Written by Arjun Ray
Did you find dinosaurs fascinating as a kid? Well let me tell you, there is nothing fucking wrong with liking dinosaurs, still, as a grown-ass adult. Gargantuan forces of nature that inspire fantasies of asteroid holocausts, the largest predators known to earth, and tiny, woefully meaningless forearms. How could such things ever become tiresome? So this is how we get to talking about Hawkwind, a veritable rip-roaring dinosaur of rock and roll. If you know who Hawkwind is, they require no introduction. If you don’t know Hawkwind, take a moment to consider their 40+ years of fractured existence.
Seated uncomfortably in the idyllic 60s, Hawkwind was perhaps a bit too freaky for the peace-loving hippies, and a bit to early for punk rock. They were the harbingers of space rock, conjuring up otherworldly imagery over progressive and psychedelic musical tendencies, while maintaining driving rhythm built from simple chords. These guys were playing back when chaotic forces still spewed molten rock’n’roll into the air that melted and reformed into vague stylistic masses. These formative periods, when the unholy marriage of distortion and electric instruments began to realize power, were full of glorious excesses and unchecked exploration. For Hawkwind this meant 10 minute songs, and multi-instrumental free jazz freak outs. To back up the music was the ubiquitous presence of drugs, and a particularly naked interpretive dancer with particularly pendulous breasts. They didn’t write cute little love songs, with perfectly subdued harmonies and subtle modal changes. These were songs of enormous scope and scale that remind us that before distillation, came saturation. Through their many changes, Hawkwind had shared members with many many bands, with a diaspora that famously led Lemmy (their guitarist) to form Motörhead.
One of the key members of Hawkwind was Nik Turner who was a saxophone frontman as well as a key songwriter. As the story goes, Nik was once exposed to free jazz in his youth, and has since been determined to bring free jazz to a rock context. Nik Turner will be playing this week at Dusk in Providence with his particular angle on the Hawkwind legacy. In fact, he has put out a number of singles recently that all deliver great, surprisingly aggressive music. On first listen, the singles are much more post-punk influenced than I would have expected. The songs maintain constant rhythmic tension and a slight edge reminiscent of…. hardcore punk? All in all, the songs are triumphant in form and execution. It’s not sitting on your ass music, and not the meditative flute solos one might expect from Mr. Turner. And then there are those gigantic, lumbering, monolithic vocals. One thing you will notice straight away is that the man has a goddamned voice. Comparisons can be made towards the vocals from the Moody Blues, or even various eras of Killing Joke. People just don’t sing like this anymore. Between the driving rhythms, sax and guitar/synths solos erupt at the exact same time, punting us right back into slightly insane 70s freak outs. If you have any vested interest in stoner rock/metal, progressive rock, psychedelia, or even punk rock, you should dig these bones while they are still alive and kicking. Besides, this might be the first time you and your dad (if you have a cool dad) might be able to rock out together. Ain’t a goddamned thing wrong with that.
Photo by Bob Doran
Playing before Nik Turner is Hedersleben from Germany. This instrumental band weaves undulating synth and guitar textures into acoustic fabric that slowly surrounds; the effect is enveloping, and over time, entrancing. Songs proceed forward without any return or repeat, evolving deliberately towards conclusion. The drums have a swinging jazzy quality yet remain subdued throughout, lending Hedesleben a somnolent character kind of like a sedative-injected Toe (Japanese band). In all of the songs, groove is central, and there is a subtle funk affectation without being overtly funky. It’s not a groove that makes you want to dance your ass off. Instead, it’s the cyclical groove of nodding off and coming to, filling your head with half-baked daydreams as you lapse and relapse into semi-consciousness. At times the band draws directly from 1970s progressive rock and in solid form, borrows instruments from the orchestra. The stark contrast between this band and Nik Turner feels right in a way; as if this band provides a meditative preparation to put the cacophonous explosion that follows into context.
Black Oil Incinerator
Lady Osiris and Black Oil Incinerator
I couldn’t find much about the two Providence bands that are opening for this show. As is the tendency of many Providence bands, both Black Oil Incinerator and Lady Osiris get a lot of play locally but they barely exist on the internet. From the three online videos of Black Oil Incinerator, I gleaned that they sometimes do high gain psychedelic metal, with a happy-sludge Torche type of sound, and at other times play straight up 90s era alternative rock with wah-distortion solos. In both cases, these guys seem to groove, but I could be wrong; it’s hard to make a real call from a youtube video or three! I couldn’t find a thing tom Lady Osiris so show-goers should keep their ears open for possibly, anything. The only info I could find for both bands were old show listings where they both played many of my favorite bands from vastly different genres. This outlines a beautiful thing about Providence: that every band plays with every other type of band. This show: case in point.