From Aural Innovations #18 (January 2002)
Strange Daze 2001 actually started a week earlier for me than its scheduled weekend in Cleveland, Ohio. Festival organizer Jim Lascko was touring the UK bands that had come over for some dates before and after the festival, and Mr Quimby's Beard and Harvey Bainbridge stopped here in Columbus on Sunday October 21st (Nik Turner joined the tour for some dates as well). On a personal level this was very exciting for me as Mr Quimby's Beard has been one of my favorite bands for a couple years now and keyboard player Hardy and I have communicated on a regular basis. Living only a couple miles from Little Brothers, the club where the bands were scheduled to perform, I invited the whole entourage to my home for a meal before the show, including Quarkspace who were the opening band. It was great getting to meet the Quimby clan informally and having a genuine Hawkwind alumni (Harvey) in my home was more than just icing on the cake. Deb whipped up her internationally famous (it is now anyway) fried chicken, potato salad and baked beans, and everybody chowed and drank beer. I mostly chatted with Hardy and Polly, the later being a member of that other great Sunderland space rock band, Afresco Mantis, and a friend of the Quimby's who came over to help them out on the tour. Polly has been writing reviews for Aural Innovations so I pulled out the latest batch of review CD's for him to gloss over and choose from.
After relaxing for a couple hours we made our way to Little Brothers for the bands to get set up. Quarkspace put on a very good show, playing a mixture of old favorites and songs from their newest CD, Drop. Harvey put on a show very similar to what he did at Strange Daze the year before. I can't imagine music more amenable to the Solar Fire Lightshow than Harvey's. His music is cosmically intense, especially when his vocals are included, using that dark monologing style of "singing" that he does. Jim Lascko had a new toy to add to his lightshow in the form of a green laser. It looked pretty cool in the club though I wouldn't fully appreciate it until the following week in the larger ballroom at the festival.
I'll talk more about Mr Quimby's Beard later when I get to their performance at Strange Daze. But suffice it to say I was as excited as a kid at a circus and the band did not disappoint. Not every band that releases great recorded music can pull it off live but these guys can do it in spades. But I knew they'd been working hard for months to prepare for this tour and were determined to deliver the goods. I was grooving hard to the music and the two hour performance went by in what seemed like minutes. The only drawback was that in true Columbus, Ohio fashion there were only 30 people that showed up, and several of them were co-workers that both me and Deb had talked into coming. Ah well... I got a thrill anyway.
On to the festival itself... For the past three years Strange Daze has been held outdoors at Nelson Ledges Quarry State Park located east of Cleveland. But because it was so expensive, and ATTENDANCE didn't justify continuing there, Jim Lascko moved the festival to a club in Cleveland called The Beachland Ballroom. I was a bit bummed at first because I had grown accustomed to the relaxed outdoor feel of the Ledges. But the Beachland turned out to be a fantastic venue. It's divided into two main areas, the larger ballroom and a smaller tavern with a small stage, tables and booths, and a bar. Given that we were spending so many hours in the venue, especially Saturday, I thought it worked well that we had to shift from time to time between the ballroom and tavern to see bands, the occasional moving around keeping us from getting tired or antsy.
The show wasn't scheduled to start until 7pm Friday, but me and Deb took the entire day off of work. Bonnie Kane of World Of Tomorrow had arranged a group rate for festival attendees at a nearby Days Inn and we set out from Columbus to Cleveland in the morning. It's barely a 3 hour drive but we wanted to get there with plenty of time to relax and scope out the Beachland prior to the show. We hooked up with Keith Henderson at the hotel who decided to ride with us. Getting to the venue an hour early, we secured our tickets and started scoping the place out. One of the first friends we spotted was Karen Kusic who had traveled from Wisconsin, and the four of us went over to the tavern to get situated for the first band, Drumplay.
I've seen Drumplay a few times before, their best performance still being when they opened for Gong at the Odeon in 1999. But this was one of their more interesting shows, particularly due to the addition of a poet named Daniel Thompson. Thompson's spoken word delivery matched Drumplay's music perfectly and I think I tuned into it because he reminded me so much of Rotcod Zzaj. The band consisted of 3 percussionists plus a kit drummer, though James Onysko doubled on vibes. The band have a tribal sound that is often jazzy, and if you listen to their CD's you'll hear music that is more overtly in the jazz realm. An enjoyable performance. You can visit the Drumplay web site at http://www.drumplay.com/.
Next we headed over to the ballroom where Einsteins Secret Orchestra was schedule to play. I'd first seen this band at last year's Strange Daze and really like them. The band have two CD's out, both very different from one another. The first is definitely in the space realm while the second is more song oriented and less overtly spacey, though it's definitely out there. I like them a lot. Their performance, like last year, consisted mostly of songs from the second album, and they opened with "Sex In Another Dimension", one of my favorites from the album of the same name. The instrumentation consists of two guitars, keyboards, bass, drums, and violin. Overall ESO showed themselves to be a solid rock band with a semi-spacey edge.
Next it was back to the Tavern for America's oldest space rock band, Alien Planetscapes. The last time I saw Alien Planetscapes perform was at the Quarkstock 2000 Space Rock & Avant-Prog Festival here in Columbus when they were a mostly electronic duo of Doug Walker and Rich Orlando. For Strange Daze Doug had once again assembled a full band Alien Planetscapes, an ensemble that ROCKED the house and left a trail of smoke behind them. Rich Orlando and Josh Gazes handled dual guitars, with Orlando handling most of the smokin lead work. Chris Altenhoff on bass and Matthew Block on drums were a potent rhythm section. And Doug handled the synths, later joined by guest, and former A.P. member Carl "Nomuzic" Howard on synths. The result was a set of absolutely kick ass heavy space rock. In fact, the band were so tight I didn't know until talking to Doug some weeks later that it was all improvised. Richie kicked out some jamming leads and all throughout you could feel the jazzy undertones lying just below the surface. A killer set that left the crowd more than satisfied. See reviews this issue of recent Alien Planetscapes CD releases.
After A.P. it was back to the ballroom for Speaker\Cranker, a Cleveland band who play classic jamming Krautrock styled space. I've seen them a couple times before and have been impressed on each occasion. You can visit the Speaker\Cranker web site at http://www.speakercranker.com/. After Speaker\Cranker we strolled yet again back to the tavern for World Of Tomorrow, another band making a return visit from last year. World Of Tomorrow are a horn driven band that play a freeform style of jazz that includes heavily spaced effects. It does my heart good to see bands like this booked at a space rock festival and I applaud Jim Lascko for recognizing the relationship between space rock and jazz. If you don't believe me check out their just released third CD (reviewed this issue). You can visit the World Of Tomorrow web site at http://www.wooweb.com/.
After World Of Tomorrow we followed the now well worn path back to the ballroom for the Friday headliner, Nik Turner. Nik's band for this tour consisted of several Chicago area musicians, though Doug Walker from Alien Planetscapes sat in on synths for the set this night. What can I say? Nik is always fun and his set consisted of all the songs you'd expect to hear from the Hawkwind/ICU catalog. Watching The Grass Grow, Space Invaders, Lord Of The Hornets, Master Of The Universe, Ejection, Brainstorm, Shouldn't Do That, The Right Stuff, and plenty more. Nik rocked, everyone loved it, and it was a rousing end to the first night of the festival. Nik has his own web site now too which you can visit at http://www.nikturner.com/.
I'll confess that 2am is well past this old 8-5er's bed time these days so when we got back to the hotel the pillow was looking mighty inviting. And sleep I did because we had a long day ahead of us on Saturday. The music was scheduled to begin at 2:30pm and we arrived nearly an hour early to get a nice seat in the tavern as the first four bands in a row would be performing there. As soon as I walked in the bar I recognized Rick Ray, who was to be third on the schedule. I had just finished writing an extensive review/interview article with Rick and was fired up to see him perform, so I went over to introduce myself and chat for a couple minutes. Then we ordered some lunch, which was a smart more because later that night the Beachland would run out of food!
Very few people had showed up when the first band, Willy Mac, took the stage. I wasn't quite sure what to make of these guys. They struck me as a good-time Grateful Dead type bar band. Lots of songs along the lines of New Riders Of The Purple Sage and stuff like that. I was just waiting in anticipation for the next band Heavy Liquid, a New Jersey trio that play some of the most kick ass heavy stoner psych rock ‘n roll I've heard in the past couple years. I'd never seen pictures of them but it turned out they were in the tavern when I heard someone say my name and it turned out to be bass player Jay Liquid. Jay pointed me toward guitarist Trezz and I went over to say hello and chat for a bit.
By the time Heavy Liquid came out there was more of a crowd in the tavern, which made me happy because these guys had traveled from New Jersey for the show and deserved the opportunity to turn on some new fans. To this point I had only heard three of their songs that are available on the CDEP they have out, but these tracks are so strong that I knew they would be a potent live band. They quickly caught the audiences' attention opening up with a down and dirty cover of "Master Of The Universe". Heavy Liquid play it rough and raw, with full in-yer-face guitar from Trezz, and I'd describe it as early 70's Hawkwind meets Iggy and the Stooges meets MC5. ROCKIN! They did a killer version of their song "Crawlspace" from their CDEP, and another cover tune was UFO's "Prince Kajuku". It's always exciting when you're fired up to see a band live and they exceed your expectations. You can visit the Heavy Liquid web site at http://www.stonerrock.com/heavyliquid/.
And speaking of exceeding expectations, Rick Ray left many a jaw on the floor with his killer mixture of 70's heavy rock and prog. What left the audiences so stunned was Rick's guitar playing. The guy is absolutely phenomenal and it was blowing my mind that I was watching him do his guitar pyrotechnics in the intimate atmosphere that the Beachland tavern provided. With a lineup up of guitar, bass, drums, and the magical Rick Schultz on clarinet, the band ran through a set that included tracks from Rick's enormous catalog, as well as killer covers of Robin Trower's "Too Rolling Stoned", and "Fanfare For The Common Man". One of my favorite songs was "Taken Control" from the Guitarsenal CD, which gave audiences a taste of the patented Rick/Rick guitar/clarinet duels, and was embellished by some cool spacey electronics. For a more detailed discussion of Rick's music see my review of his newest CD in this issue and my in depth profile and interview last issue. You can visit Rick Ray's web site at http://communities.msn.com/GuitaristRickRay.
Next up was Red Giant, a grungy stoner metal band with screaming vocals that I felt was way too loud for the tavern. The band was actually pretty tight and the playing very good, but the music was just a bit too angry for my tastes. They did, however, do an excellent metallic cover of Iggy Pop's "I Wanna Be Your Dog". Next we made our first trip of the day over to the ballroom to see Nucleon. Along the way I had to juice up the battery on my digital camera so I plugged in near Mr Quimby's Beard's merchandise table and chatted for a few minutes. The World Of Tomorrow and JFK Jr Royal Airforce folks had a table next to them and Bonnie Kane gave me copies of the new World Of Tomorrow and Friends Of Mescalito CD's (see reviews of both this issue). Settling ourselves down in the ballroom Nucleon took the stage with an impressive set of their heavy stoner space metal. This was two heavy bands in a row and my head was swelling, but while Red Giant plays the angry stuff, Nucleon's music, despite the aggression, is much friendlier, and offers much more for the space rock crowd. I'd seen the band a few times before and liked them well enough but this performance was the best yet. You can visit the Nucleon web site at http://nucleon.cjb.net/.
After Nucleon I about fell over myself to get back to the tavern because one of the bands I was most excited about seeing this weekend, JFK Jr Royal Airforce, was scheduled next. JFK Jr includes Billy Syndrome on guitar (see reviews of his solo CD's this issue), Evil Jim Friendly on bass (also a longtime Syndrome cohort), Scott Prato from World Of Tomorrow and Friends Of Mescalito on guitar, Cliff Ferdon of World Of Tomorrow on drums, and newest member Louis Boone (x-Born To Go, Alien Planetscapes, Land Of Guilt + Blarney) on synths. If you like your space rock raw, dirty, and with a healthy dose of garage psych, then this is the band for you and in live performance they were as good as I could have hoped for. The audience was treated to slow Amon Düül II type jams with a garage edge, kick ass rock ‘n roll, and even did a cover of an old West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band song (can't remember the title). JFK Jr have one full length CD out, a more recent CDEP, and should have their second full length out very soon. You can visit JFK Jr Royal Airforce at the Slutfish Records web site at http://www.slutfishrecords.com/.
Next it was back to the ballroom for Harvey Bainbridge's set. He pretty much did what I'd seen the week before, the main difference being that it was much more powerful in the large ballroom, plus Nik Turner joined him for some songs. After that Quarkspace was scheduled in the tavern, but me and Deb had been going since early afternoon and decided to keep our places in the ballroom in anticipation of Mr Quimby's Beard. I heard Quarkspace put on a marvelous set and I'm sorry I missed it. But I knew I would be seeing them again in a few weeks here in Columbus so I'll digress from the festival for a moment and say a few words about that show.
Playing at Ruby's Tuesdays, a Ohio State University campus area club, Quarkspace had billed this as their "farewell show", which they really meant as their farewell to live performance. Rich Orlando, guitarist with Alien Planetscapes and his own solo electronic project, Ethereal, came from new York City for the show, and Carl Howard, late of Born To Go, Alien Planetscapes, and numerous of his own "Nomuzic" recordings, and recently located to central Ohio, came as well with his synths. The result was a fantastic show including songs from all phases of Quarkspace's career. Rich Orlando, Carl Howard, and other guests joined the band on stage at various points during the nearly four hour set, which also included a few cover tunes. "Quark, Strangeness And Charm" was one and featured a rare vocal appearance by Paul Williams. Quarkspace brought up Carl "make the swirly noises" Howard up for a cover of Traffic's "Low Spark High Heeled Boy", which ended up being one of my most memorable space rock moments of 2001. I just can't adequately describe how that song sounded with the added Nomuzic embellishments. You had to be there. And for a finale the band got nearly a dozen people on stage for a cover of Neil Young's "Down By The River", performed in Last Waltz style. I was teasing Paul Williams saying this would be a Who styled farewell, but if this really is the end then space rock is losing one of its truly magical live ensembles. You can visit the Quarkspace web site at http://quarkspace.com.
So... back to Strange Daze and the headliner of the evening, Mr Quimby's Beard. Seeing the band for the first time and hearing them in a small club the week before in Columbus was exciting, but nothing could prepare me for the power of their performance in the Beachland Ballroom, a venue much better suited (in size, atmosphere, and sound) for this music in live performance. And of course the Solar Fire Lightshow serves a far better role as a visual supplement to the music in the larger hall as well.
I've described Mr Quimby's Beard as a cross between Hawkwind and Pink Floyd, though having been listening to their music in depth for so long now I can tell you that despite the obvious analogies the band have a distinct voice. The music is dark, but majestic, and powerfully intense. And on this night I realized why I've been so excited about this band for over two years now. From start to finish they were in top form and there were enough people crowding the front of the stage digging it all to keep the band members inspired. They played nearly all the songs I could have hoped for... "Darkness", "Mystery", "Nebulae", and "Beyond The Light", all from The Definitive Unsolved Mysteries Of album, "Travelling" and "Bringing Up The Acid" from Out There, the absolutely PHENOMENAL "Marijuana Nightmare", and what seemed like nearly 30 minutes of new music. ("The Forest Song" was scheduled but apparently never made any of the shows this tour.) "Beyond The Light" was an excellent choice for an encore, and the band brought up Nik and Harvey for a rousing cover of Hawkwind's "7x7". If you're a space rock fan then Mr Quimby's Beard's recordings are (in this fans opinion) about as MUST-HAVE as any band can get. Hell, even Keith - a far sterner critic than myself - said he thought they were the best headliner he's seen at Strange Daze yet! You can visit the Mr Quimby's Beard web site at http://www.btinternet.com/~freakyfungi/.
Unfortunately a brief chat with Jim Lascko that evening revealed attendance to be far lower than the previous night. Don't get me wrong... I love seeing Nik Turner and hearing those great old songs. But why... why... why... would so many people come Friday evening for Nik and pass up the entire next day of stunning music??? And the fact that the festival was inside Cleveland means that nearly all of those people were locals who just didn't show for the second day. I mean, I can't imagine anyone having traveled any distance just for Friday. Anyway, venting about these things is appropriate because we've got people like Jim Lascko willing to make this festival happen, and a fantastic festival he organized indeed, so..... anyway, you get the picture.
And so ended another great Strange Daze weekend. Nothing feels better than spending two days hearing great music among people who share your passion for it. For more information about the Strange Daze festival and the Solar Fire Lightshow you can visit the Strange Trips web site at: http://www.strange-trips.com.