Alan Davey's Psychedelic Warlords — Hall Of The Mountain Grill Live
Alan Davey's Psychedelic Warlords — Captain Lockheed And The Starfighters Live!
“A BLANGA Score of 10 is the epitome of the form; a BLANGA Score of 0 is ANTI-BLANGA, music from an evil alternate universe where all male musicians have their testicles removed at age 13, and female musicians are only allowed to sing seven-part amens whilst shrouded head to toe in surgical gauze.” -- J. Eric Smith.
Alan Davey, one of Ipswich's finest, is of course best known for being a Hawkwind alumnus on bass. In 2012 he had a hankering to re-spark the sensational blanga fest that was Hawkwind's Space Ritual 40 years previously, and thus formed the Psychedelic Warlords. Why stop there? The year 2014, with a different lineup brought not one but two classic space-rock albums to headbanging enthusiasts: Robert Calvert's Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters and Hawkwind's Hall of the Mountain Grill. This live pean to psychedelic stomp does a great job dusting off two classics of the genre and I'd say is a must for anyone with space-punk leanings.
The Starfighters disc recreates live the satirical concept album from 1974. The lyrics, clearly warbled by Craig High and with spoken passages, tell the story of the ill-fated Luftwaffe F-104 (American made) which the West German air force tried to convert into atom bombers. It is part Monty Python and part Devin Townsend's Ziltoid. This live version lacks the original Brian Eno atmospherics and certainly has flaws, such as the somewhat deliberately out-of-tune Song Of The Gremlin Part 2, but otherwise is a faithful and enjoyable rendition. Hawkwind have previously incorporated two or three tracks in their live outings such as the Dave Brock co-written The Widow Maker, The Right Stuff, and Ejection.
Hall Of The Mountain Grill from 1974 is Allmusic's top-rated Hawkwind studio album, and purportedly Lemmy's favourite. A titular combo of Grieg's Hall Of The Mountain King and the "Mountain Grill" cafe on Portobello Road, it even reached 16 in the UK album charts. It is played here in its entirety, opening with The Psychedelic Warlords, from whence this band got their name, and ending an hour later with sore-necks and possibly some middle-aged vertebral disc prolapse after the Motörhead encore.
The performance as a whole trumps the Starfighters set for me, with barely a missed note and a decent hat-tip to the original.
Those lucky enough to have attended this performance bagged a good one. My speakers may never be the same again.
Elephant 9 — Psychedelic Backfire I
The confidence that members of Elephant 9 have in their ability is easy to hear and discern during this outstanding live album.
The individual members of the trio propel the music to exciting and sometimes unimagined places over the course of the 71 minutes. Psychedelic Backfire I was recorded over the course of two days in January 2019 at the Kampen Bistro.
Its companion release, imaginatively titled Psychedelic Backfire II features guest guitarist Reine Fiske and was recorded over a further two days at the bistro in Oslo. The quality of both live recordings is outstanding and manages to convey the excitement felt as an audience member on any of the four nights.
Elephant 9 are an instrumental power trio who tread a line somewhere between jazz, prog and rock. Although there are occasional hints during some of the improvised sections, to my ears, the influence of jazz-rock/fusion is minimal. Overall, the album displays a rocky psychedelic crown; worn crookedly with a knowing wink and perched in a flamboyant manner in an attempt to present some of the complexities associated with prog.
Throughout the album, there is an overall emphasis to shake knuckles and knees, rather than brightly illuminate the imagination. This is hardly surprising, as the band are frequently shifting the sound waves at full throttle in this exhilarating performance.
The long, drawn out nature of the tunes and the way in which the trio are able to explore and exploit themes in a relentless and uncompromising manner, often reminded me of how bands such as Flasket Brinner were similarly able to extract every ounce of life from a theme or motif.
Elephant 9 are keyboard player Ståle Storløkken, bassist Nikolai Hængsle, and drummer Torstein Lofthus. The undoubted highlight of Backfire I is the fiery and exhilarating organ work of Storløkken. His virtuosity and mastery of his instrument is simply breathtaking.
The power and intensity of the music, led by Storløkken's explosive contribution, frequently defies description. Whilst the Hammond is his principal instrument, he also makes magnificent contributions on the Rhodes, Minimoog and Mellotron.
The rhythm section has a primeval power that is difficult to ignore, and acts as a perfect foil to Storløkken's often-frenzied contributions. The way in which they are able to appear to be pumping and firing at maximum velocity, whilst still having the space and time and skill to subtlety change the dynamics, or the emphasis of a tune, is one of the album's many standout features.
The tunes on offer stretch out and loosely evolve, to offer a mesmerising groove that invites the listener to shake free any tight-fitting garments and form intricate dance patterns across the room.
Despite, their jam-like structure and mining of a groove until depleted, the tunes have plenty of invention. In this respect, whilst I am not always convinced by the way in which the lengthy tunes develop, the superb playing that underpins the whole performance is consistently impressive.
Habanera Rocket is an excellent example of how the individual members of the trio interact to create music that has an organic, ever-evolving quality. Subtle shifts in tempo, dynamics and rhythm abound, as the piece interestingly explores avant-garde keyboard-based soundscapes. Before long, it moves inexorably towards its no-holds-barred, explosive later sections, where somewhat predictably, but equally excitingly, Storløkken's frantic embellishments thrust the music and the band's performance into overdrive.
Overall, Psychedelic Backfire I is a very impressive release. It faithfully captures the unpredictability and edge-of-seat excitement of a live performance. I am sure that I will play this album often. Unlike some live albums that can become predictable, due to long spoken song introductions or over-enthusiastic, intrusive crowd noise, Psychedelic Backfire I has the potential to continue to be an enjoyable and novel experience for many years to come.
Elephant 9 & Reine Fiske — Psychedelic Backfire II
The addition of guest guitarist Reine Fiske for the two concerts that supply the material for Psychedelic Backfire II has a discernible effect on the band's approach to their art.
Of the two live albums, Psychedelic Backfire I is probably the more frenetic. In Backfire II, the players give the impression of holding back a tad, in order to give space for Fiske's tasteful contribution to the arrangements. Nevertheless, Backfire II still features some amazing playing and the contribution of Storløkken on keys remains one of the album's strongest features. Consequently, it stands alone as a hugely enjoyable album, and it is only in comparison to Backfire I that it arguably, slightly pales.
The album features a cover version of You are the Sunshine of My Life. When its joyous, heart-clasping melody eventually peeps through, it does so with a wink and a cheeky smile. It works well, because the band has created a thoroughly inventive way to reinterpret this classic tune.
With a running length of over 14 minutes, there is more than enough time for the band to introduce, explore and develop a number of different themes during Elephant 9's fascinating exploration of its constituent parts.
Fiske offers the band a fuller sound and extends the range of musical colours available. Fiske's playing gives the arrangement depth. His skilful choice of tones enables his contribution to merge subtly into the soundscape. This has the effect of complementing the trio's outstanding mastery of their instruments.
The album also features different renditions of two tunes, Skink / Fugl Fønix and Habanera Rocket, that also feature in Backfire I. Fiske's playing during Skink / Fugl Fønix is excellent. Every note he selects is delightfully phrased and purposefully placed. His impressive and sensitive ability to embellish with empathy, gives this version of Skink / Fugl Fønix another dimension.
The version of Habanera Rocket presented in Backfire II is equally as enthralling, but in an altogether different way. The Backfire I version of this track, is dominated by Storløkken's ferocious keyboard runs. However, the addition of Fiske gives the piece a satisfyingly textured musical layer and arguably provides a degree of extra finesse. His ability to weave mesmerising, fretted patterns in and out and in between Storløkken's beautiful Hammond work in the opening section of the piece is particularly inviting.
Both Backfire I and II are highly recommended for anybody who enjoys the excitement of a live performance. They are both highly recommended for anybody who appreciates keyboard-led prog, flamboyantly-played, with lots of energy and consummate amounts of skill by all the players involved.
Long Distance Calling — STUMMFILM – Live From Hamburg
CD 2: Apparitions (14:27), Black Paper Planes (8:01), 359° (9:34), I Know You, Stanley Milgram! (10:54), Sundown Highway (7:41), Flux (14:32), Metulsky Curse Revisited (10:03)
Münster quartet Long Distance Calling follow-up Boundless, the album that saw them return to their instrumental roots, with their first dedicated live release.
Recorded at specially chosen seated venues such as old theatres and churches, the band, consisting of Janosch Rathmer (drums), Jan Hoffmann (bass), Florian Füntmann (guitar), and David Jordan (guitar), put on a show that was as much a cinematographic experience as it was a normal rock concert. To juxtapose the serene qualities of the venues, the band chose to perform a selection of their heaviest and most aggressive material, to create a dense atmosphere reflected in the specially prepared visuals projected onto a phalanx of video screens.
Recorded and filmed at the Kulturkirche Altona in Hamburg (unfortunately the filmed portion of the release was not available for review) the band go all out to stun their audience into submission with over two hours of class instrumental music. LDC have always been more than a post-rock band, although there are undeniably elements of that oeuvre in their sound, which is why they were able to successfully incorporate a vocalist on a couple of their albums but maintain their own unique identity.
The live performance was essentially split into two acts, with the first portion largely promoting the Boundless album and the second being a 10-year anniversary performance of their second album, 2009's Avoid The Light. Throughout the concert the band were accompanied by Luca Gilles on cello and Aaron Schrade on percussion and 'electronic beats', although one should take that latter description with a pinch of salt as Schrade's role is to insert elemental sounds at strategic places to enhance the performance, rather than delivering a consistent beat track.
The first set opens with two older pieces, Into The Black Wide Open (from 2011's eponymous album) and one of the band's oldest numbers The Very Last Day (which originally appeared on the 2006 DMNSTRTN EP and the following year's first album proper Satellite Bay). The first track sets off with intent, leading nicely into the ecological warning message of The Very Last Day; its vocal tale of rising sea levels being even more apt now than when it was first released. A subtle segue leads into a trio of Boundless numbers with the cello creating a mournful air to Like A River.
Given the instrumentation on the studio version of On The Verge, one would have thought it would have been a real challenge to perform live. However, the piano intro is successfully transposed to the cello, from whence the elaborate guitar effects take over, rising to an orgasmic crescendo. Interlude is a new number and, as its name implies, provides a contrast between the numbers it is sandwiched between. It is also a chance for Gilles and Schrade to take the spotlight, as they, along with drummer Rathmer, provide the bulk of the instrumentation. The first set is brought to a fitting close with a fine rendition of Out There in all its dynamic glory. It would have been great if Skydivers could also have been included in this first set as, to me, that is the standout track on Boundless, but one can't have everything!
As mentioned, the second set is a celebration of Avoid The Light, with the album played in sequence except for the omission of The Nearing Grave. Time hasn't dulled the impact of the music from this album, with the lengthy Apparitions setting the tone and guiding the listener into the sonic morass. The gorgeous cello on the Black Paper Planes provides a counterpoint to the insistent drum pattern and dual guitar lines, creating a wonderful tension that persists throughout the track.
359 is a wonderful piece of music that is both soothing and questioning, a calm before the storm that is I Know You Stanley Milgram!, the quintessential number of the early years of LDC. The opening of Sundown Highway is initially a bit of an anticlimax, although as the track builds and the ferocity increases, it delivers a fitting close to the second set.
The two encores, lasting over 24 minutes were Flux from the 2016 Trips album and Metulsky Curse Revisited which originally appeared on the split 2008 EP with Swiss band Leech that went by the number 090208. To my mind the first of these tracks is rather misplaced, as I feel it would have been better incorporated into the main body of a set rather than a first encore. It lacks the immediacy and gusto one would expect from a celebratory end of concert piece. Still no faulting the performance though. Metulsky Curse Revisited brings everything to a fine close, completing a rousing and, at times, intense concert.
This is an impressive set from LDC and displays just how well they can recreate their studio recordings in the live arena. It is somewhat of a shame that the band's only other official live release, a recording from the 2010 Roadburn festival that was issued with the deluxe version of the eponymous 2011 album, is largely replicated here but that is a minor qualm set against what is, after all, a very enjoyable release.
Overhead — Live At Loreley
Recorded live at the Night Of The Prog festival in Loreley in July of this year, this is the second official live album by this long-running Finnish band. Overhead is centred around original members Alex Keskitalo (vocals, flute) and Jaakko Kettunen (guitar), along with Ville Sjöblom (drums, backing vocals), who joined in time for the second album in 2005, Janne Katalkin (bassist since 2008) and newest recruit Jere Saarainen (keyboards, backing vocals), for whom this is his first appearance. The band has long received favourable reviews on DPRP and this set features at least one track from each of the four studio albums that they have released since 2005, with two tracks each from Metaepitome and 2018's Haydenspark.
Although the band's last live album, Live After All was released ten-and-a-half years ago, the set list doesn't appear to have changed much in that time. The first three tracks on this latest release were also on that live album, and the Crimson closing number was on the DVD release of the concert.
Both live albums open with the epic Metaepitome, which seems to be an unwise choice, as on both Live After All and particularly on this Loreley recording, Keskitalo takes a while to warm up; his singing being very flat throughout most of the song. As this then persists throughout Butterfly's Cry, and more or less the whole performance, one wonders if the onstage monitoring was malfunctioning or if the vocalist had a cold or something of that ilk. Whatever the reason, for me it does detract from the listening pleasure.
The band are solid enough, with Saarainen providing plenty of good keyboard work to validate his choice as a replacement for the previous long-term keyboard player Tarmo Simonen. Kettunen is certainly the star of the show, his guitar lines being original and derived from different genres. It also blends well with the flute, which is not overly used, but rather kept in reserve for select passages. Katalkin comes into his own on ...To The Madness where the low rumble of his jaunty bassline keeps the momentum going.
The first half of Haydenspark is decidedly ordinary and it is not until the guitar really kicks in (and Keskitalo switches to his flute) that things really set off with a great instrumental passage featuring nice work from both the guitarist and keyboard player. It's a shame when the singing starts again.
The (rather inane) talking after the song has finished, shows that lots of reverb has been added to the vocals, which would suggest that there was an awareness of the vocal insufficiencies. However it doesn't really help matters that much, and Last Broadcast and Gone Too Far suffer in the same manner as what has come before.
I'm a great fan of King Crimson and many bands have undertaken the task of covering the quintessential 21st Century Schizoid Man. Few though have made such a dog's ear of it as Overhead at Loreley. Yes, the elements are all there but once the first 150 seconds are over, it lapses into a free-for-all instrumental jam that bears no resemblance to the style and musical ideals of the original. To be fair, it does contain some fine playing, with the guitar and keyboards again combining to good effect before they head back into the main theme. To me it would have been more of an artistic statement if they had incorporated the instrumental section into one of their own numbers, rather than interpolating it into a rather too obvious cover; one that they have persisted with for far too long.
Given the vocal deficiencies, one wonders why the band felt it necessary to release the recording, particularly given the large overlap with a previous, decade-old live performance; seems to be quite the antithesis of 'progressive'. There is no doubt that the band's studio albums are all packed full of great music and playing, but for me this release fails to live up to the high standards the band has set themselves.
Sons Of Apollo — Live With The Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony
Normally, right after a band's first release is a bit early to release a live document. But in the case of Sons Of Apollo things are a bit different, given that this is a combo of well known virtuosos, and we know Mike Portnoy, so a surprise it is not. But Portnoy must have had a similar thought, and so brought in an entire orchestra for the night of the recording, to make it an extra special event. So far, so good.
But what's quite weird is that we are being invited to review only the music from this release (and merely via MP3 files too). And therein lies a little problem for me. I am a fan of the band as they are and I love their Psychotic Symphony album very much. I also enjoyed their concert extremely well, when I was standing there in the crowd in Munich. So I was eager to hear what they have created in this live document. But somehow, it doesn't kick (me). I'm pretty convinced that I would enjoy it so much more if I could also see what was happening on that night. The performances sound absolutely brilliant (it can't get any more "shred" than this) and the music is brought to the audience in a perfect manner.
One thing that burdens my perception as a listener-only, is that the audio recording remains entirely unfiltered. Arguably a great idea, knowing that the band wouldn't fail to deliver, and overdubs, not only unnecessary, are unwanted if yu wish to ensure an unadulterated documentation of this special event. Every musician in the band has his weak moments, and these are just documented as they are, and it's absolutely a good thing to have them (if only to understand that these men, after all, are humans). But still, I was having a hard time getting through it even at my first listen.
I think it's the kinda bootleg quality that keeps me outside of the magic. What works pretty well very loud in a live setting, doesn't do it at a much quieter level. Also, the band has not that much of a sonic spectrum, so all five sit quite on the same small sonic room. Because of that, it becomes rather crowded and it is pretty hard to separate all the spitfires of notes. And as a result of that I tend to lose focus again and again.
So the first half of the set, performed by the band alone, only has interesting moments when alterations to the studio material happen, such as when old Dream Theater bits sneak into the SOA material.
The whole audio situation becomes much better in the second half. On one hand the orchestra comes in and provides more sonic room. And on the other hand it consists mainly of cover versions of songs with far fewer notes in them, which helps a lot.
But the other thing that bothers me is Portnoy's selection of songs to cover. All of these have been covered so often already and it appears so unnecessary to listen to these once again. I mean, how many cover versions can Kashmir bear? Even in an orchestrated format, there is nothing that can be added to the experience of this over-covered track. And then one questions whether Pink Floyd really ever wrote just one song in their entire career. But anyway, SOA do it very well. The orchestration plus performance are without a glitch and I don't really want to belittle what greatness these men and women put into their live shows. Sadly my expectation was to witness a lot more SOA material being orchestrated; so that second set doesn't do it for me either.
In the end, the entire recording as an audio-only production appears too long to me, and I would have been much more satisfied if it had been cut by one third, and Portnoy should have had the orchestra perform more of the band's own songs. Also, it would have helped to multi-track the whole thing and give it to a mixing artist to adapt the great performance into a more suitable home-listening version. I mean, multi-tracking costs literally nothing today.
Or, and that is the most logical idea, I should have watched the whole thing with eyes and ears instead of listening only. Anyway, I'm looking forward to their sophomore studio album and next tour.