Thanks to Mark and Vicky Powell of Eclectic Discs, Duncan and Arhlene Glenday are able to report on Sunday night's excellent Caravan / Nektar show at The Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. The two sets, the extended conversations with Nektar and Caravan band members and the comfortable atmosphere provided by the venue all yielded some fascinating insights.
This is not a tour to be missed. If it comes within striking distance of your neighborhood … see it!
Setting off fireworks is forbidden in the restricted security area that surrounds the Pentagon. But the Department Of Homeland Security must have been asleep at the controls last night, because The Birchmere was ablaze with the pyrotechnic performances of Caravan and Nektar. These guys were smoking!
The Birchmere just – just across the river from Our Nation's Capital – was the first venue booked for the Caravan / Nektar show. Their management is familiar with progressive music, their terms were reasonable, and their response to the booking request was quick and businesslike. And that was back in January! It is a pleasant venue – a dinner-theater format, spacious and smoke free, and the sound quality was the best I've heard in any club in the D.C. area.
Pity then that there was a glitch with timekeeping and they found the need to bustle Caravan onto the stage early and deny them an encore opportunity.
Caravan's set covered their entire career, with a good number of tracks taken from their new-for-2002 CD, Unauthorised Breakfast Item. Their early music was central to the Cantebury movement, with more than a nod to the pop end of that sub-genre. Their songs sound simple on the surface, but listen to those light, approachable tracks more carefully and the craftsmanship of mature artists radiates through their music. These songs are fun, their playing is as tight as a drum, and their performance on Sunday night was simply stellar.
Besides the standard rock set, Caravan adds rich textures with Geoff Richardson's viola ("When I was a student I discovered that a cheap viola sounded better than a cheap violin"), his flute and his tin whistle – called a "penny whistle" in England. And of course, his electric spoons – a Japanese piece to which he applied a pickup and has been a Caravan signature for years.
The band was excited to be touring, and record sales are going well. All of the CDs brought over for the American tour were sold in one night, at the B.B.King's show in New York. The band had hoped to start recording soon, but their schedule has been booked with tours planned for a long time ahead – including destinations like Japan, Poland and South America.
Randy Dembo Cracks A Joke Backstage
The backstage facilities at the Birchmere were also the nicest I've seen in D.C., and my wife and I met with Roye and Ron – now the only remaining members of the original lineup. This wasn't a formal interview, just a loose conversation about recent band events. We met Randy Dembo – and what the hell happened to Taff? He's young again, has long blonde hair!
Duncan Glenday, Roye Allbrighton, Ron Howden, Randy Dembo, Tom Hughes
Turns out Nektar had trouble with the equipment supplied by the New York-based rental company, who took the approach of 'here's some stuff – take it or leave it'. Add to that the visa problems, the last minute withdrawal of Taff from the lineup, the management of B.B.King's destroying Saturday's set with bizarre and unannounced time constraints, and the tour was off to a slow start. But the show must go on, and with the confidence of experienced professionals these glitches were quickly swept aside and the only problems last night were a slow setup.
The new CD has been completed and a few advance copies have been distributed, and public distribution is set for late October. Roye considers it to be a mix of all Nektar's past styles, and it is a concept album. (Watch this space for details!)
The European tour went very well. Of all the European countries, Nektar is still biggest in Germany where – as Ron put it – Nektar "grew up". The audience seemed to be ageing with the band – but they were bringing their kids – and the kids loved it!
Back to the theater, and the closing notes of Caravan's final tune faded as the techs executed a remarkably quick changeover and Nektar hit the stage. And damn, they were hot! I had seen Nektar in concert twice previously. Both times were in large venues where they had two keyboard players (Taff and Larry Fast), and extra percussionist, two girls helping with backup vocals, and Mick's inimitable light show. This tour features a back-to-basics four-man lineup, though. Just Roye on guitar and vocals, Ron Howden on drums and backing vocals, new (American) band member Randy Dembo wielding a huge Rickenbacker, and the surprise of the tour, Tom Hughes – a friend of Roye's son – who stepped effortlessly into Taff's keyboard slot with almost no notice and with a minimal knowledge of the music.
Every song sounded fresh, the playing was tight, and Nektar came across an more of a hard-rock act than I've ever seen. This was put-your-earplugs-in stuff, this was knock your boots of rock!
The only minor glitch also provided some amusement: The microphone mounted above Ron's drums kept collapsing, and the stage techs were up and down trying to repair it. Just imagine Ron thrashing out his beat while simultaneously his head was lowered, sideways, almost parallel to his drums, trying to sing into the mike! I have to get a more powerful zoom lens – that would have made a classic picture!
The 90-minute setlist was drawn from a mix of Nektar's back catalog, and no songs were played from their new album:
- Tab In the Ocean (A Tab In The Ocean)
- Dream Nebula (Journey to the Centre of the Eye)
- Remember The Future Part 1 (Remember The Future)
- Now (The Prodigal Son)
- Man In The Moon (Man In The Moon)
- King Of Twilight (A Tab In The Ocean)
- A Day in the Life of a Preacher (Sounds Like This)
- Recycle (Recycled)
- Fidgety Queen (Down To Earth)
We understand there is no truth to the rumor that the terror alert has been raised to code red in the immediate vicinity of Washington due to unexplained and explosive events in Alexandria, VA on the night of Sunday the 12th.
All photos attributed to Duncan Glenday.