It’s edifying to know that Daevid Allen remained a vital force to the end.
Four months before his death from cancer in March 2015, he issued a fine Gong send-off with I See You. At the same time, he’d also found time to collaborate on an updated version of 1978’s Book Of Intxixu (with Balearic hippies Can Am Des Puig) and add guitar to New Start, the latest from Belgian psych-folkie Will Z. His last truly substantial recordings, however, were with the Daevid Allen Weird Quartet.
Elevenses finds him joined by the same band that made 2005’s DJDDAY, then billed as Weird Biscuit Teatime, namely Spirits Burning keyboard player Don Falcone, bassist Michael Clare (best known as a member of Allen’s University Of Errors) and two percussionist drummers: The Tubes’ Trey Sabatelli and Paul Sears of The Muffins. A thoroughly engaging work it is too, offering ample proof that Allen’s sense of artistic daring and whimsical delirium never wavered, no matter how ill he became.
It also skewers the myth that his music was too outré to be accessible. Indeed, there are moments of buzzing clarity here. The Latest Curfew Craze is an electric blowout with a terse riff and elements of dub, while the loping Kick That Habit Man has its roots in the 60s blues boom, albeit buried under the garagey growl of Allen’s vocal. Of particular note is God’s New Deal, whose pleasingly wonky construct suggests that Allen certainly knew his way around a Gaelic sea shanty.
Ultimately, though, Elevenses draws from the peculiarly Allen-ish brand of space rock that came to define Gong. Imagicknation and Alchemy, in particular, are Gong tunes in all but name, both acting as vigorous alternatives to the more staid exemplars of traditional jazz rock. Killer Honey is altogether more dense and experimental; Dim Sum In Alphabetical Order is Eastern esoterica with a coltish bassline; The Cold Stuffings Of November voyages way out and never really bothers coming back.
Perhaps the most intriguing moment arrives during closing track Banana Construction. Before it careens off into dissonant art prog, Allen lets fly a spoken diatribe about the world he’s just about to leave, sounding like an incensed variation on Banana Ananda, the mountain yogi of Gong myth. We must transform our poisonous global climate of violence, paranoia and mistrust, he rails. Instead he aims to build “a huge construction site of optimism… a colossal temple of hope”. In these anxious days, Daevid Allen’s absurdist philosophy only appears to grow ever more sober. Maybe this, more than anything else, is his enduring legacy.