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NEARfest 2009, Bethlehem PA

Review by Julie Knispel

The announcement of Gong as Saturday night headliner for NEARfest may have caught a lot of people off guard.  Certainly Gong has a history and importance level great enough to merit headliner status.  They are also sometimes a bit…I suppose the politically correct way of putting this is that they can be a bit irregular.  One never knows from night to night if the stars are going to align and offer a performance for the ages, or if the booster rockets simply won’t engage rendering the ship incapable of orbit.

Thankfully, Gong’s performance at NEARfest was closer to the full blast off variety. 

From a setlist and song choice standpoint, very little could be argued or complained about.  The band drew heavily from the classic trilogy albums Flying Teapot, Angel’s Egg, and You, as befits a band that featured just about every classic era member on stage.  Daevid Allen was in fine form despite rumblings that he was suffering a bit of a cold; he riffed mightily on “You Can’t Kill Me,” vocalized in his own particular way throughout, and glissed where gliss was needed.  Steve Hillage even shone, belaying complaints from the night before that his playing was just not on.  Gilli Smyth’s space whisper and vocals were even pleasing to the ear, while the rest of the band was truly stellar; Mike Howlett and Chris Taylor are a rhythm section to be reckoned with, Theo Travis is a more than able contributor on sax and flute, and Miquette Giraudy’s synth and sequencer playing was inspired.  Admittedly, when you have Daevid Allen in the band, stage presence is less of an issue, but I found myself constantly dwarn to Giraduy’s dancing behind the keys…unlike Brandi Wynne during the 2006 Ozric Tentalces performance, Giraudy was really ripping on the keys, yet her feet were never still, as she swayed, danced, and jumped along with the music.

Moving beyond the classic trilogy material, the band even pulled out a few new tracks from a forthcoming album titled 2032, which will carry on the Zero the Hero tale into a new millennium (2032, in case you are wondering, is the year Gilli Smyth will turn 100).  I found the new material to be pretty solid, and while perhaps not the equal of the older material, it doesn’t have the benefit of 30 years of listening yet either.

I went into the performance a fan of the band, and came out all the more sure that this is a band not resting on its considerable laurels, but striving to create a voice that is current and modern, while still embracing the energy that brought them to this place.
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 4 at
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