Having not been to a live gig (not counting the Cropredy festival) in two years, I probably couldn't have picked a better one to attend than the re-formed Gong. That's right, the Alien Australian and most of the 'classic' line-up are back spreading the P.H.P. gospel, including Gilli Smyth, now 76! Amazing. Steve Hillage and his longtime partner Miquette Giraudy have re-joined the fold, as has Mike Howlett, who played bass on the awesome Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy albums. At the moment, Didier Malherbe has decided not to tour (though he does guest on the latest studio album, 2032), and Tim Blake, Gong's early-70s keyboard-player has also declined to join the latest incarnation. It still promised to be a great concert.
Pixie, myself and my muso-mate Will arrived at the O2, after dinner at Subway and a pre-show pint at the Cape Of Good Hope, with enough time to grab a beer at the bar and for Pixie to grab a Camembert Electrique T-shirt for me , as an X-Mas gift, before The Steve Hillage Band took the stage. I was surprised that there weren't any dedicated tour T-shirts, but never mind. Hillage was assisted by Giraudy, Howlett, Chris Taylor on drums and Theo Travis on sax and flute. They ran through a selection of tunes from Steve's 70s solo albums and a few instrumentals. Hillage proved he can still act the guitar hero and work the fret magic, even when playing one of those ugly Steinberger guitars. Giraudy churned out the spacey synth drones and Howlett and Taylor make a tight rhythm section. We were a bit back in the crowd, so we were able to watch both the band and the psychedelic graphics that were shown on the video screens behind the soundboard. The highlights of the set were a nice Hurdy Gurdy Man, covered on the 1976 album L and Salmon Song, from Hillage's solo debut, Fish Rising. They wound up their slot with a funky jam and came back out for a short encore.
After about a half-hour, the Radio Gnome intro. spilled out of the speakers, and the 2009 model Gong hit the stage. Hillage and crew started up a signature Gong-type riff and then Daevid Allen walked out, dressed as a wizard, to loud cheers. The beginning instrumental finished and they tore into an energized You Can't Kill Me. Gilli Smyth took to the stage during the tune, to more applause, and joined in with her patented 'space whisper' vocals. Digital Girl, from the "2032" album, followed...leading into Dynamite/I Am Your Animal, another rave-up from the group. Yoni Poem, a Smyth 'solo spot' followed, which led into Zero The Hero & The Witch's Spell (also known as Tic-Toc). Allen surprised me with his energy - he would swoop all over the stage, raise his arms in mystic gestures and occasionally grab a guitar and play some rhythm under Hillage's psychedelic lead riffs. Malherbe was missed, but Travis ably filled his shoes on a great version of Flute Salad/Oily Way (from the classic Angel's Egg record). Other peaks for me were a very trippy and very rockin' Master Builder, toward the end of the gig, which started with a slow version of the chant on the You album. They also played Wacky Baccy Banker, off of the new album - it's a kind of update on Kevin Ayers' Stranger In Blue Suede Shoes - I couldn't really hear the lyrics because of the muddy mix for the mics.
They played for two hours, including the encore--though Allen and especially Smyth, had to take a few breaks in the set--but hey, I hope I have as much life in me when I'm in my 70s. The encore was a sort-of improvised chant of "I Am You, You Are Me", while Hillage, Giraudy, Taylor and Travis played a spacey tune. The lights came on and the space dust settled. I had a great time and despite a few..erm...'over-enthusiastic' fans (read: nutters) weaving around the crowd, doing the tai-chi hippie dance and singing lyrics in punter's faces, it seemed to be an excellent gig to me. That's the thing with a band like Gong, though, you really have to expect a few nutters in the crowd. Ah well, they looked like they were enjoying themselves, so more power to 'em. If you get the chance to see the band on this tour, I would recommend you do so. In my view, they still manage to out-psychedelic a lot of the younger bands practising the genre. If you want to see the real deal before it's gone...get yer pointy hat on and get glidding!
Setlist (as much as I can remember):
The Steve Hillage Band:
Hurdy Gurdy Man
Radio Gnome intro.
You Can't Kill Me
Dynamite/I Am Your Animal
Witch Poem/Zero The Hero & The Witch's Spell
I Never Glid Before
Flute Solo/Flute Salad/Oily Way
Yoni Poem/Dance With The Pixies
Wacky Baccy Banker
IAO Chant/Master Builder
I Am You, You Are Me chant