It was a beautiful sight. The sequins, the gold and silver threads, the brass instruments were shining brilliantly relecting the stage lights in various colors. In the center of all the glittering and the glaring was Wayne Kramer - in his all-white attire, going to and fro between the players, his face beaming with joy.
February 2005 in London: The Starship was on the verge of disintegrating in midair, but yet it was steadfastly making its way toward the Saturn. This provides a report of the DKT/MC5 and Sun Ra Arkestra concert on February 25, 2005 at Royal Festival Hall in London.
I arrived at the Heathrow Airport the day before the concert. February is the worst month to visit London - as expected, it was dark, cold, wet, and gusty. Next day went to the venue at about 7:00PM, 30 minutes before the show began. No sooner had I entered the lobby than I had an English pub. A large crowd chattering loudly over lager around a bar. To a Japanese this is unique. Back home, at a concert in this size, I would have immediately been given a thick bunch of flyers announcing coming concerts/gigs and new releases of not only the performer of the night but other artists, then, I would find myself automatically standing in front of the merchandise counter that occupies about a half of the space selling T-shirts, CD's, wrist bands, caps, key holders, stickers, etc. And indeed, the Japanese fans make a long line to BUY these stuff; a sight which anyone that have visited Japan and saw the dynamism of its outrageous consumer market could imagine. But the British here don't seem to give a damn to commercialism; as far as I could see there was no activity in the lobby except the pub. I don't like too much commercialism, but I would have loved to buy at least a brochure of the concert as a commemorative. Thus, the memorabilia from the event are the ticket and the backstage pass which Margaret kindly gave to me. All were reservation seats, so I appreciated her having given me a good seat in the front stalls.
The concert was comprised of 3 parts. First, Sun Ra Arkestra played their set for about an hour. Then, after an interval of about 20 minutes, DKT/MC5 appeared to play their set of the MC5 repertoire. And in the last part of it they were joined by Arkestra and David Thomas, and they played Star Ship all together.
Marshall Allen and the Arkestra came on to the stage first . It was my first time seeing them live. Their costumes are humorous and beautiful, making me anticipate something exciting and fun will happen. At this point I was supposing the two groups, i.e. DKT/MC5 and Arkestra, would play together throughout the show, so I was just waiting expecting Wayne and others coming out soon, when Arkestra abruptly went into the first song taking me by surprise.
To me, who have only one album of Sun Ra, none of the songs they played was recognizable except Space Is the Place. I cannot therefore present a set list here, for which I'm sorry for Sun Ra fans if any of them are reading this. I only remember "Cosmic Hop" , a cool upbeat piece written by Marshall Allen, and a song called (probably) "Happy Crappy" . >>>Later, the May 2005 issue of MOJO carried an article about this concer, which had their set list.
To such an elementary listener of Sun Ra, however, their performance was extremely enjoyable and great fun. This may partly because the degree of "free" was lower than I had expected as it was never abstruse nor esoteric kind of music, so I could freely get into their tunes. (In the photo above, the man standing on the left is Mr. Marshall Allen.)
The way they produced the show was fun. Sometimes they were theatrical, or the brass players marched down the auditorium while the singer singing "Sun Ra is a mystery!", and at a point they made the audience sing along. They also played a few numbers in fairly standard style - all exquisite pieces of cool, superb rhythm. The acoustics of the hall was also excellent, which made each piece of sound literally shining like a star.
The man above was the singer and in charge of MC. His hat was in the shape of a star.
It was great to have a chance to know such futuristic and enjoyable music. It reminded me of what Dennis Thompson once said in an interview about the free jazz giant John Coltrane, " A guy like 'Trane to me, musically, is like Rembrandt is in the art world. He's a guy that just gave it all. " The music of Sun Ra Arkestra was universal and comprehensive, regardless of time and space.