Uploaded to Aural Innovations: April 2004
On October 28, 2003, Fran Tatz-Walker, wife of Alien Planetscapes veteran Doug "Dr Synth" Walker, died as a result of injuries sustained in a tragic car accident. On Saturday evening, April 10, 2004, Alien Planetscapes, Architectural Metaphor, Church of Hed, and Scattered Planets gathered at Orion Studios in Baltimore, Maryland for a benefit show to celebrate Fran's memory and raise money for her favorite charity, Educators for Social Responsibility. Orion Studios is run by Mike Potter and for several years now has hosted a Progressive Rock Showcase series featuring numerous bands from around the world. Visit the Orion Studios web site at www.orionsound.com
This was an event not to be missed, so on Friday afternoon me and Deb set out from Columbus, Ohio. We planned to have a lazy trip down and only drove about half the trip Friday, stopping in Morgantown, West Virginia to relax and be bums for the night. After checking into a hotel we had a nice dinner and a few beers and lazed around in our room for a while before falling asleep. Being dedicated early birds we were up at the crack of dawn and after a bit of breakfast hit the road toward Baltimore. West Virginia is a beautiful state and I didn't mind the long drive at all. Wonderful scenery.
We rolled into Baltimore around 11am Saturday and quickly found the Holiday Inn Express where we had booked a room. I've become a bit lazy in my old age and really like convenience so I was thrilled to find that the hotel is barely a mile from the studio. We had only been to Baltimore once before when we attended the ProgScape 1994 festival a decade ago but remembered the Inner Harbor area that was part of the city's downtown redevelopment. This also turned out to be very close to our hotel so after checking in we headed a couple exits down the highway to the Inner Harbor. This is a very popular tourist area and indeed was very crowded, but we had no trouble parking and getting around. They've got restaurants and shops out the wazoo, but also several World War II ships and a submarine that you can tour. We bought a package ticket to tour all of them, my favorite being the submarine which you can walk the entire length of.
After spending nearly the entire afternoon down there we headed back to the hotel for a little rest in preparation for the 7pm show. I had filled my beer cooler with ice earlier and while dumping the water out at the curb heard a voice call my name. Looking up I saw that it was Alien Planetscapes guitarist Richie Orlando, whose room was right next to ours. And while talking to Richie I saw someone walking by wearing a Strange Daze festival t-shirt and when I called out to him it turned out to be Darrin Power from Toledo, Ohio, who I'd not yet met but had spoken to over the phone a few times and was planning to met up with for the show.
So shortly after 6pm we loaded our chairs and cooler into the car and headed toward the studio with Darrin and his friend Matt following behind. As so often happens with these things, setup time ran over and it was well after 7pm before the show got started. But we were far from bored as there were plenty of people to chat with in the parking lot. Then 5 minutes before the show began Paul Williams (Church of Hed, Quarkspace) and Mike Potter came up to me and asked me to M.C. the show. What?!! I was a little freaked out at first but I said what the heck and went for it. I'm no Thom the World Poet but I guess it worked out ok.
First up was Scattered Planets from Philadelphia. Scattered Planets was started by keyboard player Doug McMahan, who I had first known from the band Escape Velocity. Doug had released the first Scattered Planet album, Drinking With Aliens, in 2002 as a solo effort, before hooking up with guitarist Bob Lennon for their most recent album Andromeda Keg Party. And rounding out the band for the performance was bassist Matt Stevenson. Scattered Planets has a very dark and heavy sound, very much in the Chrome realm. After their performance I summed up my feelings about their set by telling the crowd that if anyone was unsure as to what Space Rock was - as in Space + ROCK - then they had just heard exactly what it's about. I thought the band did a fine job of bringing their recorded music to life. Earlier Bob Lennon had given me a CDR with a pre-release of two songs from their upcoming Total Machine Creatures album, which also includes several work-in-progress tunes that may or may not be used in the future. Stay tuned to Aural Innovations Radio and I'll be playing some. Visit the Scattered Planets web site at www.scatteredplanets.com.
During the break Church of Hed setup their equipment and the crowed milled about, many still eating from the great buffet of food catered by Chef Geoff. Jim Lascko's Solar Fire Lightshow (Jim organized all the Strange Daze Space Rock festivals) was handling the visuals for the show, which are always EXCELLENT enhancement for this kind of music. Visit the Solar Fire Lightshow at the Strange Trips web site at www.strange-trips.com.
Church of Hed was started by Paul Williams, drummer and keyboardist for Quarkspace, during a break in Quarkspace activity. For live performances Church of Hed has primarily been Paul and Quarkspace guitarist Stan Lyons, though on this night Chet Santia from Quarkspace and Architectural Metaphor guitarist Greg Kozlowski joined in. After a handful of songs from Paul and Stan, Chet and Greg made it a quartet and we were treated to a number of Quarkspace favorites. It was a solid performance and it was great seeing Chet with the guys again, and having Greg participating was a real bonus. Visit the Church of Hed web site at www.churchofhed.com.
Next up was Architectural Metaphor. I should mention that both Architectural Metaphor and Alien Planetscapes are among the longest running veterans of the American Space Rock scene, so having both bands on the bill made this a very special evening. And indeed Architectural Metaphor gave the most powerful performance I've seen from them yet. Founding member Paul Eggleston was on keyboards, Greg Kozlowski on guitar and sitting in on drums was Allen Brunelle, who has played with Dark Aether Project and Illuvatar. With vocalist/drummer Deb Young gone, the band were all instrumental and with a total focus on the music these guys were really shining. Paul has a very full and potent keyboard sound, and combined with Greg's intense guitar and Allen's powerhouse drumming make for a formidable trio. Greg rips off licks in a style in which each individual note is a brain smacker. In addition to their own music the band did a cover of Hawkwind's "Hassan I Sahba", and a cover of Pink Floyd's "On The Run". What a set!!! Visit the Architectural Metaphor web site at www.geocities.com/arcmetgreg.
By the time Architectural Metaphor finished it was getting late and with Alien Planetscapes taking some time to get setup it was nearly 2am when they got started. What had been a crowd of about 70 had dwindled quite a bit, which was too bad because these guys played a smoking set. Alien Planetscapes have been around in one form or another for over 20 years now, with the constant being founder and leading light Doug Walker. The band has been everything from solo and duo space electronics, to multiple musician space-jazz "big bands", to full on blazing space rock assaults. And on this night Alien Planetscapes was definitely in space, but the hell with the labels.... this was a killer ROCK band! The band was a 5 piece with Doug on synths and flute, Richie Orlando on guitar and synths, Josh Gazes on guitar, Chris Altenhoff on bass, and Josh's brother Mike Gazes on drums. The rhythm section was absolutely monstrous, creating a foundation upon which Richie and Josh did their killer guitar combo thing, while Doug kicked everything into orbit. The set was improvised and consisted of lengthy intense stretch-out jams. There is no Alien Planetscapes web site but you can email Doug Walker at DWa2898572@aol.com.
But as blown away as I was, when it got beyond 2:30am I was falling asleep on my feet, having been up since something like 5am. And Deb was already crashed out in the car. So knowing I had to drive the whole way back to Columbus in the morning we headed back to the hotel to get some rest, though I later found out we only missed about 15 minutes or so of the set.
All in all it was a fantastic evening and I got to chat with several friends I usually only see in
cyberspace. The event raised $1000 for Educators for Social Responsibility. Space Rock for charity... yeah!! Thanks to Mike Potter for hosting the event at Orion Studios and for all the bands who participated and helped make it happen. It's been a long time since I've had such a concentrated dose of live Space Rock.