It was back to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to see Radio Massacre International hit the stage at The Gatherings. I missed those blokes the first time they played there, but I wasn't going to miss this one.
The stage rig RMI uses is very simple, designed to travel. Gary has his guitar, a new lap guitar, and an array of effects pedals. Steve and Duncan split the synth duties, and each has a synth controller hooked into a bank of rack-mounted modules and sequencers. Add a few cables, and you're done. For this concert there'd be no need for keyboard stands, as the two Mellotrons served that purpose well. Steve took the helm of the Formicatron, and Duncan added Jeff's machine and the Synthi to his rig for the evening. Duncan also had a newly purchased Moog Source delivered to where they were staying, and it arrived at the hotel shortly before they did. Duncan took out his soldering iron and performed some mods on it during the afternoon back at the hotel, and it was good to go for the concert.
chuck van zyl helps warm up, too
I checked out the 'trons, and each was working great. Duncan, Steve, and Gary gave them a whirl as well. At one point the organist, who was warming up the church organ, joined them. It was Mellotron flute, Ian M. flute, and the real church organ for a little while, and from my listening spot in the center of the church it sounded incredible. RMI decided to work the church organ into the opening of the concert and reproduce a little of that magic I heard there earlier in the day.
final preparations by r.m.i.'s duncan goddard
During the setup a few people from outside filed in. The most frequent comment I heard about what was on the stage was, "Wow! Two Mellotrons!" Translation: "Pretty cool, but they'll be damn lucky if both of them work through the whole show." :-)
All set up and ready to go, everyone scattered for dinner, anticipating the 8pm start of the concert.
As the audience was being seated before the show, the church organist was filling in with some background music. With the lights low, RMI took the stage, and Steve and Duncan quietly joined the organist on the Mellotrons and continued with those machines for about 15 minutes. For a Mellotronist, hearing the Ian M. flute and 'tron flute in a church's acoustical space was sheer delight. Eventually Gary came in very quietly with his guitar (which more often than not sounds very much like a synthesizer and not a guitar), and RMI rounded out the set with more improvisation but no sequencers. At one point during the set it felt like the music had lost its way a little, but as true professionals one of the lads always kept the set rolling. Hey, that's improvisation, folks! Upon completion of the 40 minute set Steve announced to the crowd that they'd be taking an "interval" (that's a break to us US folks) and would be back soon.
It was pretty nice to hear RMI's performance of an electronic music set without sequencers fired on all cylinders. The guitar, Mellotron, and synthesizer combination works well, and it's obvious these guys have been a team for years.
Not done yet, RMI returned for an encore, again more sequencers and improvisation. The crowd appreciated that and gave a hearty applause at the end of the show.
There were a few thoughts in my head as I watched the RMI performance. The first was patience. These guys take their time to develop their performance, especially Gary, who plays in a very reserved manner when called out for by the mood of the improvisation. One expects typical Berlin School improvs to rush right into sequencer land and follow a certain formula, but this really didn't. I also perceived a great deal of communication and teamwork. RMI is a team, and that comes across when you're talking with them and when you're watching them perform. They keep in touch while improvising, through voice, looks, or through what they are playing. And they have fun!
The resulting music for the evening was largely Berlin School, sequencer based synthesizer improvisations with a good dose of Mellotron. Having nearly all of RMI's output, many of the other live recordings I've heard by them are a bit different from what I heard at The Gatherings that evening---a bit more reaching and perhaps not as squarely in the Berlin School vein. Take, for example, the "Hello Moon" section of the "Jodrell Bank" set, where a sequence builds and we begin to hear samples of the Jodrell Bank radio experiments where they bounced a radio signal off the moon. The combination builds until the Mellotron comes crashing in. This drama and a bit of rawness is what sets RMI aside from others who dabble in the genre. For this evening, though, it was more reined in. That's improvisation, folks!
After the show, many people visited the stage to eyeball the gear (especially the Mellotrons and for the real hard-core synth fans the AKS) and chat with RMI and get autographs. Available for the first time at the show were three new RMI live recordings, and I picked them up to round out my collection:
ne013 'people would really like
space rock if they would only give it a try'
Oh, how did the Mellotrons do, you were wondering? Flawless performance, nary a wobbly! Steve Dinsdale even commented on how much he liked the keyboard feel of the Formicatron (I had adjusted the key height earlier in the day but left the pinch rollers and pressure pads to fate, not wanting to mess with them just before the gig). Let's use this evening to kill the rumors: Mellotrons, when maintained properly, are reliable machines.
Steve, Gary, and Duncan are great people and work hard at their craft. Thank you very much for the atmosphere you created for the evening, both musically and personally. These guys have a lot of fun with themselves and with everyone else. Great lads!
Jeff: My first look at a Synthi (and I believe Duncan's first use of one onstage...I suspect he'll be looking for one now...:-) ). Nice M400 you have there, too!
Jimmy and Nancy: Thank you again for the kind hospitality, and I hope we can do this again soon!!
Images, sounds, and Mellotron reliability posting used with permission.