Gong & Steve Hillage band, Edinburgh November 2009

Stumbled up this mini-review whilst trying to find something else on my computer – can’t remember who I wrote it for (maybe the What’s Rattlin’ newsgroup). Seems appropriate given the fact that the two bands are performing together 10 years later, in reverse order, this autumn

As promised, some musings on Gong’s gig in Edinburgh.

First off, the venue – the HMV Picturehouse – an old cinema with balcony up top and plenty of floor space. The gig wasn’t sold out, but was still pretty packed (I’d failed to get tickets for the Manchester gig). I’d been pretty disappointed at the sound at last May’s Forum gig in London, as I posted at the time but the acoustics here were spot on. At last a chance to see the band again in full flow in their new(ish) line-up.

The Steve Hillage band turned out to be a rather tasty Gong splinter group (Hillage, Giraudy, Howlett, Taylor) playing all recognisable Hillage tunes (with I think a System 7 track thrown in) – 6 or 7 in total over 45 minutes or so – my Hillage knowledge these days is a little rusty but I spotted tracks from Green, Fish Rising, plus Hurdy Gurdy Man. A succession of quite blinding guitar solos, general bonhomie, and a really tight sound – this was a genuine treat.

Gong played over an hour and a half right up to the 11 o’clock curfew and I’d rate this as one of the best gigs I’ve seen them perform, ironically right up there with a Glasgow gig on the 96 tour with Pip Pyle and Steffe – they seem to reserve their best, edgiest gigs for Scotland. Funny – we’d talked about sneaking our 8 month old boy  into the gig since we didn’t have a babysitter, thinking that Gong gigs are generally good-vibe, funky jamborees full of nonsense. The poor lad would have been absolutely terrified: booming sound, strobes everywhere and the renditions of Dynamite and You Can’t Kill Me, complete with an extra Gilli Smyth wailing section were quite menacing. Hillage’s new trancey piece Portal, the punky Waccy Baccy Banker (complete with funked out instrumental groove) and Guitar Zero also added bite, and Daevid Allen’s trademark mantra at the start of Master Builder was so open-throated it was practically primeval – genuinely chilling.

 

Gong also threw in Digital Girl and Dance with the Pixies from the new album, which personally I think stands up very well live or in the studio – would have been nice to hear the rappy pieces City of Self Fascination and How To Stay Alive too. All the new stuff inevitably meant fewer of the classics – interestingly nothing from Zero to Infinity either, although the band did pack in the Flute Salad suite, a truncated Selene, Never Glid Before and at least one track from Flying Teapot, plus the traditional curtain closer from the end of the You album. Great to see Mike Howlett on bass – I thought he wasn’t on this tour. With Hillage back on board, Theo Travis inevitably took more of a backseat – his playing is effortless but I yearned for Didier’s charm and doudouk. Miquette and Hillage were thick as thieves throughout, but her input was not always discernible; Chris Taylor added more dimensions in his live performance than he seems to do in the studio. But Hillage was immense, and his virtuousity seemed to stir Daevid Allen into trying to scale new heights of dissonance as a soloist towards the end (or perhaps I’ve been reading too much of his recent autobiography in which he relates tales of insecurity throughout classic Gong in relation to his voice, guitar-playing and role in the band). Looking at Daevid Allen towards the end of the gig wearing a ridiculous pair of pink sun glasses and a hat which is indescribable other than to say that its peak appeared to flop forward back towards his face like a flaccid phallus, you start to wonder at your own sanity in being obsessed with a band such as this – but he, as always, was immense. I expected Gilli Smyth to be confined to  a real cameo role this evening, but she was on stage more often than not, in fine voice, and adding a genuinely charged dimension to proceedings. I have to confess to a tear to the very poignant moment when she lingered on stage after the encore to say her farewells to the crowd.

 

One final detail – the show was backed throughout by some stunning animations based on details from the superb Japanese (?) video How To Stay Alive – check out this on You Tube and wonder how the animators got it quite so right.

 

And if you’ve not done so already, get the album and the autobiography (Gong Dreaming 2) from the planetgong website – you’ll never see or hear the like again!