The final advent of pothead pixies – gathered at their masses in their most memorable ensemble to dig into the history of bananas, nirvanas and mañanas.
For all the fluidity of this ensemble’s multiple line-ups, many aficionados won’t hesitate to list the members of what’s considered the classic array of GONG, and – given the tenderness they demonstrate towards each other, as they crowd the stage in Amsterdam in 2006 for a three-day tribes gathering – the players wouldn’t argue with their fans. From the first tender embrace between Daevid Allen and Steve Hillage, it’s clear that the trip down collective memory lane was only an excuse for the veterans to first propose their personal perspectives and then experience erstwhile togetherness once more, to check if the former spell could be invoked again and preserved on both previously issued DVD and a double CD now – and they indeed could perform a lot of old tricks and restore the old order… if “order” is the right word for this band.
Even though the group had immensely grown as musicians in the three decades since their golden days, they easily resort to merry anarchy of yore, as reflected in their motley sartorial choices and suggested by defiant opener “You Can’t Kill Me” – which simultaneously sounds like a song and a statement – where Gilli Smyth’s melodic shrieks pierce thick instrumental shroud and motorik groove, and quasi-psychedelic video effects fail to conceal the artists’ joy. More smiles are raised once Allen channels past into the present via creepy magick of “Radio Gnome Invisible” that’s taken to a few different dimensions when Didier Malherbe’s soprano sax and Tim Blake’s keytar add fresh, exotic tangents to the original tune and let Daevid and Gilli, this captivating pair of septuagenarians, do a subtle mesmeric dance. Shakti Yoni is still able to render “Tomorrow Afternoon (I Am Your Fantasy)” eerily erotic by infusing the shimmer of Miquette Giraudy’s synthesizer with her space whispers, before Hillage’s frenetic riffs blow the cool to bits with “Dynamite” and unleash “I Am Your Animal” and show how Allen is still able to scat and, pumping his fist, whip the punters into a frenzy.
So after the flute-and-guitar unison announces the start of a full-on onslaught of the “Angel’s Egg” pieces and Daevid dons a silver pixie costume, the combo allow folk and funk unfold an alien discotheque for the revelers to join in on the “Oily Way” chorus, and also let Mike Howlett’s bass drive the cosmic jive, while Theo Travis’ tenor licks anchor the flight to facilitate the shift from “Zero The Hero And The Witch’s Spell” to “I Am Your Pussy” and beyond, to “Tropical Fish” with its trance-inducing serenity and “Selene” with its spiritual chant. But the charge is all Hillage’s on “I Never Glid Before” where his otherworldly strings overshadow vocals and outshine stroboscopic lights, get away for a couple of solo spots, and swing open the gates to the ever-elegiac nocturne “Prostitute Poem” and the sole new number on offer, “Magdalene” from 2000, on which Allen, dressed as a deranged druid from the future and prancing as a joke to Didier’s duduk, and Smyth exchange verses over lysergic disco beat courtesy of drummer Chris Taylor who replaced Pierre Moerlen that passed on a year earlier.
However, this cut is but a preparation for a sparkling set of selections from “You” – more than half the album, actually – which looms, aurally and visually, with the mantra of “She Is The Great Goddess” and blooms with footloose improvs, with “The Isle Of Everywhere” rocking dynamically wild. And, of course, it’s “You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever” that brings the spectacular concert to a climactic close and spreads the idea of togetherness to the audience.
As a result, the 135 minutes could have been indispensable if only as a document of the event where the ensemble’s classic line-up last played as a unit, yet they turn out to be creatively strong and arresting too: it’s a testament to the dysfunctional family’s utter nutter glory.