From Aural Innovations #11 (July 2000)
Well, I never imagined that this would happen! A two-day eight-band Space Rock festival held in my own hometown? Crazy thought! Something MUST be different in the new millenium for this to have materialized. So no complaints from me anymore about nuttin' to do in Cow-lumbus! And a quick flip through the local entertainment weekly surprised me with the amazing number of other events going on here in central Ohio that same Memorial Day weekend. Local hero Jack Nicklaus hosted his big golf tourney up in Dublin (Tiger won, of course), the Rhythm 'n' Food fest filled some downtown streets, the Hyatt hosted the Sci-Fi geeks at the midwest MARCON thingy, a big Asian festival was going on here somewhere in the area, a local deadheadretread band (and Bob Weir himself) attracted a whole slew of riff-raff out east in a big aromatic field, and I think there was some auto show going on as well. The cool thing was that only the hundred or so of us that wound through the narrow streets of the OSU campus slums to find Ruby's actually enjoyed our weekend without getting unceremoniously dumped upon. Oh, just us and the D&D lot downtown. Sci-Fi and SpaceRock Geekdom payed off this time in the dryness category!
Being rather friendly with the hosts, that being the Columbus-based Quarkspace combo, Jerry and I were greeted cheerfully by Doorman P.W. Dood, head Quark, and were ushered in as guests. In the end, though, I figured I should actually pay the admission fee given that, save a last-minute campus-area flyer spree and my normal mode of internet spamming, Jerry did all the promotional work from the A-I perspective. And the $20 entrance fee was the best deal anyone could offer, especially given that I didn't have to burn a drop of gasoline to get there. And today, that's a big factor with Ohio gas prices in the $2 a gallon range.
For those of you wondering, Columbus' Ruby Tuesday's is *not* part of the regional chain of suburban-sprawl eateries of the same name, but rather a rustic, neighborhood bar on a residential street in north Columbus. In fact, if it weren't for the neon beer signs in the window, you'd hardly know that this enormous 1930-something (?) house was a rock 'n' suds venue. Just ask Jerry... he's driven past the place and gone on for miles...repeatedly. The main floor of the establishment is neatly divided into two halves, one the stage, seating, and sound/lights booth, the other half housing the well-stocked bar (downright bargain prices!) and another open floor area in view of the stage, a pair of pool tables over on the far side. One of these was taken out of commission and utilized as a merchandising center. In one sense, the place was perfect - the friendly, cozy atmosphere of the place rather endearing, and also the available seating just about right for fitting everyone in comfortably. On the other hand, this is more-or-less a campus bar that makes its earnings based on alcohol sales to those youngsters pre-disposed to over-consumption. And this oddly hippy-ish, but studious, crowd of mostly non-Ohioans was not really the binging type. Except me. And given the cheap (import!) suds and no end of accessible cash due to my little CD sales booth next to the bands' table, I could afford it. Financially-speaking, anyway.
The show was scheduled to kick off at 6 PM on Saturday, and I could feel the breeze as Stagemaster Chet zipped back and fourth across the club nervously, until around quarter to seven when Indiana's Tombstone Valentine gradually morphed from soundcheck to performance mode. The inaugural Quarkstock was off and running! TV's sound is a throw-back in some ways to 1970s Munich Germany, where a melting pot of folk, world music and psychedelia abounded. With only hand percussion for beat, the Valentines ease into a steady groove to balance a flavorful mix of lead voices, including Richelle Toombs' enchanting voice and occasional entries to the forefront by guitar, violin, and theremin. Diane Hancock's keyboard textures and Rick Wilkerson's bass fill out the ensemble in a pleasant (while unexcited) fashion, supporting the underbelly to this brand of 'psychedelic chamber music.' And of course, the man responsible for bringing TV to our attention here at AI, Sir Douglas Walker joined the group on flute for a great deal of the set. Despite having a full-length CD release (similar to, but somewhat different from, an LP release of the same title and artwork), much of what they played this night was new material (to me at least). I did remember the non-album "Mississippi" track from last year's Strange Daze, and the "Tick Tock" number seemed familiar. But there's always something special about hearing a piece you've already become attached to, and so the performances of "Green Sky Night" and the title track to 'Hidden World' were the highlights for me. Tombstone Valentine were a perfect opener for Quarkstock 2K, an inspiring performance that gave us all an early indication that the 'little festival that could' was going to make it after all.
Between sets, the event's MC Thom 'the World Poet' Woodruff took the stage to entertain the troops just as he does every year at the Strange Daze festivals in northeast Ohio. Thom, a native Australian but resident of Texas these days, is quite a character as many of you know (also 'cause he's oft been affiliated with various Gong incarnations). I couldn't begin to tell you all the interesting little tidbits Thom offered over the two days, but suffice it to say he was in rare form, the indoor venue providing him quite a bit more connection to the audience at hand than the spacious surroundings of the Ledges. He presided over at least two separate periods of 'open stage' at the mic, where he persuaded unsuspecting folks to improvise their own little compositions, some of which were quite insightful themselves! Almost practiced. Always willing to take a suggestion and run with it, others offered peculiar items that they had brought along and these he auctioned off to audience members in his own patented way. (I know…I once won a CD this way.) Thom is the rare individual that tires you out with his mile-a-minute witticisms and non-stop rapping, though instead of his personality wearing on your patience he actually seems more likeable every time you meet up with him. His spirit and that of the festival were one and the same.
Maryland's Dark Aether Project was one of only two bands I hadn't already seen. I had borrowed a copy of their first album about six months ago to check out, and liked what I'd heard. After their first self-titled album, the original trio added ex-Echolyn vocalist Ray Weston and the still-young group seems to be continually gaining confidence as a live act. Instrumentally, DAP comes across much like a classic progressive rock band though many of their songs have a 'loopy' feel such that a description of 'King Crimson covering Ashra' gets you pretty close to their sound. Tracks like "Nightmare" even have a tribal feel to them. Adam Levin is the group's most visible instrumentalist, deftly handling the strange-looking 8-string Warr guitar, that if you close your eyes is indistinguishable (to me anyway) from the Chapman Stick. Weston at times played the more traditional bass guitar, and Steev Geest traded licks with Levin on his 6-stringer. DAP were at their best when they mixed atmosphere with intricate playing as on their moody signature track, "Dark Aether," which they segued into an interesting rendition of Pink Floyd's classic "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun." (Good thing they didn't choose "Echoes.") I picked up both their CDs later that night and really like what they're doing.
I had seen Architectural Metaphor on two previous occasions, dating back to their opening slot at Toads in New Haven CT on the Hawkwind '95 tour. I admit to being less than overwhelmed with their performance on that night, but in years' since, I've grown to admire at least the unique brooding flavor of their music, and marvel at the arsenal of gadgetry that Paul Eggleston and Greg Kozlowski have amassed. And on this night…Wow! I must admit that I haven't ever heard that many different cosmic sounds packed into 90 minutes of music ever before. This was an ArcMet I hadn't ever seen before. I'm pretty familiar with their two albums and was wondering why I didn't recognize many of their tunes, but then when I saw the setlist Paul E. sent me, I understood. It wasn't until "Echoes" that I thought to myself, "Well, I know this!" But even then it was a few minutes until I realized, "Ah hell, this is Pink Floyd, fer chrissakes!" But what an outstanding reading it was. Kozlowski's guitar playing here was as spaced-out as space can be…an excellent choice. Their Tangerine Dream cover ("Richochet") I didn't recognize as such (one of the few krautrock artists that I haven't fallen mightily for), but I instantly caught onto my favorite original ArcMet tune, "Kairos." Really more like two tunes in one, the introductory ambient/space phase was longer here than ever before (seemed like 10 minutes), and a joy to hear. "Creature," one of their more gothic-flavored songs, is perhaps my favorite of their vocal tunes, and Deb Young's voice is always nice to hear. In fact, it seemed she sang too little this night. Though because I thought her drumming was stronger here than ever before, that added even more to my enjoyment of the set. When they finally wrapped up with the brief "Welcome to the Future" routine of Hawkwind's Bob Calvert, it seemed (based on the raucous applause) that everyone in the house was as blown away as I was by ArcMet's performance. A big highlight of the weekend, undoubtedly.
So now the festival hosts got their chance to play to their hometown crowd (oh wait, most of the crowd was from out-of-state). Of course, being a Columbusite, I've been fortunate to see Quarkspace at least a dozen times over the past few years, so I usually know what to expect from this lot. But like most bands on this night, they came forth with a few surprises. The opener, "Starbridge Freaks" wasn't a surprise, and I find myself grooving to this number more each time, as they seemingly turn it into a rocker little by little each time out. But unprecedented was the "performance art" of drummer Paul Williams to follow, playfully exchanging lots of cables and tossing around various electronic devices, while the other band members provided impromptu accompaniment. All kidding aside, they quickly got back to work and gave us cool versions of "Voyage" from 'Spacefolds 5,' and one of my favorites, "The Circle." You can't mention that tune without adding 'the lost track from Pink Floyd's 'Obscured by Clouds''….I think every review I've read of 'The Hidden Moon' says that. But whatever you want to say about Chet's little tune, it's a great original song and I want to hear it each time. The night's finale was a lengthy cover of CSNY's "Ohio," commemorating the events of 30 years ago at Kent State, just two hours' drive from here. Bassist/Vocalist Chet Santia wants to make sure nobody forgets. Most of the folks in the audience were old enough to remember for themselves, and were glad to hear it. With the later-than-planned start, Quarkspace's set was unusually short, but as enjoyable as ever. And it didn't take long after the 2:15 AM powerdown for the club's bartenders to begin to shoo the patronage from the establishment. And given their usual clientele, they didn't have any qualms about being direct - offering such delicate remarks as "Get Out!"
All the best intentions for keeping to the printed schedule on Sunday were shot when we learned that the club didn't open its doors until 5 PM, one hour past when the first act was to hit the stage. Still, once things got rolling on Saturday, the set changes were made very efficiently and so confidence was high that all the acts would get their allotted time on Sunday as well. And in the end, it worked out fine. NYC's Escapade are a five-piece all-improvisational unit that I was excited to see for the first time, having enjoyed listening to their CDs over the years. Because they'd housed themselves (and their equipment) at Jerry's place overnight, I was able to chat for awhile with them (the ones that were awake, anyway) before the show. Drummer Hadley Kahn recounted the story of how he came upon his psychedelic cherry red drumkit and how lucky he felt to have them because of their intense sound. Well, I was happy to hear them first hand. For a little guy, he pounds the heck out of them, though instead of becoming overly loud and intrusive, the drums just sound more powerful and full. Throughout the performance, the quintet deftly built the energy level up and down relying on the telepathic ability of Kahn and bassist Russell Giffen to synchronize their movements. Guitarist Paul Casanova (doubling on various electronic gadgets) and keyboardist/knob-twiddler John Ortega provided the freak-out element and never seemed to want for an idea of what to play. As the clock was running down and Chet was lining up the next act around the corner, Thom stepped up to the mic and rambled off yet another inspired bit of poetry as the musicnauts adjusted and then landed their spacecraft. We got the impression that Escapade would play all night if no one had stepped in to direct them home - I think I coulda listened to a few more hours. Theirs was an inspiring performance that listening to Escapade on disc doesn't truly prepare you for. Hearing it as it's being created is on a whole other level.
About four years ago, the band French TV had tried their own little festival of this sort back in their hometown of Louisville KY, which they called the Eclectic Electric Event or something. No doubt they suffered through the same reactions of indifference and blank stares upon the faces of the local media that is common with such uncool propositions, and very likely took a big financial loss. Well, at least I had a fun time there (oddly enough, it was the first time I saw Quarkspace play) and discovered an excellent CD shop nearby. Undoubtedly, French TV most often get compared to Frank Zappa (or certainly 'Canterbury' artists), given their propensity for writing complex tunes, but always with a sense of crazy fun. They didn't play anything from the one album I have (III), so it was all new to me on this night. The band also suffered through a major technical difficulty (or two) which they endured gracefully, and eventually persevered. I really enjoyed their EEE set when they were more in their element, both geographically and musically. Unfortunately, I was a bit preoccupied with 'business' for a certain amount of their QS2K set, so I don't think I can paint a complete picture for you. But considering the effort it took to get the whole band together (one member lives in New York, another way out west I think), I thought it was extra special for Mike Sary et al. to support QS2K by agreeing to perform for us. French TV debuted two new tracks "Viable Tissue Matter" and "That Thing On The Wall," and as a closer played (by request) "Mail Order Quarks." An appropriate tune, I must say.
Born to Go is the kind of group I'm always in the mood for….space rock with balls. I don't think there was any way BTG were going to outdo their impromptu headlining performance at Strange Daze '99, but they were entertaining nonetheless. Both synth wizards (No-Muzik and Professor Electron) were in the house once again, so it was extra-spacey. But it's the rumbly blanga tunes that I expect to hear from these guys, and they cranked through "Navigator," "Kamikaze Bat," and of course, "Meet the Blanga." As always, bassist/vocalist Marc Power added his colorful commentary to each track, and for the first time I got to see their collection of robots in action. Normally, this takes place during "Robots on the Rise" but they chose a different tune this time (can't even remember which one). I do remember that "Trepanation" was late in the set (perhaps that was the one?) with its obvious chorus of "Like I need a hole in the head." Anyway, the robots performed on cue even though some were already zapped of power from over-use. Oh well, no Robot Revolution quite yet! Now if only Born to Go would get off their lazy asses and put out a CD, more people would actually know how good a space rock act they are! Not just us obscure festival-goers.
NYC's Alien Planetscapes have been around since 1980 or so, and although I'm most familiar with the four- or five-piece space rock unit of the past four years or so, "Dr. Synth" Doug Walker has fronted many different permutations over the past two decades. With some members dropping off the Planetscape due to various reasons, Doug decided to call up Richard Orlando, a guitarist/synth-player he'd worked with in the past. Together, they composed an entirely new ~75-minute suite of space music inspired by the Red Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson, and their QS2K performance was its stage debut. The AP duo had no problem filling up the Ruby's stage with gear, and soon an orchestra-full of cosmic sounds were expelled from the speakers as if from Olympus Mons itself. Frankly, it was a little weird to have this highly experimental music follow the bombastic rock of Born to Go, but then I think the schedule was set up before the 'new AP' was unveiled. I admit to having gotten a bit worked up and ready for some more 'bombast' that we would've heard from the 'old' AP. However I did catch right onto Orlando's fabulous guitar work, and wondered how he managed to produce that 'dampened' sound that made it seem like his amp was actually behind the back wall. Despite that lack of aural prominence in the mix, his soaring solos jumped right out at me and together with Dr. Synth's sonic extravaganza (and his always-spot on flute-playing), there was a lot of cool stuff to absorb. I'm just gonna need to chill out on the couch with a copy of the CD (when it's done…and it better be soon!) and let it soak in a lot better in that environment. Or perhaps just ask Philip Dick to implant the memory of hearing it into my mind.
Well, that's it folks! What a great event it was…all the bands performed fabulously and the event was run very professionally and timely. Jim Lascko's Solar Fire crew, of course, provided the lightshow for all eight artists and they did their usual outstanding job. Extra cool was a special Quarkstock 2000 projection wheel that someone had made. I'm sorry that the lightshow doesn't really show up on Deb's (otherwise excellent) photos, but chances are good you've seen Solar Fire's work or something similar, so just imagine seeing all sorts of cool space stills and rotating psychedelic patterns. Or maybe you see those as a matter of course already! Luckily, I had a full day (the Memorial Day holiday) to recuperate before rejoining the real world…of course, I spent some of it shopping for more CDs. I think everyone in attendance agreed that it was an excellent event and we all hope that it might happen again. But of course, it's expensive to round up this many topnotch groups into any one spot, so even with a massive promotional effort, the festival mainly drew just those who would've known about it anyway. However, a few curious locals (some unsuspecting they were even attending a space-rock fest) caught on to what was going on, and the operators of a local gallery/performance-space club appear to be really interested in hosting some of this kind of music later this year in downtown Columbus. Every little bit helps! I urge you to support these non-corporate fests in your town. I'm sure your local 'shed' venue (what I refer to now as a 'Buffett Hut') was offering the Styx reunion show or something, brought to you by Budweiser ®…resist the temptation!
1. Opening Jam
2. Solvent City
5. Sleepy Sun
c. Tick Tock
7. Green Sky Night
9. Hidden World
Dark Aether Project:
1. Spontaneous loop improv
3. Burnt Sunrise
5. Wrong Address
6. Drive Time
7. Out of my Head
9. Feed the Silence
10a. Dark Aether
b. Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun (w/ Chet)
3. The Maker
4. Sur le Tour
6. Temple Song
8. Untitled New Song
11. Welcome to the Future
1. Starbridge Freaks
2. "Paul Didn't Hook His Shit Up Properly" Space
4. Cliffs of Norway
5. The Circle
6. Blanket Hill (with Doug and Thom)
90 minutes of inspired improvisations, which shall remain untitled.
1a. And The Dead Dog Lept Up And Flew Around The Room
b. The Ancient, drum solo
2. Under The Big 'W'
3. The Souls Of The Damned Live In Failed Works
4. Improv/Viable Tissue Matter
5. The Secret Life Of Walter Riddle
6. Improv/That Thing On The Wall
7. Mail Order Quarks
Born To Go:
Meet the Blanga
1a. The Journey Out
b. John Boone
c. Red Anne
d. Life in Crater City
3a. The Cable
d. Martian Revolution