Chaos 1986 video review

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Never available on DVD as far as I know, this VHS video was one of a number of titles offered by
Visionary in the early and mid-90's.  It features 60 minutes of a live gig that Hawkwind played at the Preston
Guildhall on 3rd December 1986.  The information provided on the video cover is minimal, not identifying
the band members at all, but it does provide a tracklist which is as follows:

Magnu; Angels of Death; Assault & Battery; The Blood of Man; Master of the Universe; Dreaming City;
Utopia; Brainstorm; Sonic Attack; and Assassins of Allah.

Things get off to a start with spacey lightshow montages as the band open the set with one of their
customary synth-driven intros.  Then the familiar chords of Magnu crash out as we see a close-up of
Harvey Bainbridge behind an array of keyboards.  Tell-tale strains of lead guitar confirm that Huw Lloyd
Langton is on stage, and Dave Brock and Alan Davey loom out of the banks of coloured fog (intense blues,
oranges and greens).  Lastly the camera pans onto Danny Thompson behind the drums - it's the classic
1980's Hawkwind line-up, for whom 1986 was a vintage year (if the Friday Rock Show CD recorded live at
that year's Reading Festival is any guide).  The sound here is similar, perhaps less well-endowed in the bass
frequencies; or that could be the fact that I'm hearing the music out of the speakers of a
not-particularly-great TV rather than a stereo.

Magnu is finished with fairly quickly, omitting the drawn-out instrumental coda of the original studio
version. By contrast, Angels of Death is given a lengthier workout.  The lightshow here superimposes a
graphic of a skull wearing a Nazi officer's cap over the normal stars-and-planets.  However the video does
not linger overlong on this but instead intersperses it with plenty of close-up footage of the band playing.  
Thus far this video seems to be avoiding the cheap special effects that have marred some of the other
currently available Hawkwind titles.

Assault and Battery starts off with a disturbing Harvey Bainbridge synth loop underscoring the familiar
mellotron-ish chords.  Then it's into twin lead vocalist territory as Dave and Alan share the singing, both out
at the front of the stage - the Captain wasn't, at this stage of the band's career, prone to retiring behind a
wall of bedspread-shrouded synths. This bit is a little reminiscent of the (subsequently filmed) Live Legends
/ Classic Rock video, however, the stage isn't as well lit here.  The members of the band are illuminated only
by the omnipresent blue / orange / green stage lighting.

The Blood Of Man turns out to be Lost Chronicles, which was to appear a couple of years later on the
Xenon Codex album.  The stage is awash with intense overhead blue lighting and the footage concentrates
on the band members rather than the lightshow.  It's faded out after a few minutes, for what would be
scene two were this a DVD: a pacey mid-80's rendition of Master of the Universe, with dry ice, lights and a
motley assortment of dancers who look like the guests at an unthemed fancy dress party in the grounds of a
mental hospital.  More attention is again paid to the back projections -the head of Nostradamus and figures
from Hieronymous Bosch superimposed on distant galaxies- but without distracting too much from the
band.  The energy levels are very high and it's notable how well the whole stage show has been
choreographed to keep all these elements in step.

Finally we get some cheapo special effects on the beginning of Dreaming City - the camera rapidly zooms in
and out on the back projections before Huwie steps up to the mic to take the vocals.  The stage lighting now
is predominantly orange, so it's not just a case of slow number = blue lights, fast number = all colours.
Musically this number is not too far removed from the one already familiar from the Black Sword tour.  In
fact, there have been no surprises in the arrangements - this video is a very good portrait of Hawkwind as
they were in 1986.  Someone does some horrible backing vocals on (Arrival In) Utopia, though, and the
number is further enhanced by Dave dropping his plectrum in the middle of the song - I thought that only
happened to no-hopers like me... An extended middle section provides some treated vocals from Harvey
(this is where the bad backing vocals originated!) doing something along the lines of Nik Turner's Utopia 84
rant, though the lyrics aren't the same.

The opening of Brainstorm features some freeze-frames which fully convey the unintended comic effect of
the dancers.  One of them is dressed like a mushroom grown hydroponically in a solution of KY Jelly and
LSD...well this was 1986, the year of Sigue Sigue Sputnik...  This is a fairly typical high-energy version of
Brainstorm, with all the stops pulled out as far as the staging is concerned; lights, dancers, back projections
all going full pelt.  (I wonder if this dance troupe is the notorious Screech Rock?)  One slight difference to
other arrangements of Brainstorm is that the A - F - G section, over which Huw throws some good soloing,
is placed after the "is he dead / where's his head" bit, instead of before it.  It works well this way - but yet
again the song is faded out prematurely, presumably to get the running time down to 60 minutes.  But this
time the edit is to cut the free-form musical interlude out of the song, and bring it back in with some almost
floral keyboard parts from Harvey, with the rest of the band coming in behind him and ratcheting the
tension up for a final verse / chorus.  This heralds the end of the main part of the set.

For the encore, Sonic Attack is kicked off with a teeth-on-edge blast of noise that I think featured in the
Chronicle Of The Black Sword set as "Arioch".  Fire-eaters appear and a rotary assembly of white spotlights
behind Danny Thompson's drums throws an off-kilter parabola around the stage and backdrop.  Meanwhile
Dave (or Harvey?) is belting out the lyrics Dalek-style, the dry ice is flooding the stage, the fire-eaters are
doing their thing, Huw is wailing away, Danny picks up a hectic rhythm...and pulp cartoons are projected
behind all this, which slightly undermines the tense, manic flavour of a number which is not often done all
that well when compared with the classic original on Space Ritual.  But this is a pretty decent stab at it.

Finally, Assassins of Allah comes out, of course, giving the dancers one last chance to cavort.  These were
the days before rave music existed, and so there is no "Space Is Their Palestine" interlude, which makes this
a more focused and cohesive number.  Again, it sounds exactly how you would expect given the vintage of
this performance.  I feel that Hawkwind were regrouping at the time, going back to classic 70's material like
Assault & Battery and Magnu as a contrast to the COTBS songs they'd been playing the previous year - and
it was before they started cranking out substandard albums like Out & Intake and the Xenon Codex.  The
start of the rot, with the old material indicating an empty fuel tank?  Perhaps, but nevertheless, this would
have been a good tour on which to catch the band live, and this video does a very good job of getting that
across.  It also strikes a good balance in portraying the performance of the band alongside their staging,
with the lights, dancers, fire-eaters, back projections and stage lighting.  Unlike the recently reissued Love
In Space DVD, this video does not let footage of these other elements outweigh the important business of
showing the band playing in front of a live audience.

So, having this is great, but when are we going to see this and other previously-issued VHS titles made
available again on DVD?  There's still a market for any Hawkwind footage, in fact, the earlier the better as
far as I and I suspect many other fans are concerned.  Whoever has the rights to this could make some
decent money from it, and hopefully the band would benefit financially too...                                    8/10
Above: a scan of the VHS cover.  Note the Angels of Death graphic on the back!
5th March 2004:  I only wrote this review a few weeks ago and my wish came true: Chaos has been
reissued on DVD.  I got my copy today from those lovely people at
CD Services The DVD offers no extra
material, except for previews of a handful of other DVD's (3 Hawkwind titles among them) and of course
the ability to play tracks individually.  But it has a nice new cover and some sleeve notes, both of which I
bring to you below!
The uncrowned kings of mystic rock, Hawkwind have spent 30 years or more blowing their audiences
away with shows that are both bizarre and exhilarating.  Switched to sonic overdrive, they suck you in,
chew you up and spit you out screaming for more.  Their success lies in the knowledge that these guys are
the genuine article and absolutely nothing will stop them.  They travel to distant lands, strange planets and
and create visions that are at once terrifying and alluring.  Hawkwind are truly masters of their universe and
everyone is welcome along for the ride.

This no frills footage was filmed in Preston, England during their celebrated Chaos tour of 1986 and has
become a favourite amongst fans.  Hawkwind go full-on psychedelic, performing bona fide classics ripped
from rock'n'roll's underbelly.  As always the stage show is a melting pot of audio-visual lunacy.  20 years
does nothing to dilute their relentless eccentricity, as the stage becomes a virtual battlefield of noise and
melody, mesmerising mantras and nightmare images.  This is beyond heavy rock; Hawkwind are absolutely
unique, though many have attempted imitation.  The aptly named Chaos is a testament to their devotion to
the outlandish, to their love of the unknown and their total fearlessness in the face of madness.  Prepare to
be sucked dry!

-Richard J. King