Is it just me, or is does it always have to be cold, overcast and desolate looking for every prog show to ever take place in the Midwest?
Gong: Building the peace bridge between the ravers and the bearded,bespeckled young men*
*A description of nearly all fans of progressive rock, according to King Crimson's Robert Fripp
by Robert Brandt
Note: This story is in Bob-o-vision (formerly knows as Fact-o-vision) Bob's smarmy commentary on life's little peculiarities can be read by placing your mouse pointer over any * you see. His words will appear at the bottom of your screen in the status bar. Do not click on the star, as it just might do something nasty to your machine.
The clubs that put on this music are always painfully out of the way of any parking, food, or general human contact *. I guess that fans and club owners alike both realize that this kind of a show can't possibly compete with any summer concert tour, so they stick them in dark little clubs when people are gearing up to stay in from the cold for a few months. I swear to God, if Poison/Dokken/Cinderella/Slaughter can fill up an ampitheater in July, then anyone can * * *
This year, it was Gong's turn to kick off the annual cold, dark, desolate season of prog rock concerts in Cleveland (a season that will include visits from King Crimson, Fates Warning, and Steve Howe *.)
This was my third visit to the Planet Gong in the physical form ***. Upon stepping out on to the planet's surface, you are always greeted by Gong's more than hospitible entourage at the souvenir stand. The souvenir stand at a Gong concert *, is more than a mere place to dump your $25 for a lousy shirt or coffee mug. It is a place where you can buy many Gong and ancillary "family member" recordings *, as well as the usual shirts, programs and the new Gong-themed pins. This is also a place to catch up with the road manager, who is always quick with an ok to tape the show, or a Lemmy story. The conversation amongst the people around the stand is always friendly and engaging; almost as a support group for people with the same addiction, recognizing that THIS is the only place where you can speak about such music and people without getting a blank stare.
After a confusing first act, a six-piece outfit of young Latinos from Austin,TX who owed more to Fastball or Santana than any prog act, Cleveland's Drumplay was up. I won't get too much into these guys. They are a four-piece percussion/trumpet outfit who basically would go down like gangbusters in the parking lot at a Phish or Dead show. They played what I counted as four extended jams that explored four different rhythmic styles. Ok if you're a music major or stoned, but it seemed to turn off a good chunk of the 100 or so in attendance. Let it be said that I have seen these guys in a back-up band role, and they were just phenomenal. I'm just not convinced that they can hold up on their own.
So now it was Gong time...but first, a funny thing happened. A rush of people appeared out of nowhere...and they were all YOUNG. They were wearing glowsticks and hugging one another. Folks, the Gong concert was about to turn into a rave. I guess the printed word can still ring out in the underground, as not 4 days before, founder Daevid Allen was quoted in two local papers as "wanting to see the ravers come out...as they are our new lifeblood."
The band started into a 90 minute set that relied heavily on the new
release "Zero To Infinity," which is the fourth installment of the
Radio Gnome cycle
Gong regulars Mike Howlett (bass) and Gilli Smyth (space whisper vocals) were in tow, as well as relative newcomers Chris Taylor (drums)
Theo Travis (a well-respected young British jazzer on sax/flute), and a keyboardist who shall remain nameless
At the usual forefront was now-62 year old guitarist/vocalist Daevid Allen. Allen has for years gone down a path that leads him to look like that whacked-out old guy who is selling candles and pens at the local street fair. The entire "Gong-ness" now makes even more sense as you actually see a goofy, lanky, 6'5 old man with shoulder-lenghth white hair who has spent 32 years sounding like a goofy,lanky, 6'5 old man with shoulder-length white hair. He moves like a teenager getting down to the latest beats at the 8th grade dance, and the audence loves it. This was also the first Gong tour in some time in which Allen handled all of the guitars himself; the leads having mainly been given over to Gong's long history of supberb guitar players, with Allen being satisfied plaing backup "glissando" guitar (an effect made by sliding a pen over the strings while heavy echo is applied.)
All in all, everyone got what they wanted. The ravers got an excuse to dance around with trippy music and an even more trippy light show. The prog-rockers got to make their usual pilgrimage to see one of the founding bands of the genre. As a whole, Gong proved once again to be acknowledging it's historic past, while forging new and exciting territory all at the same time.