As anyone who has attended one or two of them knows well, a Steve Roach concert is much more than a music performance. It’s a ritual gathering of kindred spirits from far and wide.
Our friend, uber-connoisseur and prolific reviewer Richard Gürtler made the trip from Bratislava, Slovakia, as he did in 2015. Others came from all over the States, and one from my old stomping grounds of Toronto, Canada. Rusty Hodge of SomaFM live-streamed all three concerts. Renée Blanche of Night Tides, who has earned great debts of gratitude from many of us musicians, joined us for the first two concerts.
Two of our best music labels were represented, by Projekt’s Sam Rosenthal and Spotted Peccary’s Howard Givens. Sam has been releasing Steve’s music since the mid-1990s and so we are all in his debt. Along with mastering several of Steve’s recent releases, Howard has given us high-definition remasters of Steve’s landmarks Structures From Silence and Dreamtime Return, each for their 30th anniversary – the latter of which was unveiled here on the second evening.
As always, many of my fellow musicians were present. Those with direct working connections to Steve include Brian Parnham, Dashmesh Khalsa, Will Merkle, Nate Youngblood, Hollan Holmes, Roy Mattson and Steve Brand. Others included EarthMantra’s Geoff Small, Dave (whose surname I didn’t learn), whose desert modular video I look forward to seeing, and Phil (whose music I tried but failed to find on Bandcamp). Dave and Phil: send me your links!
Visual artist Kati Astraeir was also present, as ever. Kati and Steven Eye operate Galactic Center and its companion space, Solar Culture. The latter is also a performance venue, as well as a gallery for various visual artists, while Galactic Center showcases Kati’s powerful work, which creates a splendid ritual space for various concerts, workshops and other special events.
Anyone who listens to ambient/atmospheric music has probably encountered Kati’s artwork and photography, which graces over 40 releases by two dozen artists, including Steve’s Grammy-nominated Spiral Revelation, Soul Tones and Live in Tucson: Pinnacle Moments. I hope to join that fortunate group someday…
Steve went above and beyond (even more than usual) preparing for these concerts, as the first two were almost entirely different, with only one piece in common.
The second concert (introduced by Steve’s wife, Linda Kohanov) was all Dreamtime Return, and the new high-definition remastered CDs were unveiled. Steve played about half of the album’s pieces, drawing them out in new ways as suited the present. The concert began with the album’s seven-minute opening piece, Towards the Dream, slowly building up (and up, and up) over forty minutes. We were seriously grooving from the get-go!
Every piece was a highlight, but I especially enjoyed Songline (with Robert Rich’s fantastic grooves), A Circular Ceremony (with Brian Parnham sitting in on rainstick), and the iconic Looking for Safety. This time, the latter’s soft beats were transformed into ground-shaking thunder. Steve has announced a CD-length new rendition of this piece, for release early this year. Count me among those who can’t wait!
The third concert was partly a combination of the first two, with several pieces from Dreamtime Return and others new to this evening.
In all three concerts, sequencers and drum machines featured prominently, perhaps most spectacularly in the 40-minute Towards the Dream. I especially loved the sequenced melodies coming through Steve’s two Oberheim Xpanders; the Oberheims’ sonic qualities are just beyond words. Ocarinas (one broken, used as a breathing portal), didgeridoo and shakers also had their moments.
Steve didn’t bring any of his large modular system this time; a few small Euro modules served the purpose just fine. He didn’t bring a guitar either, but one never feels deprived at a performance of Steve’s; there’s always plenty going on and it always runs deep. As a musician myself, I strongly relate to Steve’s desire to change things around as much as possible, to keep everything fresh and in-the-moment.
For the second time, I was unhappy to leave Tucson after only a few days. A month would be preferable, but is not practical… not yet. I dislike leaving the inspiring landscape, the good earthy energy and the great company of kindred souls. Of course, the energy isn’t really left behind; it’s a warm glow that stays with me (with all of us, I daresay) and will inspire music to come.
Someday I must journey here to play, to share my music with this audience, and others nearby: Sedona, Taos, Santa Fe, and other places. This is not feasible at present, but circumstances change. In the meantime, likely in two or three years, Steve will emerge again, and we’ll all be waiting.
The morning after my return, I’m tramping to work in the urban cold, a foot of snow and sheets of ice glinting all the concrete, listening to Dreamtime Return (as I would do on my commutes for several days), feeling not a little like Frodo Baggins leaving the serenity of Rivendell to lug that stupid Ring down to Mordor. From the realm of ritual magic, back to the dreary, hopeless mundane. But, “it is what it is, and whatever…” – one still has duties to perform. We try to hold the magic and give it our own shape, for which purpose the studio awaits. More on that to come soon…