Any genuinely devoted fan of Can (is there any other kind?) will tell you that their mainline studio albums are but a drop in the bucket regarding the band’s history. Ever since the Krautrock juggernaut first parted ways in the late 1970s, their discography has become overwhelmed with additional releases featuring remixes, live performances, soundtrack work, and enough studio outtakes to justify at least one double album and one box set. It easily outnumbers the studio albums released when Can were active. Even now, the material just won’t stop coming.
In 2021, Mute and Spoon Records began jointly releasing live albums recorded by Andrew Hall and mixed/mastered by René Tinner and Irmin Schmidt. The double albums Live in Stuttgart 1975 and Live in Brighton 1975 made the New Yorker, the New York Times, and Pitchfork crow in equal measure. Here was a rock band, already futuristically minded when it came to what they put down on tape, taking their prescience on the road so that all could hear their unencumbered jams. They didn’t even have to worry about vocals. As a quartet, Can were on a roll, as Live in Cuxhaven demonstrates. It may be protracted, but it lands where it counts.
The Stuttgart and Brighton releases were a good 90 minutes apiece. Live in Cuxhaven 1976, on the other hand, falls a few seconds short of 30 minutes. Like the other live releases, the jams are numerically titled in German, but Live in Cuxhaven 1976 has only four. With Schmidt on keyboards, Michael Karoli on guitar, Holger Czukay on bass, and Jacki Liebezeit on drums, the vocal-less Can don’t jam for longer than eight minutes and 25 seconds at a time. If there was more to the concert than this, Mute does not say. At the end of “Vier”, one of the members announces something to the audience in German, concluding with the words “zwanzig Minuten” (translation: “20 minutes”), so perhaps there was a break in the action that night. The critical thing to remember is that when Can hit the stage, they didn’t have to worry about how many jams could neatly fit onto the sides of the vinyl. They just let loose, reveling in the freedom of the live performance where they didn’t even have to perform any “songs”.
Liebezeit was always Can’s secret weapon, and whatever beat he laid down determined each track’s identity. “Eins” begins the record with something that walks the line between a funky groove and a gallop, creating something that sounds much better than it reads. As Schmidt’s organ stutters to life, a vapor swirls around the stage, letting Karoli explore the air with what can best be described as a blues lick from outer space.
The groove Liebezeit gives the band for “Zwei” is mellower by comparison and Can follow along accordingly. Schmidt and Karoli get spacier together by keeping the dynamics even-keel as the sense of mystery intensifies. The guitar sets the pace for “Zwei”, the longest track with probably the strangest beat. Karoli explores the pickup settings on his Fender as Liebezeit gives him a fast polka to go with all of those rapid slapbacks. See “Hoolah Hoolah” from Can’s 1989 reunion album Rite Time for an easy reference. This is the moment where the band truly takes it to the wall with quick licks and an even quicker sense of when to change as a unit. There are even vocals, though who is singing and what they are singing are unknown.
“Vier” is the closest this record gets to the lazy blues feeling. How lazy is it? Considering the rhythm section’s sharpness and the guitar’s intensity, not very. If Can are this tight when playing the blues, just imagine how indestructible they are when playing something else. All told, Live in Cuxhaven 1976 is a little brother release compared to all prior Can releases strictly due to quantity. A track like “Zwei” is proof enough that quality comes in many sizes, and Live in Cuxhaven 1976, by extension, enjoys life as a short-but-sweet footnote in a mind-blowing campaign to remind people that a live Can performance must have been something to behold.