Agony Shorthand

Thursday, March 04, 2004
CAN : “RADIO WAVES” bootleg CD…..

When approaching – and spending well-earned money on – bootlegs, the litmus test for me is that they generally have to include at least one of the following: songs unavailable anywhere else, live versions so jarring they at least temporarily make you forget the studio versions, and/or top-quality demos/studio recordings that shine insight into the band’s creative process and vision, and mark their development as a point in time. This excellent bootleg “Radio Waves” from Krautrock uberheroes CAN meets all three entry criteria, and is well worth tracking down. Let’s take it track by track, remembering that this is the sort of band so given to utter wankitude (in the best sense of the word, I mean it) that they’re only able to “squeeze” 6 tracks on a 74-minute CD:

First, “Up The Bakerloo”, live on BBC circa 1972, has the distinction of being the longest single rock and roll song I’ve ever heard: 35 minutes, 12 seconds. Yes, you read that correctly. The HAMPTON GREASE BAND’s masterful “Halifax” is a premature loadshot by comparison. I actually started the song up in my car in the Oakland, California airport parking lot one evening, and it didn’t conclude until I was pulling into my driveway in San Francisco – one full county, a bridge, two freeways and numerous city streets away. The song approximates all the different bonkers elements spread across the “Tago Mago” LP, going from polite and gently churning to absolutely wacked-out and flushed with heat-seeking white noise. Lather and rinse, repeat, and then repeat again. 35 minutes, folks! I’m sorry, but that’s just wrong. The version of “Paperhouse” recorded for 1971 German TV is fantastic – all cracked and desperate-sounding, with a great Damo Suzuki vocal. “Entropy” is 15 minutes of spaced-out solos, Suzuki muttering gibberish, and crashing percussion somehow cosmically holding the thing together. Coming at you live from 1970 Germany – I dig it. “Little Star” is a great semi-spoken 1969 studio demo of “Little Star of Bethlehem”, a little weirder yet with a little less propulsion and, uh, funk than the more recognized version. The disc closes with two 1971 B-sides from “Tago Mago”-era 45s (it certainly strikes one as odd that this band actually had 45s!). One is the silly “Turtles Have Short Legs” (flip of “Spoon”), which resembles an African-ized Roxy Music, and the other, “Shikaku Maru Ten” (flip of “Halleluwah”), is quietly hypnotic and more in keeping with the Can I think I know (and a good precursor to the excellent “Ege Bamyasi” LP). Did I say it was well worth tracking down?