Space Ritual Live at the Phoenix Arts Centre, Exeter, 01/11/03
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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
For the second time in a mere eight days, the walls of the Phoenix theatre resounded with the sounds of â
€œMaster of the Universe." The most obvious explanation, that Hawkwind forgot that they'd already
played and showed up to play again, is false.  Mainly.  Nik Turner's Space Ritual.net is not Hawkwind,
technically, but similarities abound.  First, Space Ritual includes, as the local freak who owns the best
record store in the region pointed out, "more original Hawkwind members than Hawkwind!"  The setlist is
composed almost entirely of Hawkwind numbers, these almost exclusively from the most critically
acclaimed period of 1971-1978.

So it is, unashamedly, something of a nostalgia act.  Except that it's so alive.  Where Hawkwind sold the
venue out, Space Ritual allowed room for spectators to orbit a bit more.  A delegation of Exeter's
homeless population was present, with their dogs.  The band went on an hour and a half late, as the bass
player had difficulty getting there from another gig.  Turner took the stage after walking through the
audience, and wearing spiky alien insect headgear.  The introductory "Ghost Dance" set the stage.  The
Hawkwind version in which the mystical dance and chanting are actually performed (remember the alien
insect headgear), not the wonderful Patti Smith song of the same name.  Good opener which, as it relies
almost entirely on repetitive rhythm, gives the band an opportunity to find its groove.

Like Hawkwind the Ritual is backed by an enormous screen featuring psychedelia in its many forms.
Rather than the intricately unfocused stuff we saw last week, the Ritual runs a lot of oil and water and
food coloring mix, the primitive stuff that served as the visual soundtrack for the acid tests of the Ken
Kesey / Grateful Dead days.  In addition to a large ensemble band featuring Turner on sax and/or flute and
two drummers (classic Hawkwind drummer Terry Ollis, and his son Sam), a band easily filling up the
Phoenix stage once they got to rampaging about, the visuals included Angel, an exotic dancer.  Angel goes
through costume changes (schoolgirl uniform, space suits, mini-skirts) faster than David Bowie, and uses
stage props including a baseball bat and a parasol.  The dances are rated PG, but appear to be spontaneous
and are highly individualistic. They were loudly received by some members of the audience, presumably
those not attending the event with their wives.  To complete the effect powerful strobe lights began going
off halfway through the show, driving one teenage girl from the theater, and never stopped.

In the finest Hawkwind tradition the band demonstrated no interest in playing any riff fewer than fifty
times per song, broken up with spontaneous excursions of discovery into musical space.  Unlike
Hawkwind, in its present configuration, it finds quite a bit of worthwhile stuff out there.  Space has never
really been my thing, musically, to listen to, but these guys (Dave Anderson on bass, Mick Slattery and
Thomas Crimble, guitars) are a helluva jam band.  "Ghost Dance" was followed by an entirely ballsy "Born
to Go" that pulled the band elements together into a cohesive, even coherent, unit, and by the time they got
to "Brainstorm" and "Sonic Savages" in mid-set the crowd was more than sold on the idea that these guys
should be allowed to do what they were doing.  They were not feeding off the carcass of Hawkwind, it
was more like one of those space worms that breaks up into separate living entities sharing the same ecto-
genetic structure.

"Orgone Accumulator," reminded me that, however dubious his hintermost postulations, Wilhelm Reich
had more going on upstairs than the McCarthyite bureaucrats who threw him in jail and, more than that,
that I'm not the only person still occasionally pondering such esoteric concerns.  For their part the band
appeared less interested in the man or his politics, but instead on his work: it's a song about sex, sex is
good, sex is powerful, sex is the key to the cosmos.  That all being the case "Ejection" (um, no, it's a song
about spacecraft) was snugly sandwiched by the classics "Master of the Universe," and the closing "Silver
Machine."

"Silver Machine" was unquestionably the highlight of the show.  Tired feet came to life, levitation was the
audience standard, the chords were of a veracity and magnitude that no lunar landscape can ever again
feel secure, the "discovery" period unearthed (unearthed, space band, get it?) a series of goldmines.  In the
pattern of inconsistency that must be expected from these individuals. the encores were solo sax
representations from Turner including "In the Mood (Nude)," and "The Pink Panther Theme."   

They don't have the name.  They don't have Dave Brock.  But they can rock, rhythmically and repetitively
in a manner that belies the reality that they've just gone somewhere.  They have a cool show, and
costumes, a rabid audience including barking dogs, and when they go off in tangents they often end up
somewhere interesting.  As much as I enjoyed Hawkwind last week, this was more what I was looking
for out of these, my virginal live Hawkwind experiences.

-Clayton Trapp
Above: this photo, (c) Birdman Dave Easthope 2008, is by no means contemporary with the gig review