There is a transparent curtain between the edge of the stage and what lies deep beyond at ASB Waterfront on Friday night. A curtain, a mesh, of light and image, tie-dyed, occasional creatures flitting across like insects stuck in a web, we are embarked on a trance like journey reminiscent of a psychedelic era. “two whole halves of a…” I whisper to my old mate, remembering our twenty-ish indulgences over forty years ago.
A figure appears through the mist, barely visible through the curtain and you wouldn’t be far wrong if you felt like it was Dave Gilmour in there, and the stirring sounds of a Pink Floyd concert introduction.
Antonio Gramsci wrote about cultural hegemony. Mussolini threw him in prison, wanting to silence his voice for twenty years. He succeeded, because despite concerted and popular efforts to free the Italian Communist, Gramsci died from multiple illnesses derived from the harsh prison conditions.
But Paul McLaney is doing his bit to promote immortality, through his music, and through his occasional project Gramsci, on stage tonight to share his fourth album, the first in 15 years, and if this is musical hegemony, bring it on. Legendary producer Greg Haver joins on drums, and then Jol Mulholland sidles on as the sound builds, definitely Floydish, and behold, the supergroup, a Gramsci Inheritance as the band strike up an “Achilles Heel”. This could be another ode to immortality as the pace quickens and the wall of sound delivers us David Bowie in his cancer years “need becomes addiction when you’re predisposed”, “must be something wrong with me, ‘cos I can’t say no to you my Achilles heel”. We are addicted.
“Tantalus” has a clear but shimmery Jol Mulholland bathing us up to the chin in a pool of sound and we try and grab the forbidden fruit which is tantalisingly close but someone teases us away with a saxophone to the dark side of some other moon and I didn’t quite catch his name but another local superman for sure.
“Like a Scar” is recognisable from the earlier video release, with Paul alternating between bass and lead. Dave Gilmour comes back on guitar.
“Pride & Joy” let’s our conscience speak, and now I get it, there’s some Vedder Jam mixed up in this, and so I name this music progressive grunge, a 21st century Inheritance from Paul’s musical influences as a young man.
Paul McLaney has a slight burr in his accent which could be Irish but in fact represents his Stockton-on-Tees origin some 45 years ago. Almost a Geordie. "Stars fell on Stockton" according to The Shadows, and one little star emigrated to New Zealand and we are the better for it. You might not have heard of Paul because he hides behind a wall of sound and mesh but is remarkably prolific writing music for theatre along with solo and electronica efforts in addition to the occasional epiphany which is Gramsci. It’s like a tap turning on and you drink all the water in case it runs out, is the way inspiration hits, and the rest is immersion, essentially, as the new album develops, from an early morning epiphany. Roger Waters has the same experiences. Roger and Paul.
We’re on side 2 already (as I flip the exquisitely packaged vinyl over), and the album cover comes to death if not life, as "Icarus" lies dying and a Paul McLaney guitar solo crashes gently over us like a wave, inviting the would be flier to succumb to reality. If I could only fly. Merle Haggard said that.
Now we are “Hitting my Stride” as the screen in front of us becomes sheet music. Who needs drugs? Bryan Ferry comes out of Paul’s mouth. Roxy revisits. “Was it all worth It?” Oh, hell yes.
Paul on acoustic, seashore sound, tree on a cliff, “Golden Bough”
“Ancient History” theme returns, mythology juxtaposed with new philosophy, Bowie plays Floyd:
And the exquisiteness which is the new Gramsci album ends with a cacophony of sound invoking “Atlas”. Hold up the heavens, make way for our Inheritance. The screen becomes an abacus, acting normally, before the psychedelic kicks in. Abacus on acid.
The album is over, but the concert is happily not, as Paul stays solo. Acoustic Prog. And a song for Hamish from the first album, “Masonry Angels”, say it now before you go. And the rest is mostly Permanence another nod to immortality. “For the Asking” follows a song from the third album Like Stray Voltage and then the band come back for a trio to close it out, including the standout track “Give Me Strength” followed by it’s so ‘Easy”, it’s “Complicated” “Let’s make sure our legacy is worth the inheritance” is how he explains it, before declaring victoriously that his musical apprenticeship is now over. We expect no more than masterpieces from now on. But hang on, haven’t we just heard one?
Special mention to the musical mastery of Jol Mulholland and the solidarity of Greg Haver. And not forgetting someone out back running the mirages and Chris ensuring purity of sound. What a great venue the Waterfront is. More live gigs please !!!
- Achilles’ Heel
- Like A Scar
- Pride & Joy
- Hitting My Stride
- The Golden Bough
- Ancient History
- Masonry Angels
- Unknown ( from Like Stray Voltage)
- For the Asking
- Give Me Strength
Radio 13 thanks and credits Trevor Villers for all the images in this review.