|Progressive Rock Concert Reviews|
Live at NEARFest, June 2007
Review by Bill Knispel
Hawkwind concerts in the United States are as rare as hen’s teeth these days. Following an all too brief tour in 1997, the band attempted to perform at the 1998 incarnation of the Strange Daze space rock festival in Ohio...only to see founder Dave Brock and bassist/vocalist Ron Tree detained at the US/Canada border due to visa problems. The rest of the group carried on, deputizing replacement musicians to complete their scheduled show. Since then, Hawkwind has not played a single date in North America.
|Thus it was that a sense of unease settled down on Hawkwind fans when they were announced as the Saturday night headliners for the ninth North East Art Rock festival (NEARfest). Would a repeat happen, and would the band find themselves without their guitarist/vocalist? Would they even be issued visas? Would long time bassist/vocalist and Muslim Alan (Ali) Davey join the group, or would he refuse to perform in the United States?|
The answers to those questions, in order, would be:
3) No, and a new member joins the long list of official Hawkwind members.
Hawkwind took to a darkened stage Saturday evening, synth loops and samples evoking the aural equivalent of deep space. An expectant hush settled over the audience; what would they play? What song would they open up with? And who is “Mr. Dibs,” the massive biker-looking guy standing stage right, whose bass looked tiny against his robust frame. Out of the silence, a single voice screamed forth a surprising set of words:
We are the warriors at the edge of time
We are Humanity's scythe to sweep this way and that
And cut the Enemy down as weeds
And as one, the Hawkwind fans in the audience screamed in excitement. This was Hawkwind, and they were here, in the flesh, and playing the United States for the first time as a full entity in ten years. Following the “Warriors” soliloquy, the group burst into an inspired rendition of the linked tracks “Assault and Battery / Golden Void.” New member Jason Stuart added a new (to Hawkwind) tonal colour as his piano chords took the place of the sweeping analogue synths and white noise generators one typically associates with the band. Mr. Dibs, formerly a member of Krel and Spacehead, among others, held down the bottom end with solid confidence, following in a long line of Hawkwind bassists that includes the aforementioned Davey, Lemmy Kilminster, Harvey Bainbridge, and many others. He also sang his heart out, with a joy and passion that showed just how excited he was to be on stage with this legendary band. Sadly, some technical issues kept Dave Brock’s guitar from being heard to its fullest, thinning out the sound for a good bit of the show.
The band shifted into the more ambient “Where Are They Now” before pulling out one of their biggest surprises of the evening; a faithful rendition of the Tim Blake track “Lighthouse.” This lengthy, textured keyboard spectacle was chillingly performed, and there were certainly a few people in the audience surprised at its inclusion in this night’s set list. The spoken word piece “The Awakening,” dating back to the band’s Space Ritual era, followed immediately after, leading into “The Right Stuff,” a Robert Calvert track from his 1974 solo album Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters, a concept album about the ill-fated Lockheed-Martin “Starfighter” military jet. Hawkwind ripped through this punky classic with energy to spare, holding back just enough to power them through “Orgone Accumulator,” another Space Ritual era track which stood as perhaps the biggest shock inclusion of the evening.
“Paradox” showed the band in space reggae mode, though by far not as deeply into the reggae groove as they were during the mid-to-late 1990’s when Captain Rizz was associated with the group. “Robot” was a bit of a let down however, as a lagging beat and somewhat less than passionate vocal delivery hamstrung their performance of this track, typically a bit of a rocker, right from the starting gate. Fears that the energy levels were significantly depleted on stage were quickly allayed as Hawkwind tore into “Flying Doctor,” a track from the Hawklords album 25 Years On. Never a particular favourite song, the band nevertheless grabbed it by its metaphorical neck and rode it for all it was worth, dragging a good bit of the assembled throng with them. This song seemed to reinvigorate the group and, with the resolution of the mix issues that plagued their set, and a bit more boost on Dave Brock’s guitar amp, the band set a course for the depths of the cosmos for the second half of their performance.
Spoken word pieces have been a mainstay for the group since the early days with Robert Calvert and Michael Moorcock contributing lyrics and concepts, and “Sonic Attack” is perhaps the band’s best-known example. Almost quad panning of vocal and echoed parts lent this rendition a particularly trippy feel, and often it seemed that echoes were preceding the actual spoken lines. This led into a solid performance of “Hassah-i-Sahba,” a track that was perhaps a bit of a risk to play considering the political and religious ramifications of the composition’s lyrics with respect to current events. Either the audience was sympathetic to the statements and position the song espoused or they were just happy to be lifted off and taken along for the ride, as there was very little departure from the theatre. As Hawkwind has done for many years, the central portion of the track shifted into “Space is Their (Palestine),” from their 1994 release It is the Business of the Future to be Dangerous, with Jason Stuart and Richard Chadwick building layers of sound and texture to loops and triggered samples. Brock and Mr. Dibbs rejoined the group to conclude the song, leaving the stage about 80 minutes after their set began.
The crowd demanded more, and the band returned for their encore. They opened with “Spirit of the Age,” not necessarily a surprising track, as it is one of their better-known songs, but the audience perhaps expected “Silver Machine” in its stead. This rendition was solid, and led into the almost obligatory “Master of the Universe,” which they handled with all the care and consideration due to one of their best known pieces. The concert ended in much the same way it began, with loops and backing tracks creating a bed for the final spoken word piece of the evening, “Welcome to the Future.” Robert Calvert’s lyrics are as true today as they were almost 40 years ago:
Welcome to the oceans in a labeled can,
Welcome to the dehydrated lands,
Welcome to the south police parade,
Welcome to the neo-golden age,
Welcome to the days you've made
You are welcome
Hawkwind left the stage for the last time, making their way to the lengthy autograph line. Considering the rarity of their performances in North America, this was a show not to be missed for the devoted fan, and Hawkwind delivered a memorable performance indeed.
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