Following in the footsteps of bands
like Hawkwind, Gong and Pink Floyd, Ozric Tentacles fuse classic prog jamming
with modern technology and some dancier beats hitting upon a golden formula for
mind transportation. Formed in the early 80’s around the festival scene in
England, this classic lineup of the band (which has changed countless times in
the ensuing years, founder, guitarist, songwriter Ed Wynn being the only
constant) produced one of their most satisfying albums in 1993 with Strangeitude.
Ozric Tentacles’ basic formula has always been long instrumental pieces that
could be loosely categorized as “space-rock,” allowing for lots of guitar
solos, weird keyboard effects and a complex tapestry of world-music influences
that keep their songs endlessly interesting.
Right about the time of Strangeitude,
Ozric Tentacles played their first Colorado show in Boulder. The only reason I
knew about them was that I owned a record store. They were a strictly
underground phenomenon known almost exclusively in England. But here they were,
setting up a mountain of audio-visual equipment at the Fox Theatre. Before the
show when I heard a loud scream from the back of the hall. It was more a bellow
or roar than a scream, and it didn’t indicate distress but joy. Suddenly a
group of about five hairy, fragrant, suspiciously ebullient young men ran
towards the stage growling like bears, and the band jumped from the stage and
they all embraced and roared and exchanged tales of the road. A-ha, they have a
serious following. These guys, it turns out followed them from the last gig
they played, and were now “on the bus” as it were. My anticipation started to
grow, as I realized this band was really serious about both putting on an
amazing stage show, and about living in some kind of idealized hippie dream
state. My kinda band! What I saw that night literally blew me away. In front of
a very small crowd they launched into a two and a half hour marathon of cosmic
instrumental rock that pulsed and throbbed to a hypnotic, frenzied light show.
It was far edgier than what might be considered jam band music. This was not
that. This had roots that went from early 70’s synthesizer based music all the
way to the latest dance beats coming from the nascent house scene. It is
telling, in fact, that many of the early members went off to form various dance
bands, most notably Eat Static.
That show was a high water mark for
me personally. I was so jazzed up I made sure we carried a large selection of
Ozric Tentacles and do to this day. Their music hit on so many areas I was
interested in; rock, improvised jazz, reggae and wrapped them up in such an
appealing package of clever writing, brilliant studio chops and superb
musicianship. The bow on the package was their over-the-top live show.
Throughout the years I have enjoyed many of their albums and concerts, even as
their personnel and stage show evolved. I always liked it all, but I hold a
special place in my heart for Strangitude. It is their tightest album
because they recorded it in someone else’s studio and were under time
constraints, and it shows in positive ways. Each number boasts a crisp
performance, and the details - the percussion, many layers of keyboard and
weird sound effects - are all neatly placed in a wide stereo mix. The new
two-disc version of the album available now has a great sounding re-master of
the original album and a second disc of wonderful live performances of much of
the album material. A great deal!
As I was doing some online research
about the band for this piece I learned that not only had they moved to
Colorado a few years ago, but that their
home/headquarters/studio/archive/warehouse had all recently burned to the
ground in the High Park Fire. This was a weird synchronicity indeed. I hadn’t thought
of them in a while, and had gotten reinvigorated about their music while
listening to Strangeitude repeatedly in the last few weeks, and then to
have it all brought home in such a weird and tragic way…well, buy this CD - you
won’t regret it.