Radio Massacre Internationallive at
The Gatherings Concert Series
16 November 2002
St. Mary's Hamilton Village
Review: Radio Massacre International Gatherings
I had a great time at the RMI Gathering Saturday night, and a unique evening it was. As my date & I drove down the PA Turnpike to Philadelphia, the rain just got harder & harder. The drive was a crawl once we hit Philly, but we eventually found a good parking spot & ran through an amazingly cold, heavy downpour to the warm, dry confines of St. Mary's church. And what warmer sight could there be but that girl with the big smile behind the table! She's back! I sure missed her at the last Gathering I was at! I really should talk to her more (she is just soooo nice), but we were running late, and huffed it to get to a decent spot, right next to Art.
After a late start, Radio Massacre International finally took the stage, and the show began with a somewhat subdued beginning. It took a while for much to get going for me; the first set just didn't gel for me somehow for quite a while. I was expecting a lot of the bizarre stuff that I had heard from them on the radio show, but they went for a more minimalist beginning. After the first piece came to an end, there was massive applause, and some nice welcoming words from the band. I eventually drifted off on the next improvisation, and after being in that state of mind between awake & not quite asleep, I opened up my eyes to that dreamy sight of the two on keyboards, the guitarist adding some bits, and the sequencer's lights skipping away in center stage, bathed in orange.
I was particuarly struck by the guitarist (Gary) working in a way that I've rarely heard in concert; there was a definite progressive rock influence, almost David Gilmour-like at times. He would do some rather fast runs, with soaring distorted tone, but never overplay. He gave a lot of space around the phrases, giving everything room to breathe. The textures of the synths were the foundation. I didn't notice any mixer on stage, either, and was quite impressed with the ability of the group members to blend together well. Almost like one mind controlling the band, in a way. As Chuck said in his opening comments, I was just amazed that RMI was finally here, playing live in front of us. Some of the wilder parts of STAR'S END have been this band's recordings, and there was no way I was going to miss this Gathering!
The intermission between the sets is usually where I run outside & walk around the campus for a few minutes to stretch my legs, but the incredible downpour of almost biblical proportions obviously cut it short! Did I mention how COLD the rain was? :) I went back inside & just strolled around the chapel; the sound of the rain beating against the church was really loud near the bathrooms around the corner....fortuantely the PA system was nice & loud.
Set 2 began, and immediately I was struck by how much more aggressive & intense this set was. I'm not sure if the guys made a decision during the break to change the strategy, but I was sitting up and really got into it during this set. It was like they were changing modes, and I also overheard somebody else on the way out commented that they really liked the second set as well. Perhaps it is just the flexibility of being so improvisational in nature, and reacting to what had been played earlier.
By the way, the lights were very cool; at the beginning of the second set, there were these white laser-like lights coming from the sides that created this 3-D maze-like grid in front of the band. The fog machine was going strong, and the fog even drifted into our row (4th row). Later, there were moving lights that slowly searched the ceiling of the massive church. I noticed the guitar player even stopping at points to just check out the light show! Everything was very well synced up.
Speaking of the guitar player, it was interesting to watch him occasionally come over to the keyboards and discuss what was coming next. The hand signals and comments flying among them. I'm not sure why the fellow in the center (Duncan) had his back to the audience the whole show (and bent over a good deal of the time as well), but he did eventually strap on a guitar as well for a period and seemed to be adding some interesting textures. Hard to tell what he was playing, with his back to the audience, but the soundscape was getting intense at this point. I was really cheering them on at this point, in my mind.
After the first piece ended, some more remarks from the band. They seemed very grateful for the warm reception, Chuck's hospitality, & the setting for the Gatherings. The fellow on the end chatting (Steve) even had a "God Bless America" T-shirt on! A nice sense of humor as well regarding the pieces being improvised, etc. Even had a little contest to see who came the furthest (the best the audience could do was Chicago, which is still quite an accomplishment, but nothing like UK->California->Pennsylvania!).
The incredible second set eventually drew to a close, and the massive applause eventually drew them back for an encore. We wanted more! And they delivered a short piece that ended all too soon. But they did have some performing in store later on the radio show yet.
It was really great to finally see this group work its magic live, and even my date commented about how cool it was to see the visual aspects of the group performing. The guitarist playing with a bit of flair, the keyboardist hitting some objects & miking them through the PA system with everything else, the amazing sequencer blinking away. And the fantastic light show, the funky crowd vibe.
Chuck was already on the air by the time we got back to Harrisburg; the flood of rain prevented my usual warp-speed driving (along with the Starbucks on the Turnpike being closed....grrrr.....). But we got back & chilled out to a great show, with RMI going at it again live, on the air. We drifted off to the familar sounds of the band. What a great weekend, and a wonderful end to yet another killer season of live spacemusic. Looking forward to March, and more Gatherings.....
That was a classic nor'easter hugging the coast this past weekend. Sat out there over the ocean, she did, packing up punch after punch, doing a little massacre job of her own, offering nonstop rain, blustery winds and invitations to some seriously scary roadway hydroplaning. I swear, I never got the sense of wheels touching pavement once all night.
While footing and umbrellaing our way to and from the church, we hummed Mary Poppins ditties.Ê I was sort of disappointed we never took off.
Full house, just about, this time around. Go figure. But so good to see.
The boys in the band had obviously hit the cheap tee-shirt shop just before showtime. Telltale wrinkles. Donned in the spirit of the U.S.A.; just a small part of a radiated aura emitting from Steve Dinsdale, Duncan Goddard and Gary Houghton revealing their obvious pleasure in being here.
Radio Massacre International would enjoy this night as much as we.
During the course of the performance, I couldn't help making comparisons to a concert from a Gathering past. Oregon's.
Oregon? Okay, okay...I know we're talking about musical styles here that are not at all comparable, but such a fine parallel can be drawn to the polished interplay between all musicians concerned. Experts at work. Experts at play. How else can a group pull off a live performance with such grace, sets of total improvisation scored to perfection, without practiced and shared visions?
Sequences driven during the first song of each set sounded to me like a nonstop hammered dulcimer. These two pieces provided me with my favorite trips of the night. Highly repetitive and hypnotic succession underlying the trio's expressions of free form. Perfect balance realized. The second piece in each set were darker excursions. Set two contained a third piece introduced with Steve Dinsdale's promise to "rock the house."
One got the impression that the band would have played all night. Or at least provide a sixth half hour excursion during a 'standing-o' encouraged encore. But Chuck van Zyl, with a wary eye on the clock (the STAR'S END hour neared), approached the stage and made Dinsdale promise to keep the encore piece short.
Enough can not be said about the light show. I eyed Bill Forcier, staff photographer, slithering around our home; and I prayed that he was able to catch the beaming images on camera. I'm gathering these hypnotic visuals were again administered via the creative genius of Jeff Towne.Ê If so, he outdid even himself this time.
On the way out, I picked up a copy of the RMI's most recent CD release, called Maelstrom. Reading the liner notes while "spoonful of sugaring" it back to the car...
"...the result is a suite that is to traveling what 'the god of electricity' is to bad weather."
It was a cold, rainy, blustery evening, as if it had been ordered up special to make a Londoner feel right at home by an American who didn't know any better. But to compensate, the Gathering audience made Radio Massacre International feel warmly welcomed from the start. RMI are a band that you just don't ever expect to see on this side of the pond. Heck, I never expected to see spacemusic acts over here from abroad... until the Gatherings Concert Series started spoiling its audience by enticing act after act to come over; Wave World, Free System Projekt, Richard Pinhas, Ian Boddy... and the list continues. The latest coup - RMI.
Mellowtronless and condensed down to only two synth modules, a couple of guitars, and some toys to clang together, one wonders how RMI can achieve their trademark expansive sound. Somehow, between clever programming and sufficient polyphony, RMI obtained the desired effect. Yes, the flute isn't as hauntingly beautiful as a real Mellotron flute, but that's picking at nits. Steve and Duncan stood at small keyboard controllers, facing each other on the right while Gary stood alone on the left, guitar in hand, foot on a volume pedal and a Jamman on a small stand. Immediately, Jeff Towne's lighting and the first hint of music set the mood for an enjoyable evening.
As usual, I was far too lost in the music to keep track of the quantity of pieces played. Didn't much matter, that. The quality was there and all but the last piece were improvised. Few acts have the confidence to perform that way, and fewer still are able to pull it off well. RMI did an outstanding job. As the Brits would say, "Brilliant!" Despite a few technicalities like a Jamman resetting itself and a theremin-like device totally failing, RMI carried on. Closing one's eyes solves the problem from the audience point of view because the music didn't suffer. So what if an ambient bit is missing a layer or if the Berlin School sequence goes on a little longer before a solo gets played. I was in front of the stage, ensconced in my portable chair with feet propped up, totally relaxed and happy with the aural environment being presented by three men who knew what they're doing.
This was a classic evening of RMI. Last year at the Hampshire Jam, they pulled out a few more stops and even went into a spacerock jam that I didn't expect. But they were not thousands of miles from most of their gear, playing lean and mean with what can conveniently fit into their luggage. But they still pulled out a number of stops and rocked the house with what they had at hand. And afterwards, they graciously chatted with all who wanted to do the meet and greet. Cheerful, down to earth people are such a pleasure. I enjoyed renewing our friendships and hearing what a wonderful time they've been having in the States.
So closed the 2002 chapter of The Gathering Concert Series. I can only shake with anticipation for what our series will have in store for 2003.
by Bill Fox
Radio Massacre Int'l Photo by Tom Massapollo
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Concert Photos by Bill Forcier