Gong live at the Wardrobe, Leeds, 18 May 2019

This reincarnation of Gong have rejuventated the spirit of the band so successfully that this was the fifth time I’d seen the band in less than 3 years, in places as far flung as Devon and Northumberland. Tonight was the relatively short hop to Leeds, and given that 2 of my previous viewings of this lineup had been at festivals, and another in a somewhat offbeat location in a village hall, it seemed slightly novel to see the band in an urban stronghold, this time the metropolitan but nevertheless intimate venue of the Wardrobe. Excitement too, at not only hearing their new album ‘The Universe Also Collapses’ performed live for the first time, but to see a star support act, Ed Wynne, also to some extent re-inventing himself in promoting his first ever solo album ‘Shimmer Into Nature’ reviewed here – he is the Kscope stable mate of Gong.

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Aside from the impromptu jammed Kozfest performance in 2017, which will live long in the memory, this was the first time I had seen Ed perform live away from the very many times I saw him with Ozric Tentacles, but it was such a joy to see him backed by 3 other live musicians, not just son Silas on keyboards, but by drums and bass too. Ozric Tentacles performances were always all-encompassing but strangely enough Ed’s guitar was often lost in the overall mix – perversely although ‘Shimmer Into Nature’ is very much a multi-layered album, his live band is very much about Ed’s soloing: well up in the mix, centre stage personified – I can’t recall such a joyous outlet for his strident guitar lines. Four tracks from the very fine Shimmer (review here) were aired – I happened to arrive slightly late and walked into my very favourite riff from ‘Oddplonk’, which reassured me that I’d come to the right place. Great to hear this very fine album aired in almost its entirety, but the icing on the cake was the final track, a most unexpected treat from what, on hasty conferral with a fellow Ozrics-fan, to be none less than the title track from the obscure 1988 cassette only release ‘Sliding Gliding Worlds’, reverb heavy and brooding before it culminates in a screaming guitar conclusion. A fabulous ending to a what was much more than an aperitif for the night – I for one would travel far and wide to see this particular band perform in their own right.

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And so to Gong. Rumour had it that the band would be performing a 2 hour set, a welcome legacy of the Allen days – rich pickings indeed for an audience who like me were also there for the support act. What’s really impressive about this band is that not only are they penning extremely strong new compositions but have the confidence to go out and back themselves in performing it to an audience weaned on gnomes, pixies and Daevid Allen’s charisma. The classic approach for a band of such vintage is to perform a selection of old classics and throw in a couple of newbies from the latest album to whet the appetite. Not this band: ‘Universe’ was performed in its entirety, with three tracks from the preceding album, whilst the 2 hour timeframe gave the scope to fit in plenty of classics too. Gong have so nailed the merging of identities of the old and new that the transitions are seamless: ‘’Kapital’ sits alongside ‘You Can’t Kill Me’ as a rumbustious anthem; ‘Forever Reoccuring’ is maybe the new ‘Selene’ in terms of its heartfelt invocation, whilst ‘Sawtooth Wakes’ competes to provide the evening’s killer moment alongside ‘Master Builder’. And so the drop dead tracks for me could be taken from either camp. ‘Master Builder’ appears to be ever more outrageous in terms of quite how far the tension builds – it takes an aeon to even reach the IAO chant. Yet in the other camp the incredible closing moments of ‘The Elemental’ competes just as memorably. The recent BBC Radio Session had picked out truncated versions of ‘Forever’ and ‘Sawtooth’ to represent the new album, and I’d wondered if they’d not performed ‘Elemental’ purely because the weirdly striking vocal harmonies would be too difficult to reproduce: clearly not the case. The general consensus is that the new album is even more ‘Gongy’ than the last one – moving away from the often intricate compositions of ‘Rejoice’ towards two key band elements –  extremely tranced out  (in the old parlance) in the case of  ‘Forever’ and muscular ‘Dynamite’-style riffing – ‘Sawtooth’ with it’s repetitive unison theme and scattergun drumming was an extraordinary performance of intense menace.

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Highlights were moments as much as tracks: Kauvs Torabi’s stage presence and the many intricate dual lines between his guitar and the sax of Ian East, the latter surveying proceedings impassively from right of stage; Fabio Golfetti, high up in the mix tonight, purveying glissando guitar like no other and also responsible for a memorable second guitar solo on ‘Rejoice’; Dave Sturt’s floor shaking bass lines on ‘Sawtooth’ and ‘Master Builder’; and Cheb Nettles, a colossus throughout, breaking into a huge sweat as he screams out his scatted vocals on the encore ‘Insert Your Own Prophecy’. This band are at once faithful to the vibe, but also innovatively etching out a vibrant legacy of their own.

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