Man’s Spunk Rock
Prog-rockers Man opened the show strong with a set that included their impressive twenty-two-minute jam “Spunk Rock.” The song features some incredible interstellar fretwork from Mickey Jones and Deke Leonard, the two guitarists seemingly engaged in some earth-shaking duel as their jagged riffs and razor-sharp leads intertwine like concertina wire. Drummer Terry Williams acts as both a referee and a cheerleader here, his steady, explosive drumbeats providing a constant barrage of rhythm and noise for the two six-string gladiators to build upon. The song’s ever-shifting time signatures, emotions and directions is enough to put many of today’s limp-wristed so-called “virtuoso” jam bands to shame.
“Angel Easy,” the other carryover from the original Truckers LP, is a shorter, more traditionally-structured rocker with distant vocals and a slightly funky rhythmic undercurrent. Whether it’s Leonard or Jones kicking in the notes here, the guitars set the pace for the song to rumble along like QMS on any given night at the Fillmore. The fourteen-minute “Bananas” sounds every bit like the band had been torching some peels on its way to the show, a mild hallucinogenic cloud settling over a rollicking pub-rock rhythm. The song extends for a whopping 14-plus, which lends itself to all sorts of cosmic abuse, lane changes, and slippery mountain curves. The set-closing “Romain” is pure electric booger-rawk, with long sweeping rhythms, bent-wire guitar tones and some of the most brilliantly bombastic drumming that you’ll ever hear.
Hawkwind’s Sonic Poetry
Even if many in attendance had brought their aviator helmets and flight jackets with them, nothing could have prepared them for the lightspeed, white lightning, brightly-flashing magic migraine that was Hawkwind in its prime. This is Lemmy the K era ‘wind, with wings of razor-sharp titanium and the most god-awful sonic roar heard this side of purgatorio. “You Shouldn’t Do That” starts with the sound of full-thrust afterburners and steadily climbs to a crescendo build upon shards of crystal riffage, claustrophobic drumbeats, and switchblade synthesizers. You didn’t have to be as high as a Greek god sitting in a stupor on Mount Olympus to enjoy this stuff, but it didn’t hurt any, either.
Not that the old Reverend would prescribe dangerous substances to his gentle readers, but as one who was around back in ‘72 and…ahem…as someone with a taste for various illicit mind-benders and cerebellum-snacks, Hawkwind was definitely playing my song. “The Awakening” is like falling headfirst into a shimmering puddle of quicksand, as slug-like, squiggly guitar lines and odd bodkins synth-squawks leave a slimy, colorful trail across your skullpan. “Master of the Universe” is a delightful proto-metal spacewalk with stunning fretwork, Lemmy’s incandescently heavy basslines, and steady backbreaking rhythms clearly spawning the entire glut of “New Wave of British Heavy Metal” bands that would stumble into the future from the Roundhouse’s doorstep that night.
Space Rock Pioneers
The band’s final tune here, the free-form “Brainstorm,” is a cosmic-orgy of massive proportions, a sheer lysergic-fueled attempt at traversing time and space, a mock-battle where no single instrument dominates, but rather they tend to all meld together into a singular noisy conglomeration of sound and fury. When a random guitar or voice does manage to break out of the musical miasma, it’s only to herd the listener back into the hive with electric cattle-prod efficiency. This is the kind of transcendent, out-of-control moment at which Hawkwind often excelled, and their attempt to rewrite the laws of physics that February night back in ‘72 is duly appreciated.
In the middle of the night, however, tucked between the two dynamic, prog-oriented monoliths, was Brinsley Schwarz (with a pre-cool Nick Lowe). The pub-rockers faced down a hostile crowd, winning them over with their exclusive blend of pre-No Depression twang-rock and blue-eyed soul. Whereas the previous two bands left the audience in awe of their mighty instrumental powers, the Brinsley boys pursued a vision of pure songcraft with actual melodies, choruses, and catchy hooks. “Country Girl,” one of the band’s signature songs, is a gently-rolling Byrdsian outtake with more keyboards and less 12-string, while “One More Day” is a playful mid-tempo country rocker that would have fit right in on any Uncle Tupelo album.
Brinsley Schwarz’s Pure Songcraft
The traditional “Midnight Train” is provided an appropriately raucous reading, with some crafty honky-tonk piano, twangy vocals, and South Nashville chicken-picking. The savvy “It’s Just My Way of Saying Thank You” offers whip-smart lyrics, strutting keyboard-led rhythms, and great live harmonies. A cover of Allen Toussaint’s New Orleans soul classic “Wonder Woman” offers a lively rhythmic soundtrack, Andrews’ finest Booker T-influenced pianowork, and some Steve Cropper-styled wiry fretwork. Brinsley Schwarz’s fourth album, 1972’s Silver Pistol, included two songs from obscure American folk-rock songwriter Jim Ford; one of those is performed here – the blues-tinged, countryish “I’m Ahead If I Can Quit While I’m Behind.”
Paradoxical title aside, the song is a freak-folk ballad featuring Schwarz’s finely-crafted guitarwork, mournful vocals, and weeping rhythms … a heartbreaking hillbilly lament if ever there was one. Lowe’s wonderful “Surrender To the Rhythm” is a fine example of what Brinsley Schwarz did best, a seamless fusion of Nashville-by-way-of-Camden-twang with a rolling R&B backbone, ‘60s-era pop aspirations and an “anything goes,” ‘70s rock mentality that lends a timeless quality to a relatively obscure but vastly underrated pub-rock genre.
The Reverend’s Bottom Line
Sadly, rather than closing on a high note with the delightful “Surrender To The Rhythm,” the second CD in this set instead crawls out on all fours with the atrocious hippie-cretin blathering of Magic Michael. The sort of free-spirited acid-casualty that the late ‘60s and early ‘70s spit out by the handful, Magic Michael haunted London’s rock underground like a drooling phantom, often gracing the stage during mid-band set changes, offering the audience the measure of his limitless lack of talent. Michael’s “Music Belongs To the People” is a mindless, improvised mess including members of the audience climbing onstage to “jam” alongside the magic one’s yelping vocals and cacophonic guitar strumming. This insipid, fetid chunk of stoner-era trash wouldn’t cut the mustard at the height of Flower Power’s drug-fueled insanity; in this day-and-age, it’s more painful than a botched root canal by a drunken dentist.
If this all sounds like an odd combination of music that I’ve described for you all well, yeah, it is. Any one of these three bands stands on its own, and all three are distinctly different in both style and ambition. That was the magic of the early ‘70s, however…long before corporate radio and major label homogenization lowered expectations across the board, young music fans had a gluttonous buffet of bands to choose from, and we often ate from the trough with glee. It was a high-flying time for “music-as-culture,” and art often times outweighed commerce. Although it’s unlikely that a performance of the diversity and scope of the Greasy Truckers Party concert could take place these days, the album represents more than a mere cultural artifact – Greasy Truckers Party also captures a magical night of music. (Liberty Records, released November 2, 2007)
Review originally published on the Trademark of Quality (TMQ) music blog, 2007
Buy the CD from Amazon.com: The Greasy Truckers Party