From 1974 to 1977, Tangerine Dream at the time, the trio of Edgar Froese, Christoph Franke and Peter Baumann improvised over a hundred concerts, each show kicked off with a shout-out for one of three base keys. Surrounded by the latest modular synthesizer gear of the time (plus Mellotrons and Froese's guitar), the band's stoic stage presence remains the "classic image" of the group to this day. The music performed in this era was circulated on scores of bootlegs and distilled into two official live releases, Ricochet and the double-length Encore both received discernible postproduction sweetening. (Either way, those are excellent records!) Phaedra, an album of phantasmagoric Mellotron and synthesizer based treatments that were nothing short of pivotal, is credited for commencing this period of the Dream which remains many a loyal fan's favorite.
Three decades later, the Dream lives on, but sole remaining principal Edgar Froese's current m.o. is about as comparable to the band's visionary years as polka is to rap. After a string of contempo-sounding releases, an opera trilogy, no fewer than four editions of techno-fied remixes of vintage material, countless compilations, and several new soundtracks the first since Froese initially abandoned film-scoring in the '80s the time had come, it seemed, to commemorate thirty-five years of recording with an evening of classics revisited. The 35 in the title of this DVD document of the June '05 gig at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire refers to just that while this year marks forty years since formation in 1967.
The classic "trio formation" is back, in a way. Edgar Froese has always occupied stage right, so no change there. Jerome Froese as in "son of," who officially came onboard way back in 1990 is at stage left, a spot occupied by predecessors Baumann, Johannes Schmoelling and Paul Haslinger (Schmoelling and Haslinger were involved, respectively, from 1980 to 1985, and 1986 to 1990; as with the departure of Franke in 1987 after sixteen years, it's been said that the loss of these players hurt the band creatively on significant levels). And in the middle: new keyboardist Thorsten Quaeschning. Alas, no modular gear is present well, there is, but it's all virtual, displayed on large monitors yet it's sinfully easy for these three to echo the mid-'70s by sitting with their backs to the audience.
The show begins with the elder Froese stageside, running a rag up and down the keys of an electronic piano before transitioning smoothly into the intro from the first side of Ricochet. Thirteen more choice cuts from '73 through '86 follow. The fact that the excerpt of Phaedra's title suite is an update matters little. "Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares," from Side B of that album, wasn't performed in the '80s or '90s, so it's a treat. By indulging much of the first half of Rubycon, there's little doubt quite a few concertgoers were in a state of rapture: Rubycon equals two sides of the most haunting keyboard music ever recorded, laden with ghostly Mellotron choirs and nebulous synth textures. However, any 'Tron sounds heard this night are all samples, or sourced from hard disk. More nirvana: truncated or not, "Force Majeure" is commendable, and "Desert Dream" from Encore is sublime. The '80s are revisited with "Underwater Twilight" and "Warsaw In The Sun," an extract from Poland. "Silver Scale" is an engaging non-album vehicle with Christoph Franke's stamp all over it; a staple of the early '80s European tours, it's a sequencer tour de force. (To be fair, an edit was used for the Wavelength score and christened "Church Theme," while a somewhat longer version surfaced on the rarities disc in the Tangents box.) The contemplative neoclassicism of "Logos," the anthemic dance-rock of "Choronzon," and the expansive first side from Poland draw the retro-set to a close, with "Song Of The Whale" on piano as an interlude performed by Quaeschning.
There is another element to the above proceedings: percussionist Iris Camaa, who for some years now has augmented the programmed grooves that anchor Tangerine Dream's machinations. Her presence is a questionable one, since her own performance hovers over and doesn't always align with the locked-down drum sequences. For the retro material, such fiddling should be regarded as taboo. It's enough that Froese, Froese and Quaeschning drop auxiliary synth shadings over the top of the tracks playing out, but the likes of "Midnight In Tula" and "Poland" aren't going to prove the easiest to play along to, and in the case of the latter, it's heresy. As eye candy, Camaa does just fine; when it comes to "doubling" the drumline to "Underwater Twilight," she's all mime.
The fuse for the "modern" set is lit by "Oriental Haze," which quickly recalls how plastic and soulless the band's post-'80s output is. Some of the newer tunes sound ripe for turntables or a young blonde diva's vocal, or both. The slant towards contempo-pop and trance and the abundance of papiιr-machι arrangements could be argued as Jerome's influence, though dad has always (technically) ruled the roost. Still, little doubt exists that the junior Froese had plenty of wiggle room throughout his stint, which ended earlier this year. Also, in the very late '80s and early '90s the use of sax began to creep into the Dream's music in a move to make it sound less dated. This was a mistake. Longtime unofficial-official saxophonist-keyboardist Linda Spa joins the show two-thirds of the way through and sloshes through the colorless whole notes and half notes that made the Dream's 1992 tour of North America a bizarre event. Spa's style is so bland she'd do well to cop some of Kenny G's moves. At least former guitarist Zlatko Perica was invited back to add an edge to some of the less inspiring tracks. From "Bridge" to the passable title track of Melrose to "Lamb With Radar Eyes" from the abominable Goblin's Club, none of the pieces bear even a passing similarity to the trailblazing era. Even Edgar Froese's guitar spot in this instance, "Talking To Maddox" lacks the coolness it used to radiate; Jerome's is merely generic. And for some inexplicable reason, that vapid interpretation of "Purple Haze" is again chosen for the finale. The argument for the Dream's inward collapse due to the advent of new technologies in the late '80s and '90s will likely never expire.
Ultimately, it's obvious that nowadays Tangerine Dream the Merchandising Machine overshadows Tangerine Dream the Band. Apart from the nostalgia factor that drops off halfway through this DVD, the Shepherd's Bush concert was surely a great opportunity to hear some great music pumped through the kind of sound system that won't fit into one's living room. Yet after the leanest portions have been cut away, all that's left can be summed up as "more of the same" and "going through the motions" literally. Not an appealing truth, but it's still the truth.
1. Ricochet Pt. 1 Intro
2. Phaedra '05
3. Mysterious Semblance At The Strand Of Nightmares
4. Rubycon Pt. 1
5. Force Majeure
6. Desert Dream
7. Underwater Twilight
8. Warsaw In The Sun
9. Midnight In Tula
10. Silver Scale
14. Song Of The Whale Pt. 2/Pt. 3
15. Oriental Haze
17. Towards The Evening Star (Blue Gravity Mix)
20. Back Street Hero
21. Rising Haul In Silence
22. Lamb With Radar Eyes
23. Meta Morph Magic
24. Talking To Maddox
26. Purple Haze
27. Edgar's Closing Words
Total time 167 Minutes (Approx.)