This is the second show of Gong’s five-date UK tour, and their first since Daevid Allen died of cancer in March. The tour is called You Can’t Kill Me, which is very funny, very Gong. “It’s up to you guys to carry it into unknown heights and depths, far beyond anything I could ever imagine myself,” Allen told the band before his death.
By “you guys”, he meant frontman Kavus Torabi (the Knifeworld figurehead who debuted on Gong’s 2014 album I See You), saxophonist Ian East, bassist Dave Sturt, drummer Cheb Nettles and guitarist Fabio Golfetti. Torabi,
a Gong fan since his teens, allayed fears that the latest incarnation of the band would be little more than a tribute act, despite not featuring any original members. Indeed, he has intimated that Gong were always more than the sum of their individual members; that, more than anything, they are an emblem, an idea. Allen wanted Gong without him to be entirely different to any previous iteration because that’s what they were about. “Daevid has trusted us with Gong,” explained Torabi, “and we’re going to go with our instinct and let his beautiful spectral hand guide us.”
Hence the celebratory nature of tonight’s gig – it’s less a wake, more a party. Steve Davis is here – well, of course he is. Everyone is welcome on Planet Gong. There’s a sense of carrying on, of not wallowing in sadness or allowing corporeal extinction to get in the way of the transcendent message. ‘Maybe you come and maybe you’re gone,’ Torabi sings on You Never Blow Yr Trip Forever, a pointed encapsulation of Gong’s forever-now mission statement.
Much of the music sounds both contemporary and ancient, which probably says as much about the timelessness of Gong’s music as it does the current state of rock. There’s quirky energy here, oblique strategy, maverick spirit and obfuscation for its own sake. Controlled mayhem, a Mothers Of Invention-style cartoon logic and will to surrender to the absurd. There’s punky ferocity and hippie serenity, pastoral interludes, biker drones worthy of Hawkwind, and a jazzy disregard for concision. Is that even possible? It is on Planet Gong. One of the songs is like Black Sabbath if they were into flying teapots, not war pigs.
“Shall we do this?” asks Torabi about half an hour in. It’s a bit late to be asking that. The audience are freaky dancing and there are lots of misty-eyed men, some of whom appear to have wandered in from Dingwalls 1975. Towards the end, Allen appears on screen, all bemused and wise, like a forgotten Dr Who. There are smiles all round and someone starts humping one of the speakers. It’s what he would have wanted.