Live Reviews: Nik Turner

by Mitch Goldman

NIK TURNER'S SPACE RITUAL--VARIETY PLAYHOUSE, ATLANTA, GA 7/11/95

When Dave Brock formed the British progressive-rock outfit Hawkwind in 1969, it's doubtful he envisioned a career spanning two and a half decades. But 25 years after their eponymous debut album, Brock is still going strong with a new crew of Hawk-musicians. As further testiment to the staying power of this music, ex-Hawkwind singer/songwriter/flute-and-sax-player Nik Turner is currently touring the US with his second version of Space Ritual, a Hawkwind tribute that includes many HW classics as well as some of Nik's solo material.

Hawkwind's debut album in 1970 did little to hint at things to come; it's folky feel belies the spacey, bottom heavy jamming that came to full fruition on their sophomore effort IN SEARCH OF SPACE (1971). Hawkwind's synthesizer jams combined with a heavy approach to the bass and drums (HW's bassist in this era was Lemmy Kilmister, who went on to form the seminal heavy metal band Motorhead); imagine Pink Floyd and Grand Funk Railroad locked in a room together, and you'll get some idea of HW's sound. Their third album DOREMI FASO LATIDO (1972) represents the peak of classic HW and contains Nik's most famous HW composition "Brainstorm". DOREMI was followed by the double live lp SPACE RITUAL (1973, and one of the first double live albums of the 70's). The final two albums of the classic HW lineup followed...HALL OF THE MOUNTAIN GRILL (1974) and their finest moment, WARRIOR ON THE EDGE OF TIME (1975). After WARRIOR, Lemmy was thrown out of the band, and Nik only survived the lineup for one more release, 1976's ASTOUNDING SOUNDS, AMAZING MUSIC. Brock fired most of the HW personnel and moved on with a new sound and new members. Nik came back to HW in 1981, only to be fired again by Brock in 84. After several side projects and solo lp's, Nik gathered some key ex-HW members early last year for his "Hawkwind Experience" which this year is called NIK TURNER'S SPACE RITUAL.

Nik's outfit is backed by ex-HW members Alan Powell on drums and Del Dittmar on synths and axe handle (Del plays an axe hooked up to 70's synths...by pressing on the handle much the way you'd fret a guitar, Del is mysteriously able to generate spacy synth tones). Simon House, ex-keyboard player of HW, was supposed to be a part of Nik's band and open the show with his own band Spiral Realms, but visa problems have kept Simon out of the country for most of this tour. Also performing in Nik's Space Ritual are members of the prog band Pressurhed (including a second drummer, a bassist, and two guitarists).

In place of Spiral Realms, Del Dittmar performed a 20 minute opening set. After improvising synthesizer soundscapes and dealing with mulitple equipment problems, Del gave it up and shouted into Nik's mike "don't waste your stuff on electronic shit!" gesturing at his 70's synth set up (Del came out of a 20 year reclusive retirement last year to join Nik's tour...he hasn't updated a single aspect of his keyboard setup since 1974!).

Nik and company took the stage at 9:45 and tore through two hours of Hawkwind classics, some Pressurhed material, and one new song. A white screen behind the band was used to project films and lights which, conceptually, matched the lyrical content of the songs quite nicely (films of the ocean during "Dying Seas", etc). Nik took the stage dressed in a white suit that resembled a spacesuit; the space helmet he removed during the first tune certainly lended credence to that resemblance. Nik also had painted his face with silver metallic paint; though he seemed to be enjoying himself, there's something a little awkward about a 50 year old musician being that theatrical, especially in front of the paltry crowd of 120 of so rabid HW fans (the Variety Playhouse is WAY too big for this show!). The band had no problem getting into the spacy groove of classic HW; the guitarists were excellent, the twin drummers were reminiscent of the loose-yet-syncopated feel of original Mothers of Invention drummers Art Tripp and Jimmy Carl Black; and of course, Nik's flute and sax playing was brilliant and expressive throughout the set.

Show hightlights included the HW classics "Kadu Flyer", "Spiral Galaxy", "Opa;-Loka", and "High Rise" for which Nik left the stage. The expected show closers "Brainstorm" "Silver Machine" and "You Shouldn't Do That" achieved that classic rush (or the "whooooooooossssshhhh" as some call it) of early 70's Hawkwind. It's interesting to compare Nik's "You Shouldn't Do That" to the version that Brock's Hawkwind played on their recent tour. While HW pay only token obeisance to the tune, playing it for three minutes, Nik's outfit extend the jam to a full fifteen minutes, similar to the studio version on IN SEARCH OF SPACE. "Do That" is probably the quintessential HW space-rock tune; also the best example of space-rock by ANY band (not surprising, since HW pretty much single-handedly invented and sustaing the genre).

Despite the small crowd, Nik and co. played an excellent show that brilliantly evoked the feeling of progressive rock from the 70's while still somehow sounding current. While seeing Brock's Hawkwind feels like a more authentic, well-rounded experience, any fan of Nik or Hawkwind will not be disappointed by Nik's Space Ritual. Yeah, it's nostalgia, but it's fun...

SETLIST (9:45-11:47:)

Dream Worker
Watching The Grass Grow
Kadu Flyer
Master of the Universe
Spiral Galaxy
Lord of the Hornets
some Paul Fox tune????
Anubis Nights
Opa-Loka
Dying Seas
High Rise
Thoth
Countdown/Ejection
Pressurhed tune????
Orgone Accumulator
10 Seconds of Forever
Brainstorm

ENCORES:

Silver Machine
You Shouldn't Do That


Copyright 1995
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