Ever wonder what it was like to see Tangerine Dream back in 1971 when they were playing dingy basement clubs in West Berlin? You got a sense of that Friday night when they performed at the Underground Arts Theater, a dingy basement club in a desolate section of Philadelphia. Downsized from the 3000 seat Electric Factory to this 250 seat venue, it has to be the smallest space that Tangerine Dream has performed in 40 years. Easy.
And that’s a shame because what those 250 people saw was an explosive performance from a band that is legendary, iconic, yet still never rewarded with the credit or audience they deserve. And it is partially their fault. I know that I am among many fans who checked out in the early 1990s when the Dream’s music got increasingly bombastic and their performances increasingly robotic, and not in the Kraftwerk sense. A Dream concert in the 90s consisted of long stretches of musicians staring into computer screens and barely playing a note live. You could’ve just played the CD and there are some who suspect that’s all they were doing.
But if you haven’t seen Tangerine Dream since 1993, then you haven’t seen Tangerine Dream.
The Tangerine Dream of 2012 sounds nothing like the free-form space-psychedelic band of 1971, nor the prefabricated sound of the 1993 band. Fronted, in a manner of speaking, by founding and only original member, Edgar Froese, they essayed 90 minutes of Dream music spanning much of their career. Some of the highlights included “Song of the Whale, Part II, “Logos”, “Love on A Real Train” and “Marmontel Riding on A Clef” with lots of solo spots given to Bernhard Beibl who was understated in his demeanor but who wailed on several solos, tapping harmonics, bending long sustains and riding that driving TDream groove into the skies. Equally impassive, but handling a lot of the keyboard parts was Thorsten Quaeschning who has his own retro-space music project called Picture Palace Music.
More demonstrative was percussionist Iris Camaa, her blonde hair flailing while she pounded out grooves, fills and percussive explosions. I had the sense that she was backed up considerably by pre-programmed rhythms, especially when she slipped behind the beat a few times, but there was no denying the energy she gave to the performance. Both reed player Linda Spa and cellist/violinist Hishiko Yamane were under-utilized. They didn’t play much and when they did, they were buried in the mix. Spa’s flute brought a nice organic touch early on. She had a tenor saxophone showcase later on, stepping to the front of the cramped stage, but she did little with it in a restrained solo. Yamane’s only solo spots came on a Theremin solo and a violin party piece from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons. ” It’s possible they did more texturally, but my view of both artists was completely obstructed by one of the two wide pillars that framed the stage. Here’s a less obstructed view with Tangerine Dream live in Zurich.
The band played non-stop for virtually an hour and forty-five minutes without a pause, shifting from one mood to the next, weaving themes in from several songs, sometimes in fragments, sometimes full blown and even extended excursions like “Love on A Real Train.” They managed to embrace their space music heritage circa Stratosfear while updating it with more aggressive rhythms and dynamic shifts. They even pulled out “Streethawk” their theme for the short-lived TV series
Closing with The Doors‘ “Crystal Ship” was a nice nostalgic touch and nod to their psychedelic roots, but… please don’t do that again. Wasn’t the Under Cover – Chapter One album of pop covers enough?
Judging from other posts I’ve seen of their Boston performance and set-lists of their European shows last month, it seems like Philadelphia got a truncated version of the show. Boston’s House of Blues concert reportedly latest some three hours with two sets and an encore. We got one long set and no encore. I suspect the band wasn’t happy with the venue. Going from a 3000 seat dance hall to a 250 basement has to be a blow to the ego. Froese alluded to that in his closing words, hoping that next time the venue would extend a few yards further back and and the stage, which was cramped, was a little bit larger. In fact, YouTube videos posted from the tour show a much different stage set-up which may explain the shorter set.
Given that there was a certain amount of duress and last minute adjustments made, with the music they did play, Tangerine Dream went all out in a performance that continues a redemption that started at Moogfest 2011. They’re acknowledged as pioneers and icons, yet, they don’t seem to get the respect of contemporaries like Kraftwerk who hole up in their studios and pop out every decade or so for prestige performances like their instantly sold out week long run at the Museum of Modern Art last year. For some reason, Kraftwerk are perceived as the seminal and influential band creating high art while Tangerine Dream are regarded as this acid-laced novelty from another time.
With recent albums like The Angel of the West Window, The Island of the Fay and Chandra, and live performances like those on the Electric Mandarine Tour, they are making the symphonic music of the 21st century. It’s just a symphony with an enhanced, polyrhythmic rock beat and screaming guitar solos in an enveloping, immersive experience.
Edgar Froese is now 68 years old and he looked able but frail and his voice has gone from a low rumble to a nasally whine. But he’s still carrying the LED of Tangerine Dream. If you’ve been lamenting the passing of Tangerine Dream’s golden years, then you are missing their glowing twilight. If you have a chance, catch Tangerine Dream on the rest of their US Tour.
Here’s a list of 10 Tangerine Dream Albums to Blow Your Mind.
~© 2012 John Diliberto ((( echoes )))