Think Like A Key 2021
Dusted off in the past to remember the future and brought to the center of the eye, unique archive recordings get restored for the audiovisual glory.
Formed in Hamburg in 1969, this English team were too eclectic for British taste with their widescreen psychedelic tapestries which couldn’t be restrained by prog binds, and too American for European palate with their love for black-patented styles, yet it’s on the Old World continent that NEKTAR lapped up success, and here’s a proof: three discs, two CDs and a DVD, documenting two of the gigs the collective delivered to their fans in Switzerland back in 1973. There’s no lack of official bootlegs from the group, albeit not a lot of those are of soundboard provenance as is one of these reports from the band’s halcyon days, but any attempt to unearth their video from the ’70s will result in a single clip, so to consider a 65-minute-long, sadly incomplete, film a treat would mean to underestimate the archival discovery’s significance.
Shot in Geneva on Valentine’s Day and included as audio on the second disc of this package, the footage – in pristine black-and-white, which is rather unfortunate given how important a role colorful projections played in the veterans’ performances, seen here as mere flashes and leaving it to the music as well as close-ups of the soloists’ fingers and inspired faces to remain mesmeric – captures the impressively hirsute quintet in the TV studio. Lost in reverie, Roye sings “Cast Your Fate” with his eyes closed, opening them as if to imagine most hypnagogic moments of a piece before laying down a heavy riff and elegantly surf on the surge of Allan Freeman’s raging organ – spiced up with funk which Derek Moore’s bass and Ron Howden’s drums unhurriedly add to the progressive mix and sail through “A Day In The Life Of A Preacher” and “Squeeze” towards “Jimi Jam” where Hendrix quotes are but a field-wide canvas the ensemble liberally splash their lava-hot, and often just as sludgy, magic on.
This sense of freedom helps the band build romantic momentum out of a breezy filigree in “Good Day” – undermined by boobs painted on the back of Albrighton’s tee-shirt and revealed once he’s taken off his denim jacket – to relax and let it loose on “Desolation Valley / Waves” as skittering notes, anchored to bottom-end, and cigarettes fill the room with aural fire and visual smoke. Bringing forth the bare rhythm of “1-2-3-4” for the chug to set in and drive the mighty impetus further, the group reveal their proclivity for clever, if funny, rocking, as Roye’s cut-off, platformed shoe presses on wah-wah and his plectrum fervently scratches the strings while the fifth combo member, Mick Brockett’s hand dances over the beam of light to enhance the trance-inducing groove and unison runs with visual effects. And though the things become a bit hectic on “Crying In The Dark” and “King Of Twilight” – another coupling from "A Tab In The Ocean" that the ivories ground and wordless vocalese elevates, the artists seem to never lose emotional control over the proceedings, the raucous encore “Da-Da-Dum” emphasizing such an approach.
Preserved for posterity in Lausanne on May 5th and spanning a CD and a half, the ensemble’s complete concert presents them in full force, beginning with a staggering 22-minute version of “Journey To The Centre Of The Eye”: making the Englishmen pioneers in translating concept albums into a live experience, this epic sculpts a sci-fi edifice from electronic effects to accentuate, in glorious stereo, the quartet’s telepathic, fantastically dynamic interplay and a blend of their voices, and to demonstrate how faux-symphonic suites can be saved from stage chaos. Still, a fresh approach to “Desolation Valley” and “Valley” shows even wider scope to the pairing, and the shiny country layer renders “A Day In The Life Of A Preacher” brisker and deeper than ever, whereas the streamlined swirl of “Crying In The Dark / King Of Twilight” proposes panoramic view of the collective’s prowess. But, perhaps, nothing can focus on the band’s lyrical angle than the soul-infused “Let It Grow” from the then-yet-to-be-issued "Remember The Future" whose polished, tempo-shifting wigout feels irresistible, and the roll across the tripartite “Odyssee” finds the foursome flex their Muscle Shoals muscle in a series of virtuoso improvs, including “Ron’s On” – Howden’s percussive extravaganza. And if “1-2-3-4” has them, fatigued by now, settle into deceptive superficiality only to release vigor one more time, the finale of “Do You Believe In Magic?” struts pop innocence and radiates warm harmonies until the eerie coda explodes into space.
It’s that spectacular. And that is why “…Sounds Like Swiss” – an expansion of “…Sounds Like This” – might be NEKTAR’s best live album from the classic era.