|Phoenix Arts Centre, Exeter- 25/10/03
|This review was written by Clayton Trapp, to whom my grateful thanks for giving me permission to
repost it here. Check out Clayton's web site
There's no standard by which to have any idea of what to expect from Hawkwind these days, just as there
was none during the halcyon days of the mid '70s. They are as they have always been - a force unto
themselves, entirely beyond any trends or expectations of society. They've gone through 50 members in
35 years (members come and go - they get along well, just not for extended periods), been raided by the
secret service on both sides of the Atlantic (something about raising money for Timothy Leary when he
was on the lam, and further fundraisers for the revolutionary group, the White Panthers, a not entirely
peaceful ensemble that also drew support from John Lennon and MC5 during the day), battled with police
at Stonehenge at the Summer Solstice (they used to play every year, until abruptly stopped), and forgotten
more good times than most of us ever have.
I was fortunate to get a few minutes with Dave Brock before the show. Dave, of course, is the one
constant in Hawkwind, a searing guitarist who has written more great metal riffs than any but a handful of
people. Dave wasn't particularly inclined to answer questions, so I told him a (true) story about a
legendary Baton Rouge band, the Shitdogs. The 'dogs were huge Hawkwind fans...more acolytes than
fans, they used to hang out at my apartment a lot as they were close friends with my roommate. They
got their big break in '79, opening for Head East, whose only top ten smash, "Get Up and Enjoy Yourself"
was peaking. The 'dogs, naturally, opened their set with "Get Up and Enjoy Yourselfâ€�, were chased
from the stage, and settled back into a comfortable existence opening for cult acts like Roky Erickson and
Iggy. They considered it a Hawkwind-like act, and Dave thought it was a grand story...
As my wife and I entered the forum an elderly gentleman was reciting extemporaneous poetry, to no-one
in particular: "I feel the winds of space / blowing through my head." The fact of the matter is that a large
number of the sell-out audience appeared to have some sort of space wind blowing through their heads,
their experience augmented by an enormous screen behind the band depicting images that made little sense
to the rest of us. I did like the slightly more coherent little Saturns and stars, though. Hawkwind came
out with a very raucous "Arrival in Utopia," but the heat really turned up with the classic riffs of "Master
of the Universe." To see long-haired balding Alan Davey, his bass held skewed and aloft in Spinal Tap
style, while he gets on the mic and yells "I am the master of the universe," is a treat to be beheld. The
crowd went, if not entirely wild, enthusiastic in a necessarily detached way.
The set was fast and hard, with regular intervals of what Deadheads call "space." I've never been a big
fan of space, and especially not in every song. The rest of it is that this particular incarnation of
Hawkwind, most of them veterans of the psychic wars going back a long ways, didn't appear to have any
ideas in the vein worth pursuing. We settled in for a progression of songs that effectively went: killer
chords/killer chords/dull experimentation/killer chords.
Dave Brock, the legend, spared relatively little energy on the proceedings, preferring to let Alan Davey
front and drive the band. Dave was content, for the most part, to strum power chords from a corner, set
the computers to play borderline insane space sounds, and sing a harmony when he felt like it. He spent
several songs seated on a stool, expected for acoustic sets - but Hawkwind has never been a band with an
interest in anything as degenerate as acoustic material in which sophistication is the key. Things appeared
to entirely bottom-out when he was playing along with vocals coming from the series of tapes that he was
managing through undoubtedly sophisticated equipment. That moment was horrible, truly awful, in its
dull and insupportable impotence.
Hawkwind was meant to be there and run you over, man. And sometimes they did. "Brainbox Pollution"
was inspired, but even then the sense was more that of a good garage band that had found a riff than
legitimate contenders for the all-time metal title. The temptation is to say that Hawkwind is a shadow of
what it once was, but that's not quite right. Even at the pinnacle of their glory, Hawkwind were shadows
of what they once were - extraordinary powers going through what looked like open circuits to all but the
initiated. Are they any different now? Sure, a little older, a little less energy of course, but saving it up for
When Brock took control and drove the band, "The Right Stuff," and even more so on "Assault and
Battery," the band took on a magnificence that justifies the legend. He sang with absolute power and
conviction on the glories of human risk-taking, and the danger of joining the herd, and, frankly, Iâ€™ve
never previously written a metal review where the adjective "sublime" so demanded to be used. For those
two songs, at least, Hawkwind was everything that could have been hoped for.
Of course another proposition that Hawkwind has always stood for is that whatever's happening in your
own head is of far more interest, and importance, than what's going on outside. By that measure they are
everything that they ever were, more than any band could be, as the faithful reveled rapturously through
even the other bits. The encores unquestionably demonstrated that the band has far from lost its feel for
what's going on around it. "Spirit of the Age" was delivered with extraordinary rhythmic sensibilities,
informing anyone who didn't already know that Hawkwind had trumped trance music long before any
other westerners had even considered the term. It was as danceable as hypnotic, and anything but
sentimental. The closing "Hassan-i-Sahba" felt more like a bludgeoned warning against the melding of
ideological extremism and herd mentality than a political statement. My suspicion is, however, that much
of the audience singing along to the refrain of "Hashish-hashin, Hashish-hashin,â€� as though they were
just reveling in the spirit of hash.
If you've always loved Hawkwind there's as much reason to love them now as there ever was. I mean,
imagine keeping this groove going since 1969! It's a miracle they can even show up. If you could never
figure out what to think of them, you're unlikely to start now. If you never liked them, they're not trying
to convert you. They're not as intent on taking ever more ground as they were in '72, but it's going to be
pretty damn impossible to get them to give up the turf they've always claimed as their own. Not while the
winds of space are still blowing streams of power chords through their heads, and the light show is
illuminating a world that, if not better, at least holds different promises.
|Rather an unlikely
looking venue for