Another day, another live Hawkwind album but, before we go any further, one thing must be made clear. This album is not. . .a remastered recycling, an upgraded bootleg, a degrading rip-off. It is, however, the best full-length Hawkwind concert documentary in 30 years, a two-CD set that, in terms of sonic assault, accumulated orgones, and universal mastery, renders even the best-heeled of its myriad predecessors redundant as anything but historical documents. A Hawkwind live album you'll actually want to play more than twice.
Caught, indeed, at the so-called Canterbury Fayre concert in 2001, a lineup that merges the veterans Dave Brock, Simon House, and Alan Davey with more recent recruits Keith Kniveton and Richard Chadwick, drifts, dreams, and demands your attention through a set that, though hyper-heavy on older material, sounds almost frighteningly fresh -- frightening because some of the songs here are older than the audience listening to them ("Hurry On Sundown" was already in its thirties), but step out with as much punch and verve as numbers infinitely their junior.
In sheer musical terms, it's the presence of Simon House that lends so much of the energy and electricity to the set, his keyboards and violin not only creating the perfect backwash for the riffs and rhythms, but also coaxing the band towards numbers they might otherwise have passed over -- his own "Spiral Galaxy," of course, but also an "Assassins of Allah" that sounds as relevant today as it was when it first appeared (in 1977, as "Hassan I Sabha").
Songs that so many cheap and nasty rip-off collections have ground into the dirt (oh good, another live "Angels of Death") are totally reinvigorated, while the hoariest oldie of them all, the inevitable "Silver Machine," is given an even more startling face-lift, as old Hellfire himself, Arthur Brown, steps out to unsheath an operatic lead vocal and, while the band prepares for the encore, a brief but smirk-worthy poem.
The sense of occasion engendered by Brown's presence is overwhelming; the sense of triumph unveiled by the album itself is unsurpassed. Of course Space Ritual remains the benchmark by which all Hawkwind live albums should be measured. But Canterbury Fayre 2001 proves that they remain capable of reaching those same lofty peaks.