Uploaded to Aural Innovations June 2006
Awesome. Fantastic. Mind-blowing. Unbelieveable. Totally cosmic. Beyond description. I just wanted to get some of those superlatives out of the way early in the review to prepare the reader for what's to come. Because, as usual, this years's eleventh edition of the prestigious Roadburn Festival shot the elevator of fan's expectations on a rocket ride through the roof. The festival is held every year in the Netherlands, or as we Americans refer to it at home, Holland. The past couple of years it has been held in the city of Tilburg in the south of Holland, an approximately ninety minute drive in a car from Amsterdam, in the city's biggest music venue "013", which is said in Dutch as "null thirteen." The venue is a fairly large warehouse type space, with three separate rooms each set up for live music that runs continuously through the festival. The biggest of the rooms housed the space rock stage... a very large space that easily accommodates a thousand fans without a crush, with a high theatrical stage and huge lightshow screens behind it. There is a large dance floor right in front of the stage, and above that the place ascends to the back in broad steps. People generally stand for the performances and sit on the steps during intervals between music. The other two halls in the venue are considerably smaller.
Now I have to make my big confession of the review right here and get it out of the way. I only saw the four bands that played on the main stage, the space rock stage. The schedule between bands only allowed for a little time to catch your breath between acts, and the smaller stage was always packed right up to the doors when the main stage was in between sets. So my Roadburn experience consisted of the four main stage acts: Spacehead, The Bevis Frond, Ozric Tentacles and the almighty Hawkwind headlining. And to be truthful I couldn't really handle more sensory overload than that anyway. What it does mean is that you won't be reading about any of the other great bands that played the other festival stages in this review. These included Orange Goblin, Leaf Hound resurrected from the ashes of the past, Colour Haze, Capricorns, Brant Bjork and the Brothers, Gorilla, Solace, The Heads, Orange Sunshine, and Abramis Brama. I also wasn't able to attend this years new feature, the Friday night pre-party, where Toner Low, Spaceship Landing, End of Level Boss, and Dutch space masters Astrosoniq all performed. And early bird fans in Tilburg had an opportunity to attend a meet and greet party with members of many of the headlining bands in attendance, including members of Hawkwind and Orange Goblin. This pre-party was also held at 013. All reports I heard from fans indicate that this event was almost as big a success as the festival itself. Both events were completely sold out in advance and there were many fans outside looking for extra tickets to get in with on both days.
The capacity for 013 is well over a thousand fans, so this was pretty impressive. Unlike the previous year when my entrance into the festival was slowed down by very long lines, this year things were smoother. Only a small line had formed by mid-afternoon and the doors opened an hour in advance of the first band's start and the people got to move in quickly. In the entrance halls were coat checks, a food stall, a couple of bars and merchandise stands for the bands. Apparently I didn't realize how hungry the fans were going to be for merchandise. Within an hour of the festival's start many of the biggest bands had virtually sold out of their shirts and CD's. I went all the way to Europe and couldn't even get the Hawkwind shirt I wanted. Oh, well. I got over it. The festival is extremely international and within moments of entering I heard people with British accents, American accents, people speaking French, German, Dutch and others languages that I wasn't familiar with. Its a very cool scene with space rock and stoner fans from all over getting together.
The first band up on the main stage were British heroes Spacehead, introducing their fresh new line up for the first time. Band main man Mr. Dibs remains a constant on bass and lead vocals. Keef Barton has been on vocals and guitar for some time now, and synth duties were performed by old stalwart Mr. Floyd, who goes back with Dibs to the Krel days. New face Steve Young, on drums announced his arrival in the group in no uncertain terms, playing up a storm at the festival. The entire band seemed very confident and strong as they played through a large selection of their recorded repertoire. It was very nice getting to see these guys finally starting to get some of the recognition that they deserve. They had about an hour to shine up on the big stage, with the light show going full throttle behind them, they were able to achieve lift-off and take the audience deep into the cosmos with them. This year the auditorium sized space rock stage room was kept nice and dark so that the light shows were able to play to full effect. All of the light shows for all four space rock bands were really spectacular. This combined with the all pervasive aroma of high grade Dutch marijuana and hash, and the easy availability of what they call in Europe "smart" mushrooms, makes Roadburn an extra cosmic event for many attendees. Anyway, right from the outset it was apparent from Spacehead's fantastic set that this crowd was going to get taken for some wild ride. This might be a good place for me to mention that most of the bands' sets from the festival are available online as audio streams. You can go to www.roadburn.com for info to access the audio files. Also some of the bands were filmed for future DVD release, many of which will hopefully see release down the road.
After the ashes scattered and the dust settled from the nuclear onslaught that was Spacehead's fantastic set, there was a fifteen minute break to set up for Bevis Frond. This is another band that I've been a big fan of for a long while now, and one which has recently cut back on live gigging. So it was an extra special treat to find them appearing at the festival and in an extra expanded configuration. In addition to band mainman Nick Saloman fronting the band on lead vocal and lead guitar, and his constant bass playing companion and space rock legend, Adrian Shaw, this line-up adds on recent regular Paul Simmonds on guitar, Jules Fenton on drums, and returning to the Frond after a long absence the fantastic Bari Watts, from the Outskirts of Infinity, on additional lead guitar. As you might expect they played with a ripping triple pronged guitar attack on all fronts. What took the audience by surprise a bit was just how HEAVY Bevis Frond were. The crowd ate it up. And Nick reminded the crowd what absolutely killer heavy riff oriented rock tunes he'd been writing for years. Some stand outs included the heavy chunk of "Maybe", the psychedelic blues of "Stoned Train Driver", and a stomp like version of "Well Out Of It", which turned into an anthemic sing along for part of the crowd. Nick thanked the audience for coming to see them and added a self deprecating aside to the effect that "We have it on good authority that you haven't come to see us at all." The crowd roared back their amusement. I think for many attendees Bevis Frond were the surprise hit of the festival, granted of course that everyone expected Hawkwind to play a totally killer set... which they lived up to and more later in the night. But in the late afternoon on the main stage Bevis Frond were winning over the whole room at that moment. Towards the end the crowd went nuts to "I've Got Eyes In The Back of My Head".
As their set wound to a close, Nick made an announcement that they were about to play their last number and that after that "the crowd could begin to enjoy themselves." I hope Nick knew how much everyone had been loving the set and I would think he could tell from the smiles on the hundreds of faces in front of the stage his band had gone over great. Nick introduced the band, jokingly introducing Adrian Shaw by mentioning that he used to play in Hawkwind, and "he's quite angry about that'', followed by a reproachful look from Adrian and laughter from Nick. For the encore the band launched into a lengthy speed jam with everyone taking mind bending solos. Bari Watts came on like the reincarnation of Jimi Hendrix and Nick played some bizarre bazouki like instrument which he appeared to neck wring until it couldn't take any more. They left the stage to a thunderous ovation of approval. This whole extravaganza had been accompanied for almost an hour and a half by some of the most twisted film clips and visuals I've ever seen. One sequence in the middle of the set used film images that seemed to star semi-human, semi-simian cast members in some bizarre Bollywood extravaganza, set in some Indian civilization out of antiquity. I couldn't figure out if the footage was people in make up or some kind of slick animation program, documentary evidence of a lost civilization, or ????? Weird movies, dude. Seriously, if anyone has an idea where this monkey people foootage came from I'd love to hear from you to satisfy my curiosity.
Next after another brief stage change procedure it was time for Ozric Tentacles. I've had a soft spot in my heart for these guys since I first encountered them on the old double vinyl album Traveller's Aid Trust, where they shared side one with Hawkwind. Since then I've collected all the CD's and videos and seen them live many times, thanks to their frequent touring in the United States. I've also seen the line-up fluctuate quite a bit, and tonight would be no exception. It seems however that as long as composer, guitarist, synth player Ed Wynne is a constant at the helm the music is always excellent and always... well... Ozric Tentacles. No one else sounds quite like them. And yet... whatever the line-up changes they sound just like themselves and no one else.
Tonight, in addition to the everpresent Ed, the band featured Ed's wife Brandi on bass, switching over from the keyboard spot she had filled on the last US tour. In her place on keyboards was a new male keyboard player, who's name I wasn't able to learn, but who was certainly a brand new face in the band. I believe the drum chair was again filled by Metro for this gig, as it had been last time round in America, rounding out this four piece line-up. The Ozrics also got to play a nice lengthy set, over an hour and a half. They touched on material from all periods of their career, while their distinctively different light show featured many spinning optical patterns and rotating mandalas that seemed similar to some of their CD artwork. From "Jurassic Shift" at the top of the set, all the way through to "Sploosh" at the end, the set was filled with some of the most memorable trance riffs and beats that the Ozric Tentacles have put on their albums since they began back in the "Erpsongs" era, right up to and including selections from their most recent "Spirals In Hyperspace." Of all the bands to play Roadburn, this is the only one I can look forward to seeing again real soon. They currently have a tour booked in the US for June 2006 and I'll have to check them out and see if they can recreate the magic they weaved at Roadburn. The nature of their instrumental set and hypnotic rhythms served as the perfect chill-out, space out interlude pre-Hawkwind. The crowd was not without its share of dancers though. The Ozric Tentacles brand of jam-dance-space-psychedelic always brings out the dancers. As always, they played a great set, with Ed's guitar playing well to the fore of the sound mix. Brandi did a very nice job covering the bass parts. And the new keyboard player seemed to fit in to the mix quite nicely. I don't think they brought the crowd up to the level of the adrenaline rush of the Bevis Frond set but they're on a different kind of trip after all.
Finally, after quite a bit longer stage change time than any of the previous interludes here was the main course. The room was filled almost to capacity now. The crowd roared as Hawkwind set up. There was Dave Brock, ageless, eternally youthful, everpresent in the line-up since day one, front and center on guitar and vocals, and occasionally keyboards, Richard Chadwick on drums since 1989, Hawkwind's second longest serving member on bass, Alan Davey, and on keyboards, new kid on the starship, Jason Stuart. And off they roared straight into that classic number from Robert Calvert's Captain Lockheed and the Starfighters album, The Right Stuff.
Here is the set list for Hawkwind's set:
The Right Stuff
Sword of the East
Seven by Seven (with Dibs on spoken word vocals)
Out Here We Are
Love In Space
Lord of Light
Spirit of the Age
Assassins of Allah ->
Space Is Their Palestine->
Assassins of Allah
Upside Down (with Dibs on vocals) ->
One famous rock and roll truism maintains, "It's the songs, but also the way that they're played that make a great concert." That is very true here. You can glance at the set list and get a sense of what great songs were played, but you need to listen to the streaming audio at the Roadburn site, or wait for the DVD of this show that should be released in the not too distant future to really get a sense of how well Hawkwind are playing together live at this point in time. With the introduction of a full time keyboard player Dave Brock is empowered to really let it shine with his guitar, and he plays that thing more amazingly than ever. And his voice sounds as powerful as ever. Dave, Alan, Richard and Jason all play and sing with the enthusiasm of young kids, and the smiles on their faces reveal their passion and enjoyment for what they're doing. Also noteworthy was the always spectacular Chaos Illuminations light show and Hawkwind's imaginative dancers. The dancing was well integrated into the set, including an erotic android sequence with male and female dancers for Angela Android, a song which featured great lead vocal work from drummer Richard Chadwick. Attractive female winged fairies appeared at other points in their trippy production, and I didn't even eat any of the mushrooms so I'm pretty sure they were real. It blows me away that not only have Hawkwind upped the intensity of their performance level since I first began seeing them and loving them in the seventies, but that much of the seventies set list has been able to live on into modern performances and sound fresh and relevant to today's rock fans. Needless to say, Hawkwind blew me away on every level. What an intense experience... seeing my all time favorite band in a fantastic venue with a really fine sound and light presentation, surrounded by a full house of rabid fans from all around the world. It doesn't get much better than that.
What were some of the highlights? Go back and re-read that setlist. Its all highlights. The show just built and built in intensity until by the time of Brainstorm the entire audiece was bouncing up and down to the musical beat as one. And then for the encores, Psychedelic Warlords and Brainbox Pollution... it was like taking a time machine back to the best moments of the seventies... except it was really right now, here and now, live at Roadburn 2006. Wow! And then the thought hits you like a freight train... how is poor promoter Walter going to possibly be able to top this next year? Impossible. But worth attempting. For now though, this show will stand as the pinnacle of live space rock festivals for me, and I've been to a lot of them. This was the best yet for me.
Before signing off from Tilburg, Holland I have to thank promoter Walter Hoeijmakers not only for putting on the Roadburn festival every year, and having the best taste in rock and roll anywhere, but also for being so friendly and helpful with access for Aural Innovations, and for helping to arrange the interviews with the artists, as well as arranging a last minute photo pass for Aural Innovations photographer Kevin Sommers. Thanks Walter. You're the best. Also thanks to my traveling companions for making the festival more fun. Kevin Sommers, who took the gorgeous photos, is an artist and big Hawkwind fan from the US, and my daughter JodyDawn and her boyfriend Stefan came along for more fun and company. Thanks to them. And big thanks to the artists that gave selflessly of their time to do interviews, Dave Brock, Mr. Dibs, and Nick Saloman. And finally special thanks to Hawkwind's manager Kris Tait for being so great all the time. I appreciate it, Kris.