Spaced Out USA!

Melody Maker – 1 December 1973

In the true tradition of U.S space shots, Hawkwind had their problems at the opening of their first American tour in Philadelphia at the weekend. But they still managed to cause a sensation.

NEW YORK, Saturday: I’m sitting in a room up on the fifteenth floor of a 6th Avenue hotel. The sash is jammed open and a chilly breeze is blowing in.

The guys from Hawkwind are on the next floor above and right now Lemmy’s flying paper gliders out of the window. Cut in the shape of little spaceships, they drift down into the street onto a Yellow Cab stand, and every which way.

The gliders recall last night when they were zipping about the Tower Theatre in Philadelphia’s West Side. Hawkwind had caused a mild sensation.

There was no doubt about it, but the issue was a little confused. Mild, because the band were not at a summit musically, though they were damn close to it. Confused, because sheer bad luck – or maybe it was fate at their first ever US gig – caused equipment malfunctions that forced them to cut the usual two-hour set by thirty minutes. The audience just couldn’t have realised the trauma that was taking place on and backstage.

Then, on top of it all, the band had to go and get the jitters. “I don’t mind admitting I was pretty nervous tonight,” confided Nik Turner, as the coach left for New York right after the gig.

Don’t think that it had been a Pyrrhic victory because to say that would be going too far down the line.

Overall, the show was a wow, and despite an unfortunate amount of roadie action on stage in the first half, the crowd wouldn’t have been aware of the problems, unless they felt the band flagging in places.

But then for America it’s all new, and there’s no comparison to be made.

The glossy light show was superb and in fine sync with the music, it knocked the crowd sideways. The band were using a huge 70mm screen that gave a Cinerama-like effect for the visuals.

Those slides of starkly beautiful alien landscapes and, 21st Century spacecraft brought gasps of disbelief and appreciation from the audience, many of whom were literally on the edge of their seats.

As “Space Ritual ” began with ” Born To Go ” you could feel a ripple of astonishment circling the auditorium,- especially with the appearance of Stacia in her space priestess role and garb.

The stereo on Del Detmar’s electronic effects was simply stunning, whooshing out of the massive banks of speaker cabs either side of the stage and surrounding the audience.

nik turnerThe act surged in two definite waves, the first culminating in ” Brainstorm.”

The crowd got the works: strobes spinning blue squad car light, layer upon layer of film, and when a neonstrip burst into life across the stage it brought the house down.

A guy in the row behind yelped “Jeeesus Ch-rist!” Jon Smeeton, or Liquid Len as he’s called, built up the light until the theatre was sizzling and glowing all over. It smashed ’em.

But then the excitement subsided and there were troubles as gremlins got into the system: Dave Brock’s echo unit jammed open, Simon King’s bass drum pedal broke up and their sound monitors blanked out.

They got tense and lost some of the drive and verve they started with, though Lemmy was spurring them on.

They didn’t get it on again until “Sonic Attack,” which was the second wave, and “Master of the Universe,” ending in a tremendous crescendo which brought many in the crowd to their feet for several minutes of applause and shouts for more.

But no one got up to dance – they wanted to watch and take it all in.

” Silver Machine,” as usual, was the encore, but the band didn’t seem able to hold it together as well as they, did in Paris earlier this month, when it really rocketed. It was something of an anti-climax.

Afterwards, when there was time for a thought, many still didn’t seem able to figure it out. They’d come puzzled, and were leaving puzzled.

” The lights’ were dynamite,” said one, ” But the music, I dunno.”

In the dressing room before the set, while hundreds of people were being turned away at the door (the house was sold out), the band seemed unusually quiet, They’d flown 3,000 miles for their debut in the USA and … they got the shakes.

Simon goes up to Nik, who’s putting on demon make-up at the mirror, and breaks the silence with a joke: “You bleedin’ poof!” Nik smiles good naturedly.

Del discusses his beard with the truck driver who brought the equipment and who later stays to catch some of the show: ” I’ve brought groups’ gear here twenty times,” he said, ” and I’ve never watched the show. This time I will.”

PHILADELPHIA, Thursday: Thanksgiving Day. We came in from the airport in a limo, over the Schuykill River, down into the city centre where the main streets already have Christmas decorations aloft and sparkling, and in the windows of the record stores a poster showing a guy with his mouth in a shocked “O” and his spectacles in splinters. “A victim of sonic attack” and the bold legend: ” Hawkwind is coming.”

Everywhere’s closed up and about the only place for weary and wasted travellers to get a bite is the Birdcage Discobar just off Chestnut Street, where hotpants are still in with a vengeance, and where you get beef, beer and regular visits from the local constabulary in leather and iron.

The waitress demands “over 21” identification – a certain Mr Wentzell, cameraman by trade, is particularly suspect. Maybe it was his hat. At the hotel, which is right near Franklin’s grave and the new U.S. Mint, the band are crashing out after an afternoon’s rehearsal in a New York studio. There was nowhere in Philadelphia so they took a coach out.

They’ve crept quietly and unseen to their rooms, well shattered. As usual, Stacia has been left in their wake and her Amazon figure still hovers about the lobby. ” Guess what,” she says. In my first four hours over here I’ve fallen in love. It was like being a schoolgirl all over again,”

Hawkwind had flown first to New York, where they’d been to Max’s and met the New York Dolls. It was over one of these alluring gentlemen that Stacia swooned.

On Friday morning a glance at the Inquirer shows that Hawkwind have some competition in town tonight: Poco, Taj Mahal, Chad Stewart are all appearing at other venues, and, no less, the Eugene Ormandie orchestra.

The Daily News heralds Hawkwind as Britain’s ” futuristic electronic rock band.”

” FM radio played ” Master Of The Universe,” and the heavily stoned DJ said “I don’t quite know what to make of that.”

Friday, and Stacia, Simon and Nik sit around a table opposite a laconic American with bushy hair and wearing tinted specs. An interviewer launching a sonic attack. Were Hawkwind indeed much into science fiction? Oh yes, they all were, they agreed. Stacia: ” I don’t read it but I certainly dream it.” Nik: “My thing is more science fantasy really.”

THE Tower Theatre, a Rainbow-like cinema of 2,600 seats, surrounded by snack bars selling the much-esteemed (and maligned) Philadelphia hoagey (a huge meat sandwich).

The band and entourage arrive in three station wagons, Lemmy and Nik of specially daunting appearance, like greasers in black leather jackets, spangled with silver chains and belts and other artifices.

Lemmy’s got an Ace of Spades badge sewn on one shoulder of his jacket. But it’s a feint, a masquerade.

“It keeps the idiots away,” Lemmy said. ” we’ve had a lot of hassles with people. Most of the time we don’t know whether people look on us as idiots or not.”

NEW YORK, Sunday: At another sell-out concert at the Academy here it was Hawkwind’s wall of sound and head long pace that drew the crowds to their feet, while the light show, which had smashed Philadelphia, was rearranged and seemed less relevant.

The crowd was cooler, less volatile and the band got an ovation from the stalls, but didn’t overwhelm the circle so much.

Afterwards, over 1,000 guests, including Alice Cooper, Stevie Wonder, Genesis, Argent and Spencer Davis, went to a big reception at the Hayden Planetarium, – the first time it had been used for a rock party.

All round, the night seemed a sizeable success for Hawkwind.

A Plastic Fragment Hawkwind Press Cutting

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