Hawkwind Returns to the Wilbur March 13

hawkwinddavebrockCancelled … again. …Sigh … I’ve long called Hawkwind a poor man’s Pink Floyd and I mean nothing negative in that. In fact, news of the English prog-rock band’s first US tour in 20 years is making me downright giddy. They’re at the Wilbur Theatre Thursday March 13 and fronted as always by founding member, singer-guitarist-songwriter Dave Brock. Dozens have passed through the Hawkwind portals – most notably Motorhead’s Lemmy – but the lineup that’s with Brock now is reportedly the longest-running yet: Dead Fred, Tim Blake, Richard Chadwick, Mr Dibs and Niall Hone. (They’re kinda like Mark E. Smith and the Fall that way.) The tour commemorates the anniversary and re-release of the band’s landmark 1975 album, “Warrior on the Edge of Time” (which, of course, only Brock played on). Hawkwind will perform the album in its entirety – I cannot wait to hear the proto-punk churner “Kings of Speed”! – along with classic tracks selected from their 40+ year history. The tour will include a full light show, cosmic space dancers and psychedelic. I hope to be talking to Brock pre-tour, but I wanted to share some of our previous chats and my take on what the live show was (and will likely be again.) The following is an excerpt from stuff I wrote around 1990. Cult bands tend to suffer the slings and arrows of the non-believers, and Hawkwind, perhaps England’s quintessential cult band, knows it better than most. They’ve been playing at it — in one form or another, with a myriad of lineup shifts — for two decades, pursuing a usually unfashionable space-rock sound. Not only have they been slagged by England’s rock press, they’ve often been ignored, says founder-leader Dave Brock, on the phone from his isolated farm in Devon. “You see, the funny thing is we can actually play festivals over here where we play to maybe 50,000 people at the top of the bill,” he says, “and there is never a review in the paper. And I’d think, ‘Why have they got this campaign against us?’ “ Now, however, the tide is starting to turn, which Brock notes with some bemusement. “We’re regarded recently,” he says, “as having assumed a legendary state. It’s nice to be a legend, I suppose.” Hawkwind is a perfect “roots rock” band for some of the new prog-rock outfits. Hawkwind’s been plugging away at its wonderfully psychedelic, futuristic, low-tech space-rock boogie for years. “It’s always been treated as a vehicle that you enjoy doing things on,” says Brock, who sings, writes, plays guitar and synthesizers. “There have been times in all those years when you’re fed up with it, but then you carry on and see what turns up next. It’s never been regarded as a career or job.” Hawkwind’s milieu is, generally, science fiction — the band has off-and-on collaborated with acclaimed sci-fi writer Michael Moorcock — and, as a writer, Brock likes to point out environmental crimes, to warn of society’s increasing mechanization, compartmentalization and dehumanization. The best science fiction, Brock says, “really has to have visionary context. That’s the object, really: to put a across a vision of the future that could well happen.” In “Damnation Alley,” for instance, Hawkwind takes its listeners on a frantic journey through a nuclear firestorm, trying to outrun the destruction. Asked if there’s a central theme in Hawkwind’s music, he says, “I think there are lots of little men battling the system. I think you have to do that unless you become very corrupt.” That’s serious sounding stuff, but Hawkwind is not without its sense of humor. From the “Quark, Strangeness and Charm” LP of the late ’70s, a rebirthing period for the band, there’s this: “Copernicus had those Renaissance ladies/Crazy about his telescope/ And Galileo had a name that/Made his reputation higher than his hope/But did none of those astronomers discover/While they were staring out into the dark/That what a lady looks for in her lover/ Is charm, strangeness and quark.” “We’ve never been that serious,” says Brock. “I think the humor’s always been there. I mean, we have different people in the band, but I think basically the spirit exists, as it were. It’s obviously always going off in different tangents and directions, but I regard it as sailing a ship through the sea and you have to sort of try to get a course.” And what I saw at the show, at the long defunct Channel club? Where, you might wonder, do these musical genres meet, mix and mingle: Spacey, early-’70s-rooted psychedelia; late-’70s punk rock, and contemporary sci-fi visions of an overly mechanized, possibly post-nuclear, future world? Only at a Hawkwind gig. “It’s about five o’clock in the morning, well past our bedtime,” sighed one of Britain’s Hawkwinders at the onset, just before the synthesizer-based pulse began to churn, metal-on-metal-like, setting the stage for nearly two hours of sci-fi rock ‘n’ roll mayhem. They rose to the occasion. It was all played out before a mid-size, attentive, wildly diverse, crowd — punks, aging hippies, metal-heads, bikers and techno-nerds — and it was a sprawling, oft-wondrous display of space-rock boogie, low-budget theatrics and creative interpretations of modern-world paranoia. Escapism with a kick. Hawkwind, a quintet fronted by multi-instrumentalist Dave Brock, is a poor man’s Pink Floyd. Not ponderous or pretentious, mind you, but faster, wittier and grungier. In pop culture, cinematic-sci-fi terms this analogy holds: Pink Floyd is to Hawkwind as “Alien” is to “A Boy and His Dog.” From the latter two: lesser expectations, expenses and melodrama; more of an edge and actual twists and turns, more multilayered pleasures. Hawkwind’s Channel show — sometimes fronted by multi-masked and costumed singer Bridgett Wishart — relied heavily on songs from their latest LP, “Space Bandits.” This was fine because that music rocks and soars on disc, and did so live: fast, futuristic and hard. But Hawkwind did omit most of their greatest cult non-hits — no “Quark, Strangeness and Charm,” “PSI Power,” or “Kings of Speed.” The latter, by the way, was penned by ex-Hawkwind bassist Lemmy Kilmister, who was booted from the band after being caught smuggling amphetamines across the US-Canada border in the mid-’70s. Kilmister went on to found Motorhead — and a whole new movement of full-tilt punk-metal. But Hawkwind roars on, even after key member Bob Calvert’s heart-attack death last year. Pro-environmentalist, anti-conformist and anti-TV-culture thoughts sprouted up throughout the low-tech, oft-linear, psychedelic squall of Wednesday’s show. Hawkwind occasionally drifted and droned, but, more often than not, catapulted you into hyper-space with just a couple of tough, muscle-bound, bass-heavy chords, a longterm power-jam spinoff spiel, and a foreboding, yet fun-loving, presence. The surging refrain to “Realms,” the slam-bam psychedelic rocker that started the show, went “Surrender the life/Surrender to death,” and it was both chillingly real and rockingly goofy — a suggestion of the shape of things to come, and a spoof on the same. Hawkwind rode that axis throughout, lurching between hope and despair, blurring the lines, and, yet, tellingly railing at various “crazy fools.” More power to ’em. Hawkwind is not part of anyone’s system. Tix: $40-$30. Starts at 7:30 with Boston prog-rock/psych band Perhaps. 246 Tremont St., 617-248-9700 www.thewilburtheatre.com