Prog-rock legends Hawkwind filmed on December 4, 2002 at Newcastle Opera House in England.
“Time is a flat circle,” Matthew McConaughey’s Det. Rust Cohle says in the first season of HBO’s “True Detective,” smoke in hand and a can of beer perched before him. “Everything we’ve ever done or will do, we’re gonna do over and over and over again.” Whether or not this Nietzschean proclamation holds true in most of our lives, it’s certainly an apt metaphor for the long, snaking history of Hawkwind since it first came together in 1969 — 53 years, countless ex-members and three-dozen-odd studio albums ago.
Captured on opening night of the long-running ensemble’s Christmas 2002 tour, the evening we spend on “Out of the Shadows” with bandleader and lone constant Dave Brock and his current cast of merry marauders opens with the ominous synth rumbles and otherworldly guitar noises of “Aero Space Age Inferno.” Soon enough, guest vocalist Arthur Brown is intoning the refrains of “What a good way to go,” as well as referencing both Pink Floyd’s controls for the heart of the sun and Hawkwind’s own silver machine in lyrics written for his mates by celebrated science-fiction author Robert Calvert in the mid-’90s. Some 80 minutes later, the proceedings end with the song “Silver Machine” itself, the 1972 anthem that stands as the group’s one and only hit.
There’s also a hint of knowing Spinal Tap self-parody just visible if you squint hard through the fog and multi-colored oil light show.
This flat circle has never been for the masses, but wherever the adventurous choose to enter — with this video, or with any of the many other live sets from the group’s massive catalog — you know what you’ll get: a pint of acid-spiked Guinness in the form of dark, grungy, psychedelic rock with a stomping metallic edge, driven more by energy and attitude than virtuosity, from a biker gang of cosmic working-class Brits in dirty black T-shirts. (Lemmy either adopted or set the look when he was a key member in the early days.) There’s also a hint of knowing Spinal Tap self-parody just visible if you squint hard through the fog and multi-colored oil light show.
Just because Hawkwind was making a concert film doesn’t mean it splurged on more elaborate theatrics (“Lasers? We don’t need no stinking lasers!”), and the camera work is functional, nothing fancy; this enterprise is as D.I.Y./low budget as ever with these spaced-out garage-rockers. And if we might mourn the absence of some of the legendary characters from the past — saxophonist Nik Turner, synth wizard Dik Mik, the late, lamented Lemmy or the infamous Day-Glo go-go dancer Stacia — this later-day iteration of the group does have two MVPs in lead guitarist Huw Lloyd-Langton and keyboardist Tim Blake, a veteran of art-rockers Gong, who also made some fine trippy solo synth albums in the mid-’70s. (Highly recommended: “Blake’s New Jerusalem.”) Oh, and we have the aforementioned Mr. Brown on seven of these 14 tracks. Another veteran of the U.K.’s early psychedelic-rock scene as leader of the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, he bounces around the stage and mugs like a maniac, at one point singing from behind an oversized anchor or ankh, I’m not quite sure which. But he’s jolly good fun as the resident acid imp.
The setlist delivers a mix of rarities and standards, or as standard as Hawkwind gets, as well as two songs from Brown’s solo discography (though not his own solitary hit “Fire”) and one from Blake’s (“Lighthouse”). For me, the highlights are “The Watcher” (a tune Lemmy wrote for the band), the campfire sing-along “Hurry on Sundown” (which illustrates that the group came from “Rubber Soul” by the Beatles, not necessarily another planet) and “Earth Calling” and “Sonic Attack,” both from the 1973 classic “Space Ritual.” Plus, of course, “Silver Machine,” a song so great, there’s never been a bad rendition of it.
But again, wherever you enter the flattened circle with these immortal time lords, if you’re looking to “bring a bit of space music into your lives,” as Brock says at the end of the show, Hawkwind delivers the goods, always and forever.
Hawkwind “Out of the Shadows in Concert” Setlist
Aero Space Age Inferno
Angels of Death
Out of the Shadows
Master of the Universe
The Song of the Gremlins
Time & Confusion
Hurry on Sundown
Assassins of Allah
Born the year the Beatles arrived in America, Jim DeRogatis began voicing his opinions about rock ’n’ roll shortly thereafter. He is an associate professor at Columbia College Chicago, and together with Greg Kot, he co-hosts “Sound Opinions,” the weekly pop-music talk show heard on 150 Public Radio stations and via podcast. DeRogatis spent 15 years as the pop-music critic at The Chicago Sun-Times and has written 10 books about music, including “Soulless: The Case Against R. Kelly”, “Let It Blurt: The Life and Times of Lester Bangs” and “Turn on Your Mind: Four Decades of Great Psychedelic Rock.”