Amid all the excitement about Timothy Peake becoming the first publicly funded British astronaut, it’s easy to forget that Commander Dave Brock of the good ship Hawkwind has been boldly piloting his own craft through space for the best part of half a century.
Tonight’s destination is a former art deco cinema in Elephant & Castle where, 60 years ago, patrons rioted when the movie Blackboard Jungle, featuring Bill Haley’s Rock Around The Clock, was shown. This may account for the extraordinary levels of security at the door and a queue that snakes back past the Tube station, but the audience that greets tonight’s support act is rather more static.
Steve Hillage’s System 7 were always tarred with an unattractive techno-hippy brush, but Hillage and Miquette Giraudy are a thrilling proposition when the volume is pumped up, coming on like a combination of acts from the golden age of British dance music – a bit of Leftfield, some KLF, a smattering of Way Out West – even when Hillage’s role is reduced to that of rudimentary pot-twiddler, gleefully toying with the EQs. When he straps on his faithful Steinberger, chopping out chords that reverberate around the venue as the music swirls and throbs and does that build-build-build-release thing that dance music does so well, it’s like 1995 all over again – except no one’s dancing.
Not many dance for Hawkwind either, but it doesn’t really matter. Rapidly approaching National Treasure status, they’re a band with multi-dimensional ambition and a curiously one-dimensional sound. But that doesn’t really matter either, for Hawkwind are Hawkwind, and it’s a spectacular dimension they operate in. They’re epic from the moment they hit the stage, quickly erecting a spiralling wall of noise, cemented with cantering rhythms, exotic vibrations, squeaks and squelches. Tim Blake brilliantly conjures a series of shrieking, other-worldly sounds from the theremin throughout, and Hillage returns for a rampant gallop through Orgone Accumulator, a frankly monstrous Hassan I Sahba, and a chugging Prometheus.
Dave Brock – looking more and more like a sinister extra from Paris, Texas as time passes – takes a back seat, but Mr Dibs is an increasingly beguiling presence up front. And there’s a fire eater, who does her stuff before departing in a swish of sequins, the faint whiff of spent kerosene lingering in the air.
Hail To The Machine starts in a hail of demented, Dalek-style pronouncements, before Fire Lady returns, this time with a pair of giant, shimmering wings, like a Franklin Mint phoenix come to life. Shot Down In The Night ratchets up the atmosphere for a genuinely rousing finale, before Lord Of Light and Master Of The Universe round off the evening. Outstanding stuff.