Foundational Krautrock group Cluster, in the form of its core duo Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius, embarked on two very different tours in 1996 before falling into what would be a decade-long hiatus. Early in the year, the band did select dates in Japan, and followed up later the same year with a tour of the United States, with performances from both tours captured in full. While both tours were made up of improvisations, the recordings that surfaced from the Japanese tour were more introspective and subdued, leaning toward the kosmiche new age that each of the respective artists sometimes explored on his solo work. Issued first as a double CD in 1997, but re-compiled in 2015 by German label Bureau B with help from the artists themselves, USA Live finds Cluster in a far less peaceful frame of mind. Over the hourlong course of the album, nine untitled improvisations reflect a feeling of chaos and unrest, focusing on the darkness that always served as a foil to the group's more transcendent moments. Trademark synth tones often meet with squalls of noise and unlikely rhythmic blurts. A particularly uneasy eight-minute improvisation from a New York show stutters along with bell tones and angry interruptions of random percussion. "USA Live 7," recorded in Phoenix, Arizona, is centered around tribal percussion, with synths struggling to rise above the drums in weak, warbling gasps or birdlike squawks. In total, USA Live presents a dark, gloomy side of Cluster, but is definitive to one of their various sides. The chaotic, sometimes ornery moods of the album serve to highlight how diverse Cluster are, and how integral all their many approaches have been to their entity as a whole.
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AllMusic Review by Fred Thomas