A Mild Saxual Assault

[Live] Gong, Sheffield Leadmill, 23rd November 2009

They’re gonna play all the hits that you knew, and all of the new album too. So goes the mantra when heritage acts reform. But apprehension was left at the doors when pioneering space-rockers Gong got it on.

Gong are the band who put the fun into prog rock. Their philosophy is described by de facto band leader Daevid Allen as follows: “I always had a sense of being contacted by another planet of intelligent beings, who wanted to help the Earth people. They figured a way to do this was to use the music of my band as a vehicle for their strange noises, and prepare the way for their arrival.”

And forty-two years after they formed they prepared the ground in Sheffield. Featuring a line-up which had the acid casualties stifling a boner in their loon pants, we had Allen on guitar and vocals, Steve Hillage on guitar, Gilli Smyth on space whispers, Miquette Giraudy on synth and disinterested Kate Radley-esque poses, Mike Howlett on bass, Chris Taylor on drums and of course Theo Travis on saxophone and flute.

As a live proposition they were better than I could have possibly imagined. They played much harder and faster than on record and as septuagenarians go, Allen is an energetic, if slightly demented frontman, even if he does now resemble a long-haired, emaciated Richard Stilgoe. Hillage can still shred with the best of ’em and even though it pains me to say it, the rhythm section could indeed be described as ‘tight’ and the drumming as ‘propulsive’. Throw in some swirling atonal electronica and glissando guitar and it was pretty much the perfect gig for someone of my musical bent.

As on record the longer tracts of space whispering became vaguely irritating, especially as Smyth now looks like a psych Peggy Mitchell. It’s not a concept I’ve ever really understood because surely whispering is no more prevalent in space than anywhere else. If anything there’s no necessity to whisper in space as there’s nobody to listen in. But that’s just an aside, for now we must move onto the sax, my God the sax. It underpinned everything. It shouldn’t work but it really does. I will never dismiss the work of The Zutons again. Okay, I will.

blurry mobile phone shot

The band played for fully two hours mixing up tracks from surprisingly ace new album 2032 with classics such as You Can’t Kill Me, Oily Way, Portal, Dynamite/I Am Your Animal and many more I’ve forgotten, all the while complemented by a backdrop of kaleidoscopic imagery taking in those Gong staples: flying teapots, disembodied eyes and cheese-based political statements. I’d have to concede some of the projections were more PowerPoint Pixies than Exploding Plastic Inevitable, though. But anyway, there was just enough time for a five minute jazz flute solo, before Allen re-emerged after a costume change for an extended encore of You Never Blow Your Trip Forever which left me grinning from ear to ear. And it’s not often you can say that.

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