Here’s a review of a concert that Liza (at the time, my girlfriend and now my wife) and our friend Erin Wisnieski went to see. It’s exactly as I remember it.
When I talked to him about it afterward– months later– I told him it was almost TOO intense for me. It was soul-shakingly powerful and dark at times with islands of solace. He said “Well, you gotta shake the cage, man!”
Words to live by.
Here’s Cliff Tuel’s review:
Baltimore — June 29, Cloud Watch: a Futuristic Tribal Gathering, with Steve Roach, Chuck Van Zyl, various ambient DJ’s including Jeff Towne
What a trip! Steve Roach the big super-star at an ambient rave? This was the most atypical concert of the week, but the most fun. Imagine a couple hundred kids in a warehouse from 10pm ’til 8am, trancing to non-stop ambient grooves, zoning out while trying to stay awake, or just curling up in sleeping bags drifting in and out of sleep. Some brought candles to set around their blankets on the ground, others brought a variety of mind-altering substances, afraid the music might not be potent enough. Slide projectors lit whole walls with planets and star fields; an uninhibited girl writhed in its light, in time to the music. A movie projector threw random images onto a thin sail hanging from the ceiling and snaking back and forth, so that the image would project on the sail multiple times, each time slightly more out of focus. Green, yellow, and purple lights formed patterns, and black lights lit the corners. The DJ’s sat in a huge translucent plastic cocoon, which obscured most of the stage.
At midnight, Chuck Van Zyl took the stage, although with no introduction and obscured by the DJ cocoon, it was hard to tell. The crowd seemed to really enjoy Chuck’s set, but in 45 minutes or so it was over, as the music faded into a CD: the title track from “Well of Souls” — the same pre-show music used in Chicago. As the music began to soothe the crowd, Steve Roach came into the room, slowly walking around blowing incense, filling every corner with its sweet, heady perfume. Not a word was spoken, and as he made eye-contact with the mesmerized audience, they knew they were in for something special. Soon, “Well of Souls” faded away and Steve’s didgeridoo broke the silence, transfixing the audience. Unfortunately I couldn’t see Steve from where I was, and only those on the far end could see him. But soon it didn’t matter, as I closed my eyes and leaned back on my pillow, as the music took off, and took me to another place.
The set followed the same path taken at the Chicago and Philadelphia shows, but there was more of everything. But with the top-notch sound system, the incense in the air, and the vibe of the crowd, the music seemed so much more intense. Steve played for almost three hours non-stop, and those were three of the most relaxing and soul-nourishing hours of my life. The last hour was filled with more upbeat pieces, with modern (almost techno) rhythms and sequences that made no attempt to hide their electronic origins. Over the years Steve’s music has sounded less and less electronic and more organic, so it was a rare treat to hear the raw electronics make a comeback. The mood of these pieces was a bit like the Stormwarning album, with the music going fast and hard, shifting around from one rhythm to another, yet it had a distinct 1996 flavor, with the constant waves of synths rising and falling, balancing the driving beats with their steady breaths. As the music segued back into “Well of Souls” from the DJ cocoon, the crowd slowly regained consciousness, and after a few minutes of awed silence, broke into applause.
I had a two-hour drive back to Philadelphia ahead of me, so I left after Steve’s set. “Star’s End”, Chuck’s weekly radio show, was underway (pre-taped for logistical reasons). About a half hour outside Philly I was able to pick up the broadcast, and “The Magnificent Void” crackled over my speakers. As the sun began to rise, the climactic soaring notes of “Altus” began. Only minutes after reaching my hotel, “Altus” came to an end, and bleary-eyed and emotionally drained, I stumbled to my room.
I’ve been back for a week now, and I can’t remember ever feeling so relaxed and stress-free. Seeing four Steve Roach concerts in one week was incredible and intensely moving, and I’ve still not gotten over my emotional and spiritual high. People ask me why I gave up a week of my life to follow a musician around the country. If they could get inside my head, and experience what I’ve experienced, they would understand.
– Cliff Tuel