Tangerine Dream Still in Space Live at Keswick Theatre Philadelphia/Glenside
by John Diliberto 09/29/2023
Keswick Theatre, September 27, 2023
Outside of a one-off concert at SXSW, it’s been 11 years since Tangerine Dream last toured America. That was the last time we saw Edgar Froese leading the band that he founded in the late 1960s. He would leave the planet in early 2015. In 2012, the group had saxophone, percussion, and electric guitar added to their sound. But at the Keswick Theater in Glenside outside of Philadelphia, that is all gone. The group is stripped back to Thorsten Quaeschning and Paul Frick on synthesizers and Hoshiko Yamane on violin and occasional synth. And even the synthesizer array is pretty modest compared to Dream shows past that featured towering modular set-ups.
In stripping down to the trio format (which they’d done earlier with Ulrich Schnauss) they have returned to the trio configuration the group was founded on, and which drove them through their classic years in the 1970s, and albums like Phaedra and Rubycon. But more than configuration, the sound has stripped down as well, back to how the group played in the mid-1970s, with a freer sound and more live playing. Nevertheless, many of the backing tracks were pre-programmed and there were times when the trio was just standing on-stage while the music played.
The spirit of Edgar Froese hovers over the music in more than a cosmic sense. Much of their new compositions are based on sequences, motifs and sketches left by the late founder. In concert, the repertoire of this new Dream is a mix of music from the 1970s and 80s and new compositions from the albums Quantum Gate and Raum, their latest release. If you were looking for point-perfect recreations, which was the modus operandi of the 1990s and 2000s versions of the group, you weren’t going to hear them in this performance. While the more driving and melodic songs of the band, like “White Eagle,” ”Chronozon” and “Betrayal (Sorcerer Theme)” were instantly recognizable, their interpretation of 1974’s “Phaedra” just barely hinted at the original, although still maintaining its sequencer drive and surreal soundscape. They also nodded to one of their musical descendants, playing the “Stranger Things” theme by Kyle Dixon and Michael Stein, which is ripped right out of the mid-1970s Tangerine Dream sound.
Their signature piece, “Love on a Real Train,” from the score to Risky Business, was much more driving as it shed the Steve Reich theft that characterized the original track and made it sound more like a Dream composition.
Their new music isn’t as firmly planted in my mind yet, so as the band moved forward from one track to the next, there was a bit of a blur of sameness as one set of interlocked sequencer tracks bled into the next. The title track of Raum found them at their most minimalistic mode with cyclical, hypnotic sequencers diving into infinity. Raum translates as “space” and while Quaeschning tried to explain it as meaning “room” and space in the music, it is, you know, Tangerine Dream, and they do send you into outer space.
Many of the tracks were marked by inventive solos, including Paul Frick’s Moog-like foray on “Dolphin Dance” and Quaeschning revealing his classical and jazz chops. Hoshiko Yamane’s electric violin was mostly textural, and in a band that has been sorely lacking in stage presence throughout their career, her demeanor was almost sentinel-still, which is hard to be, when playing violin in a rhythm driven context. Quaeschning often seemed to not know what to do with himself, just pacing his platform, like he was looking for the TV remote..
The visuals were not nearly as extravagant as Dream shows past. The lighting and rear screen projections of various geometric patterns, optical illusions and just pure surrealism, were enhancing, but the screen was much too small for the size of the stage and venue. The home movie of the band recording sounds from trees in the forest was a bit of a visual non sequitur.
There was definitely a more bass-heavy percussion sound to the group. I’ve heard some characterize it as an EDM influence, but I think it was more of a mixing decision and maybe not the right one, since it often obscured subtler aspects of the music.
They ended their performance with a 30-minute or so encore improvisation which harkened back to the 1970s-era Tangerine Dream, when concerts were purely improvised. Although there seemed to be some planned motifs, the ensemble moved freely through several modes. It opened in something of a space-classical mode with interlocked arpeggios and Yamane playing long legato lines. Mellotronesque flutes emerged at one point and then, for no apparent reason, there was a looped clip of Tom Cruise opening monologue about a dream in Risky Business that seemed to have nothing to do with anything other than a shout-out to their 1983 soundtrack for the movie. A clockwork weave of mesmerizing sequencer patterns emerged and Yamane played her freest solo of the night. It eventually evolved into a rhapsodic piano solo from Quaeschning as Frick sent in short synth stabs.
Tangerine Dream at the Keswick Theatre did the best thing a concert could do. It suspended time. I felt like I was in a train roaring thru constantly evolving surreal environments. I didn’t look at my watch until they ended their two-hour set.
Some people gripe that this really can’t be Tangerine Dream because the founding member is dead and the two musicians from the bands classic era, Christoph Franke and Peter Bauman aren’t in the group. But this is not a ghost band playing the hits. Thorsten Quaeschning, who has been in the band since 2005, along with Hoshiko Yamane, were both anointed by Edgar Froese and his widow, Bianca Froese-Acquaye, to carry on the original spirit of the band into an evolving future. The result is their best music in 30 years.