Uploaded to Aural Innovations: January 2004
So, it had seemed to me that shows on consecutive nights by two great space rock acts a mere 275 miles apart would have led quite a few punters to take in both... but then I come from an American perspective, where such distances are hardly anything. The fact that this journey covers nearly the entire country from north-to-south... I don't see why that's so important. The simple fact that it *can* be done (despite the best efforts of Great North Eastern Rail) without so much difficulty means that I couldn't think of any reason why not to treat myself to this 2-for-1 deal. I had just seen (in August) both Mr. Quimby's Beard (twice in fact, offering two completely different 1-hour sets) and Hawkwind at the 2nd (hopefully) annual Hawkfest weekend in the Lake District. Normally, that would make me *less* likely to book a long travel to see them so soon again. But then, they were both so good that at least I knew I would enjoy what I heard. In the end, it was well worth it... and also I could use it as an excuse to *not* fly back to the states to visit my family over the holidaze - a nice bonus! Not that I have anything against my family... it's just, you know, so predictable.
Well, not knowing really where I was going or where to find accomodations, I wrote to MQB synth-master Hardy (in the process learning his full name and the story behind it, but I won't reveal it here 'cause if he really wanted that known, he'd have printed it on the CD covers) for suggestions. But then he was kind enough to open up his own home to me for two full days, which made arrangements much easier. Not surprisingly, the weather was gloomy, wet, and cold, so neither one of us was too keen on sightseeing much. So most of the time then was sacrificed for the cause of music, needless to say. For better or worse, I got to see all the effort that goes into putting on just a single 'club' show in one's own hometown. Made all that more complicated when none of the band members owns a van and so three cars must rendezvous at the practice room to load all the gear, just to transport it a half-mile into a throng of Christmas shoppers on a busy street. In the rain. I won't bore you with the rest of the details... I'll just say that I never wanted to be a band because I knew I'd rather hear (many) other bands play rather than myself playing the same thing over and over a hundred times. But because the hassles of gigging just seem not worth the effort, this also reconfirms my feelings on the issue. Of course, without these masochists forging onwards, I'd have no concerts to attend, so I'm eternally grateful for their sacrifice. Not to mention their talents.
OK, the gig! Bar 36 I learned is a brand new club in the heart of Sunderland, an upstairs establishment with a potentially high-quality soundsystem (high-wattage at least), with a large ante-room for pool or games, and a bit more conducive to conversation. The band didn't expect much of an audience on such a crappy night, especially just before the holiday, but a number of the most dedicated Quimby fans did show, as well as an ever-growing number of "unsuspecting" patrons throughout the evening. These were the obvious ones... young, attractive, well-dressed... they had no business being at a space-rock show! I kid...all are welcome, even if they practice the wrong religion. An I was happy to see that not all of them scrunched up their noses with derision and snuck to the back room away from the horrible racket, but some even looked entertained and amazingly tried to dance! To Space Rock... hard to believe.
Ah, so, off the track again... before the Quimbys even appeared, another local band (all the way from magpie-infested Newcastle-upon-Tyne, maybe 20 miles to the northwest) called Tired Earth put forth a decent 40-minute set of classic rock material. Most of which seemed original, but I remember that they played a version of Peter Green's "Green Manalishi," he of two-pronged crown fame. They had a few sound problems here and there, and they were oriented very oddly on the stage amidst MQB's gear, mainly because the stage seemed actually deeper than it was (not very) wide. The construction of this club placed the DJ booth/dance floor at a priority above the stage; thus bands have a hard time connecting to their audience. (Meaning the audience also has a hard time finding the musicians they're hearing.) Again, I digress. Well, anyway, the four-piece Tired Earth were a decent-enough warm-up act, but were more decidedly more "bluesy" than "spacey." Not that there's anything wrong with that.
The Quimbys came on soon thereafter, launching the show with a reworked oldie entitled "Mossy" from the first cassette (available now on CD from the band, www.mrquimbysbeard.com, also where you can find at the moment a t-shirt sporting artwork from same). The tune now goes on quite some time, with the long reggae-dubbish jam being something that I can really get into... works so well in a 'cosmic' sense, as you might have already discovered if you ever listened to any Ozrics at all. The band next struggled to keep "Nebulae" together, probably due to the ever-changing sound environment, but then quickly resumed strength with another classic oldie, "Marijuana Nightmare." This one also featured an extended ad-lib jam and set the scene for even louder moments to come. "Chariots" is one of the songs that we will hear on the next CD for sure, but as it has appeared in the live set for over two years now, hard to call it a 'new' song anymore. But I really love this one (perhaps my favorite of all Quimby works) and even without much spontaneity on this night, it was the highlight of the evening for me, due also to the fact that the sound was still quite good where I was standing.
That all changed for some reason during the rest of the set, as (due to what exactly, I can't say) we started to get some strange audio effects in the air... it must have been partly a result of the extra dancefloor PA that makes the club almost 'quadrophonic' surround sound. But then when it got loud, the sound became rather 'wow-and-fluttery' - chaotic wave upon wave of sonic currents alternately augmenting and destroying each other. Well, ok, that sounds like a *good* thing at a space rock show, but really the Quimbys were doing a fine job of that on their own already. The guy at the controls should have let well enough alone, really. Next was "Pollen," this one being a true new song that features a number of separate loud (distorted, sadly) and soft (beautiful) passages, the latter the sort of thing that co-vocalists Hardy & Ray color with harmonized "Ahhh's" against chattering guitars and a mix of burbling synth noises. They wrapped up with a strong rendition of "Mystery," and then a pair of encores. "Beyond the Light" is another of my favorite tunes and guitarist Jim Walton here had a particularly nice intro lead, but then the song winds and twists through many different feels by the end. The true "end" came a bit later though, as a second encore came in the form of "The Acid Bringer," which featured an extended synth intro by Hardy mainly because the rest of the band had gone offstage thinking they were done.
Towards the end, the sound did begin again to improve, so that overall the show went pretty well especially since the band tried to put their best forward for their hometown fans on this special pre-Christmas show. Late into the set, three guys dressed as Santa Claus (though none were appropriately portly) walked into the club and they added additional color to the surroundings (the club had a full-sized tree with lights and all in the corner by the bar as well). Sadly, the mini-disc recording that I was instructed to produce with Hardy's own personal setup failed to archive this performance due to an unfortunate technical glitch. Which means that nobody can produce evidence to the contrary about my opinion that Mr. Quimby's Beard continues to be a very strong live space-rock act. The visuals during the show were provided by fellow AI-contributor A. "Polly" Pollard to great effect, though certain members of the band might have preferred just a little less fog. Many times, though, awesome starburst effects were produced from the rear-projected lights, that while turning everyone on stage into silhouettes (when you could even see them at all), was definitely fitting to the overall atmosphere produced by the cosmic sounds.
Setlist - MQB:
Beyond the Light
The Acid Bringer
Reviewed by Keith Henderson