Something Else! Review – Steve Hillage Band – Live at Gong Family Unconvention, Amsterdam

by Nick DeRiso

Even as Steve Hillage paid tribute to the psychedelic rock band Gong in 2006 at the Melkweg in Amsterdam, he also took a lengthy look back at his own underrated solo work from the 1970s.

Live at Gong Family Unconvention, Amsterdam, due in both CD and DVD formats on September 10, 2012, from Gonzo MultiMedia, focuses on the latter — as the Steve Hillage Band, which hadn’t appeared on together in some 25 years, performed tracks from 1975′s Fish Rising, 1976′s L, 1977′s Motivation Radio, and 1983′s For To Next.

What those solo albums did, this live set makes clear, is point the way for Hillage’s transition from volcanically inventive guitar player to a quirk-filled innovator behind the boards. Before he would go on to work as a producer (Simple Minds, the Charlatans, Murray Head and Robyn Hitchcock) and then architect of ambient techno (System 7), Hillage would issue a series of recordings that focused more on imaginative band interplay and textured arrangements.

The guitar work is often a long time coming, though when it finally arrives, there are these pupil-dilating outbursts of kaleidoscopic sounds — each of them their own undeniably persuasive argument for a long-awaited return to Hillage band projects.

Hillage, a member of Gong from 1973-75 before going solo, is joined here by longtime writing partner, keyboard player and vocalist Miquette Giraudy; former Gong sideman Mike Howlett (also bassist on Fish Rising); and Chris Taylor, who began playing drums with Gong in the 1990s.

Their set begins, as it perhaps must, with trippy dash through Motivation Radio’s “Hello Dawn” — with its signature bliss-rock line “Goodbye to old! Hello to the new … dimension!,” and a concluding guitar solo that sounds like re-entering too steeply from deep space — before Hillage and Co. catch a muscular power-pop groove on George Harrison’s “All Too Much,” originally covered on the Todd Rundgren-produced L.

Next, comes a trio of tracks from Fish Rising, perhaps Hillage’s deepest journey into cosmic trancery — beginning with “Aftaglid,” then “Solar Musick Suite,” a title that screams 1970s prog-rock, if ever there was one; and finally “The Salmon Song.” The main set concludes with For to Next’s “These Uncharted Lands,” which before this 2006 show had never been played live.

The expanded audio CD also includes four bonus tracks, three of which come from a 1979 show also featuring Giraudy: “Palm Trees,” “Unzipping the Zype,” and “Healing Feeling.” The final track is a separate take on “Solar Musick Suite,” this time from 1974, and also featuring Howlett on bass. The DVD has an interesting interview with Hillage and Giraudy, as well.

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