Kula Shaker: the return of the mystics

Sometimes maligned but avowedly unique, Britain's leading psychedelists head to the Roundhouse for a sold-out show

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You can usually tell what genre a band fits into by the look of their audience, but not in Kula Shaker’s case. Their crowd is so diverse it’s hard to actually play that game: metal t-shirts mingle with Britpop haircuts, psychedelic colours merge into grungewear. It’s a coalescing of styles… but that’s what this band have always done.

Late 60s San Fran psychedelia blends with alternative rock snaps, as raga moments pause on the edge of space rock vibes as the band throw in a dynamic cover of Hawkwind’s Hurry On Sundown early on in the set, and you wonder from the reaction how many people there realise it isn’t a Kula Shaker original. But that’s down to the impressive way in which the band own the song. The same can be said of Hush. Their biggest hit is of course a Joe South song, most famously associated with Deep Purple. But done by Kula Shaker, it takes on a fresh face.

Most would choose to end the set with their most successful song, but not this lot. Hush is almost insouciantly thrown into the mix, as if to show that no one track can ever define the band. And this philosophy works perfectly, as everyone loses their minds in the swirls of Tattva and Hey Dude as the night climaxes.

(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, because there is so much to admire earlier on. Kicking off with the rhythmic tattoo of Sound Of Drums, the band are electrifying, as Crispian Mills confidently yet understatedly leads them through 90 minutes of mesmerising music. Every song is both a self-contained moment of inspiration and part of the greater flow. Temple Of Everlasting Light melds a raga core to an orbiting séance of Sgt. Pepper’s era Beatles, while 303 – introduced as “A love song about a road” by Mills – has the jangle of Byrds era country rock. New track Mountain Lifter brings to mind latter day Small Faces, Shower Your Love is blessed with a beautiful cascade of harmonies and melody, and 33 Crows offers Mills the chance to deliver a solo acoustic presentation as the song is stripped down to its essentials.

(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

You hear the chime and echo of so many influences in what Kula Shaker do – from Zeppelin to The Who, via Pink Floyd and The Kinks – but ultimately they sound like nobody else.

The capacity crowd soaks up the vibes from a performance that doesn’t rely on effects or visuals: three screens at the back of the stage occasionally flash up kaleidoscopic but rather mundane imagery, while poles of flashing lights traverse the stage behind the band – it’s hardly groundbreaking. But perhaps Kula Shaker are making the point that everything comes from the music, and not from the stage set.

Concluding with the double encore power of Great Hosannah and Govinda, there’s a sense that this band are unique, successfully carving out a niche without resorting to gimmicks, hype or image. Nobody else really sounds like them, and maybe Mills realises this better than most. More than once he thanks everyone for turning up, and this doesn’t have the hollow sardonic ring it usually has – it’s as if he actually feels genuinely moved that there’s still a huge swathe of fans who care passionately about this band.

We should all be grateful Kula Shaker are still out there, doing their thing. Because they brought a moving musical mélenge to The Roundhouse, and did it in a way that no-one else would match.

Malcolm Dome

Malcolm Dome had an illustrious and celebrated career which stretched back to working for Record Mirror magazine in the late 70s and Metal Fury in the early 80s before joining Kerrang! at its launch in 1981. His first book, Encyclopedia Metallica, published in 1981, may have been the inspiration for the name of a certain band formed that same year. Dome is also credited with inventing the term "thrash metal" while writing about the Anthrax song Metal Thrashing Mad in 1984. With the launch of Classic Rock magazine in 1998 he became involved with that title, sister magazine Metal Hammer, and was a contributor to Prog magazine since its inception in 2009. He died in 2021