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Live In Amsterdam 2006
Gonzo 2012

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Taking no risk, an unstoppable experimenter gets back in action but loses his visual magic in transition.

“Never say never”, says Steve Hillage to the public. His smile is wide and the overall vibe is good, and this DVD conveys it perfectly. For the veteran British guitarist playing at Gong Family Unconvention was a kind of homecoming gig as, on the occasion, he revived his own band for the first time in almost three decades. So here, on a small stage serving as a scene for a down-home sensation with a small, FX-laden guitar for a kitchen knife, Hillage cuts its fine. Steve hasn’t lost an iota of his poise and pose, and his dyed barnet, showing he’s still very “in”, makes a contrast with GONG’s Mike Howlett’s psychedelic bass with a peeled-off paint. The latter looks as spectacular in his delivery against the main man’s cool which adds to the tension so typical for a Hillage show. And it’s there that the festive mood comes from to produce a dose of headbanging during “Solar Musik” and a switch to a regular, with handclaps and cheers, happening mode for “It’s All Too Much”.

What’s lost here is a solemnity so inherent in Steve Hillage music. Formerly, his – and his band’s, including the guitarist’s synth-operating partner Miquette Giraudy – stage presence had a cosmic feel to it. Yet now, the homey atmosphere of the evening stripped most of the magic, the aspect somehow corrected in post-production: on the DVD, superimposed images of Steve’s and the water nicely complement the echoey, floating feel of “Aftaglide”, and when he comes up the drum riser the tide turns up in style. That’s why the aural version of the concert is better: with music so evocative one hardly needs footage like this to go on a space trip in an armchair. So, perhaps, it’s good that Hillage didn’t take his ukulele, playing it on the bus in the bonus section, to the stage.


& His Magic Band –
The Lost Broadcasts
Gonzo 2012
Don donning his weirdness delivers a dangerous date but the wizardry works well.

For all the Captain’s respectable status these days, uncovering a footage that captured Van Vliet in his madful prime proves a hard task: he was too leftfield to be caught on tape, too enigmatic for an average viewer and too threatening – to the point where Don’s friend Frank Zappa looked a conformist. So it’s a blessing that, in 1972, German TV show “Beat Club”, a treasure trove for any music aficionado and now a source for “The Lost Broadcasts” series of DVDs, invited THE MAGIC BAND and their leader to play a short set. Here, in compliance with the series’ principle, it’s doubled in its length due to the inclusion of all the takes, even those which didn’t make it to the screen. Not that Mascara Snake’s bass solo was ever meant to make the cut but now it feels like a statement of the ensemble’s level of musicianship. Then, the clear-eyed Captain comes on – black velvet jacket, red trousers, black cape for a further tryout – looking somehow lost without a real audience to bark at. Still, having found fan outlet in harmonica, he barks.

Meanwhile, Snake picks up a guitar for “Click Clack” and wildly prowls between two other axemen, Winged Eel Fingerling and pink-coated Zoot Horn Rollo who caresses the fret with a slider on his black-nailed finger and sparsely inserts flurries of notes into the recital of “Golden Birdies”. But “I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby” from Van Vliet’s latest album, “The Spotlight Kid”, fails to lift off, and visibly irritated Don breaks the first attempt to shoot it while his team carry on with their lazy funk. The second effort, though, is a success, with more action from each player and more grit in the song that springs to life (even without superimposed images in the eventual version, also here) and, in its turn, gives life to “Steal Softly Through The Snow”, out of “Trout Mask Replica”, where Beefheart tortures his soprano sax before wading into Coltrane-esque waters. As Zappa would say, the torture never stops, yet it did; thankfully, now there’s a chance to replay it.


The Galactic Collective – Live In Gettysburg
Gonzo 2012

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Once mortars are silenced the music gets loud, The Rites of Spring Festival plays host to one fantastic project.

While it does suffice for mere mortals to have polished their best works, Erik Norlander who fashioned an integral album out of his classic pieces under the “Galactic Collective” banner took his project a step further and brought it all on-stage in 2011 to stun the public and pay tribute to his hero Bob Moog. As documented here, on a video facet of the performance available also in audio-only form, Norlander did so impressively, the focus of attention being not so much a monstrous stack of circuit boards, The Wall Of Doom, taken on-stage but Erik’s playing and command of his ensemble.

Now the group include the maestro’s wife Lana Lane who, together with Debrissa McKinney, seems lost in a reverie on “Sky Full Of Stars” which switches to black and white when the tension ebbs down and bursts back in color once the tune is taken to the next spiral level with Freddy DeMarco’s soaring guitar solo. Later on, Lady Lane steps forward to deliver “Capture The Sun” and “Secrets Of Astrology” with Norlander’s contribution accentuated visually, as is his operating of an iPad-like gizmo with a finger-painting interface on “Dark Water”. Equally spectacular is Nick LePar’s non-intrusive playing – as if in slow motion – on “Fanfare For Absent Friends” and sensitive tom tom’s work on “Trantor Station”. The leader comes up with a background of the latter theme, so there’s a link to a studio DVD, as well as – a great dose of humor on display – of other pieces and the “Wall Of Doom” moniker. Despite the place, Gettysburg, the concert doesn’t have an historic aura: that’s perhaps, because Erik Norlander’s journey continues. Yet it’s as great a landmark as it gets.


The Galactic Collective – Definitive Edition
Gonzo 2012

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The birth of a project in ongoing action makes a visual diary of the keyboard wizard backtracking his crusade.

As revisiting and reimagining one’s old works go, for all its long-faced premise, “The Galactic Collective”, both the band and the project, is fun on many levels. So, as boring as it could be watching a group toiling in a studio environment, a look at Erik Norlander’s ensemble doesn’t look like they’re beavering away. Business is business, of course, and it’s an actual recording process preserved for posterity on this companion piece to the expanded CD edition of the keyboardist’s classic cuts given a new treatment, even though in places it’s a montage with footage of guests including John Payne flown in a bit of showing off thrown in: does drummer Nick LePar really juggle his sticks when there’s no eye of the beholder as he does live? Spectacle or not, there’s a sense of magic being born.

Still, the mystery gets dispelled to a certain extent with the interviews that break down each composition to its core. Not ruining them yet putting into historical and emotional context such as explaining how “Fanfare For Absent Friends”, a tribute to the victims of September 11th, came to be. There’s some technical and compositional detail, too, for good measure and for masters of the trade to learn from. Practical methods are in play here as well: fixing a key with a diskette, for a sustained note, is a nice touch, a longstanding note of obsolete piece of medium taking part in creation of futuristic music like “Sky Full Of Stars” which started its main theme as a piano line that has been replaced with a Moog wave. By the same token, the first part of “Dreamcurrants” that originally had cello on it is played on grand piano here to put forward Norlander’s amazing finger work – a sight to be seen. Another treat comes with “Trantor Station” where Erik operates his Moog stack, The Wall Of Doom, to build a solid wall of sound. “Solid” could be a leitmotif of this DVD and its background, so it’s as definitive as definitions go.


Live At Mississippi Studios
Funzalo 2012
When the fingers do the talking the picture comes alive along with the sound.

He has a faithful following, this banjo mojo man, but deserves much wider acclaim. Yet there’s a problem: Tony Furtado’s appeal can get diluted on a big stage where the level of concentration lowers on both audience and players’ accounts. Therefore, going for a DVD is a perfect solution, as what went down in Portland on November 25th, 2011 looked like an intimate gathering of the tribe, people flocking into a studio while the somehow anxious Furtado was rehearsing his strum backstage. Once this banjo technique applied to an acoustic guitar is taken to the public, though, the nervousness disappears. In its stead comes pure magic, especially when banjo is deployed to be woven into the tightly knit Celtic cloth of “Portlandia” and when the guitar, oiled with slider, serves up a rustling lace for the blues of “These Chains” or gets hectic conveying the desperation of “Another Man”.

With visual accent in musicians’ hands, it’s a riveting sight. More so, you can rarely see such unpretentiously inspired faces, particularly in the well-paced rush through “Toe The Line”, and the adoring expression on Stephanie Schneiderman’s face during “I Wait For This” reminds of June Carter’s look at Johnny Cash whose ghosts lurks sometimes in the countrified atmosphere. There’s no sharp edge – the band don’t attack the songs but hug them – only sharp focus. A companion CD boasting an additional cut may allow one clearer view of the music, yet as a means to connect to Tony Furtado’s fount of energy this DVD is priceless.


Live In Prague
MoonJune 2011
A revolutionary poet from a free world shatters the world soon to be free.

There’s something symbolic in the fact that this DVD saw the light of day around the time when Vaclav Havel passed away, for it was 1989, on the brink of radical changes which the last Czechoslovakian president played a major part in, that Joseph Smalkowski landed in Prague. Now, the poet may suggest the prohibition of rock ‘n’ roll in the Eastern Bloc then, yet the footage proves him wrong, as the winds of change blew so strong they were bringing whole throngs of punters into arenas like Slavia Stadium which, perhaps, resulted in a new experience not only for the nine thousand listeners but also for Copernicus himself.

Such vastness clearly ignited the New Yorker who starts his performance with “The Authorities!”, a challenge to the times of a quiet revolution in waiting. He marches on stage to literally touch his audience, the artist’s glitter look a contrast to the stark intensity of the music – here’s an angry poet spilling his fervent truth and justice. The vibrancy is stressed with a split screen that launches different angles and makes for the slightly muddled video, whereas the show’s theatrical approach is evident at the end of “White From Black” when an African comes on to console Copernicus who, having revealed his Slavonic roots, kneels before the spectators. No wonder that by the end of “In Terms Of Money” with its relentless refrain and bass throb the crowd is entranced, yet in “Chichen-Itza Elvis” the band – featuring the bellicose guitar of Larry Kirwan from BLACK 47 – provide them with a righteous dance groove and frenzied diatribes from the main man. In his faux-bishop robe and taking to the keyboards, Copernicus looks like a priest at the pulpit. When he’s imploring “When you understand it’s peace”, a rapport is complete: one overzealous fan, bold enough to get up and get close, is allowed to sit on a cusp of the stage to watch the encore and hug the iconic guest.

Not a real singer by any means, Copernicus knows how to rock his audience, and this historic document is the best testament to his art’s ability to chime in with the moment.


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