Damo Suzuki entered the Waldorf at an amble, an unassuming middle-aged Japanese man clad in sensible clothes and a backpack. His entry bore no relation to his performance; the ex-singer of acclaimed krautrock band Can whipped through a free-form set backed by Vancouver band Von Bingen.
Standing centre stage, Suzuki gripped the microphone with both hands and then shunt into it for each lyric and phrase, a strange snap and relax that carried through the whole set. Lights flickered and ebbed from green to blue to red, punctuating the performance which had few breaks between “songs.”
Since Suzuki left Can in 1973, his performances have all fallen under the banner of Damo Suzuki’s Network, where “sound carriers” improvise a set with him. Von Bingen followed in the footsteps of Broken Social Scene, Acid Mothers Temple, and Omar Rodriguez Lopez, among others.
Their backing was at times rhythmic and driving, the beginning of the concert highly structured with only some electronic manipulation that pushed the music away from straight rock. Later it drifted more, allowing Suzuki’s space to break into snippets of old blues songs and sometimes allowing the audience space to whoop and clap. For the most part, though, much of the audience stood stock still regardless of the tempo, perhaps trying to drink in the presence of one greatest alternative singers of the 1970s.
Some of the most interesting moments from the band came when the guitarists began manipulating synthesizers and electronics, applying dissonance and off-rhythmic phrases that complemented Suzuki’s singing style.
However, the backing was usually fairly restrained in its workings, always leaving space for Suzuki to take centre stage. Even when the music could be a weird approximation of nu-metal, with Suzuki’s bark emulating rap, there was a measure of control to the proceedings.
Although this probably wouldn’t rank up there with some of his most glittering collaborations, there was probably enough intrigue to do the man justice. And at the very least you would be hard pressed to predict just what would be the next bark, holler, or croon to come out of his mouth.