at the right time. In a parallel universe he’s still busking on street corners. I’m glad he got the recognition he deserves and he has now turned that into a commercially successful vehicle to live by, WITHOUT trading on past glories.