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Progressive Rock DVD/Video Reviews

Gong

Gong Ungong 06 DVD

Review by Julie Knispel

The 2006 Gong Unconventional Family Gathering was for many fans the moment they had been waiting on for decades.  What some considered an improbability verging on impossible was happening; Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth, Steve Hillage, Mike Howlett, Didier Malherbe and Miquette Giraudy all on stage at one time in the closest thing to a classic Gong reunion, playing a set laden heavily with pieces from the classic trilogy of Flying Teapot, Angels Egg, and You.  People traveled from across the globe to see what many never thought would happen.  For the rest of us, hope rested on the dream that this historic reunion concert would be captured on audio or video to be witnessed.

Those dreams also came true via the release of Gong Ungong 06, a 2-plus hour document of this amazing concert.  Filmed live at the Milkweg in Amsterdam on 5 November 2006, this DVD documents the 20-track performance in its entirety.

Musically, this DVD is filled with highlights, and it pleases me to be able to say that.  It’s taken me years to finally “get” what Gong is all about, and for the longest time I casually ignored the Daevid Allen led band in favour of the more jazz based P.M. Gong.  In retrospect I can see that this was kind of like saying I like ice cream but only if the ice cream is chocolate; there’s a thousand other flavours out there, and you maybe just need to be in the mood to explore them.  Gong with Daevid Allen and this cast of musical mischief makers is a different beast entirely, but it’s one with more than enough chops to match up to P.M. Gong…and they can take you on a trip you won’t forget.  The set opens with the nearly punky “You Can’t Kill Me” before introducing the Pot Head Pixies of “Radio Gnome Invisible.”  “Tropical Fish/Selene,” “I Never Glid Before,” and the “suite” of “Master Builder,” “Isle of Everywhere” and “You Never Blow Yr. Trip Forever” are all amazingly well performed, true to the original studio versions while simultaneously taking the listener on a voyage they will not soon forget.

Steve Hillage and Daevid Allen are in fine form on guitar; while Hillage had not played much guitar live in recent years, relying more on synths and sequencers in his group System 7, his playing has the right combination of roughness and lyricism to work for Gong.  There’s plenty of gliss to spare, too, as both Allen and Hillage both show that they are masters of the style.  Gilli Smythe’s space whispers are as prominent as ever; I know a lot of people have issues with her anarchistic/anachronistic/atypical vocals, but it’d not be this flavour of Gong without them.  The duo of Theo Travis and Didier Malherbe on sax and flute add nice voices musically to these performances, while the rhythm section of Chris Taylor and Mike Howlett are appropriately tight but loose.  And as for synth playing, so important to the band’s space rock sound?  Well, one can’t ask for a better pair of musos to handle that than Miquette Giraudy (Steve Hillage’s partner in System 7) and Tim Blake, who coax swirls and bleeps and space from their instruments like no other pair of synthesists in the genre.  In fact, listening to this concert again, it seems apparent that between the swirling keyboards and pulsing bass, Gong may be one of the progenitors of rave music.

As for the DVD itself, we are treated to lengthy shots that are allowed to develop and stay.  Never are the cuts so rapid as to induce motion sickness or images of editors with ADHD producing the film.  Occasional transparent overlays help to enhance the trippy atmosphere without drawing away from the main point of interest, which is always the group of musicians on stage.  Musically the performance is also well captured, with a full mix that exemplifies the band’s musical strengths without burying anyone.  Vocals are clear, bass is punchy, and the mix doesn’t sound or feel overly compressed or limited, making listening a pleasing experience.  In fact, there have been just as many times that I’ve played this without watching, just listening; it’s nice to have 2 plus hours of excellent Gong performance to chill out to!

I think Steve Hillage’s words in the liner notes speak volumes about where Gong is today: “I don’t see this is a reunion gig.  We can’t exactly reform because we never really broke up and have always remained together energetically, in fact you could say we never really formed in the first place.”

I don’t have any other Gong DVDs to compare this to, but I don’t know that I need any.  This is a fantastic document of a magickal evening in Amsterdam, where a group of energetically and musically compatible beings gathered to jointly make a trip back to Planet Gong for a Great Melting Feast of Freeks and Fooles. 

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

 
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