Atomhenge 76

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Hawkwind's "Atomhenge" stage show in 1976 remains the last of the truly ambitious live expeditions that the group would undertake in the aftermath of the Space Ritual showcase. The stage decorated with vast, glowing molecules was impressive even before the band took the stage, and the only drawback of any available souvenir of the event -- this one included -- is that you don't get to see any of it. Even with a generous 16-page color booklet at its disposal, Atomhenge 76 bears just three photographs of the event -- and one of them turned up as a single picture sleeve back in the day. Shame. As for the music, Atomhenge 76 is basically an expanded reissue of the mid-'90s Thrilling Hawkwind Stories set, documenting the group's October 1976 show at London's Hammersmith Odeon and rejoicing, sadly, in the same slightly less-than-perfect sound quality. The vocals are mixed high and thin, while the band is largely a half-distant buzz. Certainly the ferocious interplay that Hawkwind displayed on the night is far from view, a failing that is especially noticeable during the instrumental passages -- and, of course, there's a lot of them. Nevertheless, it is difficult to gripe at the sheer quality of the performances, as the band get to grips with a full 50 percent of the recently released Astounding Sounds Amazing Music album, drop in a plug for the forthcoming "Back on the Streets" 45, and execute excellent versions of a few choice oldies -- "Brainstorm" is especially dramatic. There's also an early airing for "Hassan I Sahba," the so-evocative document of Middle Eastern strife that would not be officially released for close to another year -- spikier than its studio counterpart, its status as the spiritual successor to "Urban Guerilla" was readily confirmed by a biting performance.

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