California Brainstorm CD review

20th March 2004
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This is one of a number of live albums from around 1990, and was recorded at the Omni club, in Oakland,
Californa on 16/12/1990.  The personnel consists of Dave Brock, Alan Davey, Richard Chadwick, Bridgett
Wishart and Harvey Bainbridge - no Simon House, unlike some of the other contemporaneous live albums
out there.  At the time of writing this, I am not sure whether this CD is still in print: but if not, it often turns
up reasonably priced on Ebay.

The CD kicks off with
Void's End which is aptly titled, being the instrumental fade out from the Golden
Void.  The nice production job gives this a half-second fade-in which prevents it from sounding disjointed,
and the track opens with some slow, melancholic lead guitar from the Captain.  This number is not what
you would call raucous but quietens down further so that by the two minute mark you think it's winding
up...but this is one of those more dynamic versions, where the synths breeze in and the guitar / drums /
bass pick up the arrangement (Mr.Chadwick throwing in a lot of mounted toms).  This far in, what is
apparent is the unusual sound of this CD.  Shorn of the contributions of Simon House, Huw Lloyd Langton
and even Nik Turner (any lead instrumentalist in fact), the band are different. There's more texture, more
width somehow; like a shrub where the topmost branches have been pruned to produce a bushier growth.  
A favourite technique of home growers everywhere!

Ejection kicks off with lots of synthy texture and an embarassingly bad monologue from Bridget...this is
basically the same kind of rendition as the one on the Undisclosed Files Addendum CD, which I reviewed
the other day.  Alan Davey handles the vocals in an OK-ish way, and pumps the bass admirably.  Brock's
guitar churns and grinds away as expected, with the unexpected bonus of a guitar solo at around the
three-and-a-half minute mark, which is long on atmospherics and short on fretboard pyrotechnics.  
Meanwhile, Richard Chadwick's light, fast and busy drum style is shown off well by this track.  However
this number fades out rather anonymously, which is a little anticlimatic.

Brainstorm is up next, and Brock's processed guitar sound rings out the familiar riff in classic style.  It's
pretty much the standard / traditional / definitive arrangement, except that the guitar only plays alternate
chords on the chorus, giving it a bit of stop-start.  This one is also paced perfectly - on the fast side, about
160 beats per minute.  There is a reggaefied middle section starting just after the four minute mark, which at
least is instrumental.  I don't think Hawkwind do reggae very well at all, and when they also throw in the
lyrics to Living On A Knife Edge (as in The Camera That Could Lie) it is sometimes desperate.  Here they
do something quite a bit better and stir some guitar raunch into the mixture so that by the six minute mark,
they have transformed the wannabe Marleyisms into the "is he dead / where's his head" riff...and then
follow this up with the A - F - G chord progression as a coda, bringing matters to a close just short of nine
minutes.

Out Of The Shadows being a staple of the 1990 set, here it is and this is one of the best versions available,
if not all that different from the Live In Nottingham version.  With fewer musicians and no obvious lead
instrument, the guitar is pumped up higher in the mix and there is some time-based effect running on it
throughout, perhaps a touch of chorus and flanger.  As with everything else on this CD so far, the sound
quality is excellent, although Harvey's synths are generally too quiet to be heard much....he seems to be
playing mostly a supporting role in any case, supplying texture and atmospherics rather than melody lines or
rich harmonic content.  In the staccato breakdown section of this number, he can be heard putting in some
classic Hawkwind white noise, smoother than the stuff Del and DikMik used to churn out in the early 70's,
but with much the same intention.  Especially after the quiet section towards the end of Out Of The
Shadows, you really get a feeling for how tight the band were on this particular occasion, especially the
core trio of Brock, Chadwick and Davey, each of whom are playing as if their lives depended on it, and are
all locked in together perfectly.  It's really great to hear The Captain as "out front" as this.  I would go as far
as to say that this live CD is the best one of them all for showcasing his guitar playing: I can't think of any
other album where his guitar was mixed as high as this, which is great even if it has been done at Harvey's
expense!

As on other live recordings from this period, the stately instrumental piece known as Snake Dance follows
Out of the Shadows (and is itself followed by Night Of The Hawks.)  Here, the CD labels this track as
Eons. At last what Harvey is doing can be heard clearly, and it is understated, but it's very effective.  Night
Of The Hawks
is one of those numbers where the 2/2 time signature is one I find annoying - I'd like to hear
it played 4/4 throughout, but here there are only a few bars of 4/4 during the choruses.  Again, it's very
similar to the Live In Nottingham rendition (i.e. soundtrack the Live Legends VHS / Classic Rock DVD),
although the guitar solo on this one is superior, and the quiet bit features some lovely keyboards from
Harvey for a few seconds before the track is faded out....which is an *excellent* move as we are thereby
spared more Bridget, whose only appearance on this CD so far has been on the intro the Ejection.  I would
give her the benefit of the doubt when there are visuals to go with the music, since she definitely added
something to the band in terms of her performance art....but sorry love, you just can't sing!  Simon Cowell
would have shown you no mercy whatsoever...

An odd series of thumps and bumps is claimed to be the Harvey Bainbridge track
TV Suicide, and it takes a
couple of minutes before it begins to sound familiar.  For my money this is the best thing he ever wrote for
Hawkwind, though I find a little of his spoken vocals to go a long way.  Bridget pops up again, and does the
biz here, with some syncopated backing vocals...probably the band missed a trick by pushing her out front
as a vocalist, when she did better like this.  Meanwhile, the track goes into an otherwise unknown slow and
majestic synth-only passage for a couple of minutes, briefly marred by some grunts which sound like
repressed vomiting, before moving into
Back In The Box.  This is best known from the Palace Springs
album (another live recording from the same era), and I remember being horrified when I first heard it for
how lame of a song it was.  After several years and a fair few listens I've concluded otherwise, but had I
heard it first on this album rather than the Palace Springs version, I might have overcome my revulsion
sooner.  The thing that still grates, though, is Bridget's presence.  I could deal with hysterical female vocals
(I've heard enough of 'em first hand) if they were not delivered in Bridget's appalling tuneless contralto.  
Anyway, once we have been dragged down to the bottom of the barrel by this, Harvey's almost as bad
monologue does nothing to rescue Back In The Box from toe-curling, buttock-clenching territory.  This is
one that  you really *don't* want your friends to catch you spending time with.  A shame, since musically
it's pretty decent, with the coda leading in neatly to
Assassins of Allah.

This is up to the standards of everything else on this album but for the first time I see why people
occasionally complain about Alan Davey's vocals.  Here they are rough and shouty, with "trying too hard"
written all over them.  The bridge has too much keyboard and not enough guitar on it to give this rendition
the sense of latent power that the original on Quark Strangeness & Charm boasted: but it's a fault of the
arrangement, not the mix.. This carries through to the "It is written" mid section (which ends with a clumsy
edit straight into the final chorus) but I ought not to complain: this is a rave-free version which I'll take any
day over the way they've been playing this song for the last ten years or so, with a "Space Is Their
Palestine" interlude.

After some brief incoherent and mumbling stage announcements which are undeservedly dignified with the
track title of
Propaganda, the CD ends with an unusual number for inclusion in the set, given when this
was recorded:
Reefer Madness.  Bridget takes the lead vocals and actually, she does it tolerably, which I
would put down to having the excellent footsteps of Bob Calvert in which to follow.   The sound of
Hawkwind in 1990, with an expansive rhythm guitar, pumping bass, textural keyboards, and crisp drums,
suits this song well.  They even render the "Honky Dorky" midsection in traditional style to begin with,
before wandering into an improvisation where the ethereal synth melody emulates the bygone flute of Nik
Turner, and later on in the track, scales the heights of Simon House's mid-70's keyboarding.  An excellent
way to close out the CD.

Well OK, there are too many live Hawkwind albums out there (but the new studio album is coming!) and in
particular, there are too many from 1989-90.  But this is the best one from that time frame, and one of the
best live albums around.  If you don't have this, it's *well* worth it - though one fan who signed my
guestbook pronounced it horrible, so obviously opinions vary!  And it's absolutely essential if you like
hearing a lot of Brock's guitar....he is probably more dominant here than on any other Hawkwind album, live
or not.