Somewhere back in the folds of history, I witnessed Tangerine Dream live. To this day, I swear holograms formed around Edgar Froese when he stood up to play guitar. My mate Tom, who sat to my left, says they didn’t on that tour. Either way, it was the only real (or imagined) movement of consequence on stage that night; I recall three heads poking out over banks of keyboards and perhaps the odd hand movement, and no communication verbally with the audience. Did the youth I was feel temporarily high-brow, mixing with university students and their ilk gathered there that night? In truth, I can’t recall. Intimidated probably, fidgety too, possibly; patience comes with age, apparently.
I seem to believe it was still the classic duo of Froese and Christopher Frank, with Peter Baumann having exited and replaced at the keyboard stool by Johannes Schmoelling, but without looking at ticket stubs up in the loft I can’t be sure (and the weather’s too cold for that).
That they were experimenting on stage, taking known themes and seeing where they would head was apparent that night, and was pretty much what they’d been doing since collaborating as an act back in the late 60s. So, too had they been recording that material, most likely expanding on ideas that were extemporised for later studio albums. The level of live recordings must have been immense. This hefty seven CD clamshell boxed set lists itself as The Bootleg Box Vol. 2 , meaning a previous such collection, and being coordinated by Mark Powell, with additional work by Vicky Powell, one can be assured Esoteric Records have cram-packed it with information worth digesting as you spend the best part of a day listening along to the audio contents.
Following 1974’s breakthrough album, the silver-decked Phaedra album, Tangerine Dream set their analogue synthesisers and sequencers on stun as they set the controls for the heart of the sun, then ventured further into celestial musical soundscapes far and wide. Despite critics and some big-name fans like Bowie, other Germanic experimental musical purveyors (or kraut rockers as they used to be called) never really meant much to the record buying public at large; save Kraftwerk of course, who made unique inroads into the singles’ charts, and weren’t slow in working out an android-mimicking stage presence to put them one up on the Dream as the years ticked by. Tangerine Dream were themselves evolving, increasingly getting into film soundtrack, then reinventing themselves yet again when rave culture surfaced. But, to be frank, they always seemed pretty insular and indifferent to external influences.
Thus, with Disc One we switch on to the classic trio of Baumann, Franke and Froese at Nottingham’s Albert Hall, back in 1976, plugging in and playing, elements of which those who’d bought their most recent Stratosfear album among others could be familiar, but mainly improvising and doing so intuitively. The sleeves notes inform us that Froese mainly focussed on grand piano and electric guitar, Baumann Mellotron, Fender Rhodes and other synths, Franke on Moog and sequencers. I’ll leave you to sort out which appears when. There are three tracks, each approximately lasting some 20 minutes or more.
With ‘Nottingham 1976 Part One’ synthesisers play through the notes of a series of related gentle chords and melodies, around nine minutes in a more profound lead line produces a melancholy, dare we say, bluesy, theme. Then progressively it reaches out and returns to form in a rather pretty form. At 15 minutes long there is introspection, a little trepidation as if something momentous is about to occur only for the music to take a slight detour ascending in a somewhat processional manner towards a conclusion, only to surprise the listener with the sort of pinging screams that always have us thinking of outer space, before returning to a calmer long arcing majestic conclusion.
‘Nottingham 1976 Part Two’ proves more classical, sometimes haunting and ever serene with predominantly a piano heard, other keyboards entering four minutes as the stately scene continues, with Froese’s guitar dancing through and it getting progressively jaunty if not pre-empting those guitar shredders of more recent vintage, breaking down into more frantic keyboards and harrowing guitar shrieks meaning we’ve gone some fair distance since the tune begun.
With ‘Nottingham 1976 Part Three’ bells chime, there is the distant march of drums, then horns, all keyboard constructs, abstractly move forwards. Percussive elements take on a more friendly bouncy feel and there are synth motifs latterly applied by others when synths became cheaper and passed down to pop and dance acts.
Discs Two and Three are taken from the fifth concert of their first North American Tour back in 1977, at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington D; and broadcast live on WGTB-FM radio. The second CD lists tracks those familiar with the band’s live Encore album will be aware of. While it’s been a good, few decades since I heard that double album in its entirety, I recall it as a little dry and less adventurous than studio releases. Here, those tracks seem a little fresher, they breathe more freely.
From sequencers and the ticking of clocks, there is definitely an air of mystery and suspense to ‘Cherokee Lane’. This is classic horror thriller theme music but more vibrant, and even aggressive. ‘Monolight’ next finds light in that darkness, albeit amid screeching synths and piano, before doing an about turn, as if in the dark they reach out into space, only to find friendly life forms and a gentler journey before tensions rise once more and familiar Dream tropes add drama and drift elsewhere, in their own good time, to arrive at ‘Monolith’ – After audience wolf whistles we get a rush tympani come wind noises, what might be the tinkling of gadgetry from some old sci-fi movie, and ominous space-like sounds before diverting into a rhythmic dance between sequencer beats and melody, with speed and intensity increasing like a train in motion. Exploratory distorted guitar is followed by similarly pulsating synths all plunging towards an ungodly death star, or indeed about to take one out. Sixties styled psychedelic fuzzed guitar soloing then confuses the listener only for the whole thing to dissolve, return then explode and the implication here is they were each looking where to end the improvisation, and one of them does; applying bass notes as route pattern, calling the other two back in and so towards a conclusion.
These soundscapes are quite rich in texture, and with less instruments or studio-doctored programming one picks out the key instruments of the players more clearly, the anticipation a near-telekinesis between the trio keenly observed.
Disc Three features three tracks with the opening ‘Drywater Rush’ being a fulsome, almost deadly -slow but moving progressive musical journey, instruments bubbling, rhythms shifting, beats oscillating, some five minutes in more notable melodies and tropes ensue, but it’s very much this together-as-one gradual seismic shift that really appeals to me as a listener.
‘Rain in Spain’ bears no resemblance to the tune from My Fair Lady, and with the whooping stoned US audience crying out at the beginning I did wonder if someone had misplaced some arena rock show. When the music itself begins I’m intrigued, as it appropriates a flamenco guitar type sound, initially I presume on keyboards, if not then some very heavily textured guitar effects are at work. From the halfway point it becomes a more atypical instrument Dream piece. ‘Octogon’ proves a full-on burst of creativity; treated guitar and synths noodling away, sequencers buoyantly effervescent, challenging and chasing each other in equal measures, before an exchange of ascending and descending notations lead towards climax.
The collection’s album liner notes that Tangerine Dream would take a different approach to their improvisations each night. While I’m sure there would be some repetition, you can genuinely hear them experimenting within a contained format across this CD.
Disc Four features material recorded the following year. Baumann having left, Steve Jolliffe joins on synthesizers, wind instruments, and outrageously – vocals, as does drummer Klaus Krüger (drums). This line-up recorded 1978’s Cyclone album, then without Jolliffe, Force Majeure the following year, both following more traditional progressive rock albums, tending to be frowned upon by the cognoscenti but rather liked by me.
‘Hamburg 1978 – Part One’ and ‘Hamburg 1978 – Part Two’ in fact features the second part and encore of their performance at the Hamburg Audimax on 24th February of that year.
‘Hamburg 1978 – Part One’ is somewhat epic, at over forty minutes long. It moves from avant-garde piano-led orchestra piece through various flowing movements with organ and flute ably featured, some cosmic-Hendrix style guitar soloing not coming until well over the20 minutes mark. There are near traditional jazz sections alongside moments edging towards ballroom dancing, but the band’s established identity is inherent, even while offering elements that would be of interest to fans of The Mahivishnu Orchestra, Eloy, possibly Camel, and perhaps Can and early Pink Floyd by way of the vocalisms, while the addition of a human percussionist is earnestly felt in the epic climax. The wild fluting intro to ‘Hamburg 1978 – Part Two’, followed by Stravinsky Firebird-like keyboards is more akin to an opening number than an encore. As it grows in stature, there are musical themes coming into play that Tangerine Dream fans will be able to reference by name, but the overall effect being some shamanic race against time and space.
Discs Five and Six, see a 1981 return to the UK, and was possibly the tour I saw them on. Froese, Chris Franke and Schmoelling are featured on numbers recorded at Newcastle City Hall on the evening of 25th October to promote their Exit album. At this point, Froese was apparently looking towards more structured themes, and Schmoelling being classically trained helped facilitate that evolving compositional process.
Aircraft sounds give way to a sultry beguiling dance rhythm, and acts as mutual reference points for Siouxsie & The Banshees, Fashion, Depeche Mode and others by way of The Velvet Underground on ‘Logos Part 1’. From the sounds of creaky portcullis rising above a moat that might well contain a vacationing Loch Ness monster now stirring, we lead into an eerie jig and thereafter familiar Dream expositions for Sobornost ‘(Edinburgh Castle)’. ‘Digital Times Suite’ follows on quite naturally, albeit with a certain Dr Who sci-fi theme feel before retreating to the slower beats held on ‘Logos Part 1’ while adding cautious thriller elements then building towards a somewhat sensual rhythm in climax, though it merges directly into ‘Bondy Paradise’, taking on Kraftwerk with their own autobahn-motorik rhythm while fronting it with a dancing synth riff that’s probably been half-inched by a dozen New Romantic acts.
With Disc Five we can hear Tangerine Dream changing to reflect the times, and in hindsight being more influential on others than they’re often given credit for, and so an important historical reference point whereas aurally it is interesting, but not completely arresting. Whereas Disc Six predominantly features numbers from the Exit album, and it appears the audience are familiar with the record.
The industrious ‘Mojave Plan’ shifts focus veering between musical accompaniment for some stream punk movie, 80s TV advertising, AI factory endeavours, during its heady percussive journey. ‘Thermal Inversion’ turns the heat on, with bright and somewhat jolly melodies that wouldn’t be out of place in Genesis as that band moved into AOR mode, before it becomes a largely percussive thing before adding other musical elements. ‘Remote Viewing/Force Majeure/The Price’ twists and turns in beguiling empirical manner. ‘Kiew Mission’ comes across as a journey down into hell, sauntering gently along, and once there; things don’t seem so bad. The album closes with ‘Choronzon’ where there’s a roar from the crowd as it begins, and you know between some lost-in-a-storm harrowing noises there’s more of those Genesis-friendly melodies going on, I really didn’t expect these and presume them to be Schmoelling’s influence – This stated the Tangerine Dream template isn’t totally thrown out the window, there’s no doubting who the band playing this stuff is, but even so there’s some pretty raucous applause at the end, and Exit proved a big hit with UK fans.
For those concerned the last few CDs in this collection are too many steps away from the classic Tangerine Dream, CD Seven’s ‘The Fassbinder Memorial Concert ‘, as such, a return to elder ways, being an epic, at just under 40-minute, soundtrack to any bold space cadet traversing the spiralling cavernous worm holes in the furthest reaches of space: Hypnotic even in its slow shifting musical focus, minimalist with melody. Some 12 minutes in, it docks and explores with wonder and meandering awe, getting bolder but never rushing. This CD works wonderfully at the crack of dawn as you slowly get body, mind and spirit together – At the 30 minutes mark, it becomes imbued with a vibrant mood and should have you bright and awake ready to conquer the day ahead.
A number of these recordings have appeared before, remastered here though. If you’re unfamiliar with Tangerine Dream this collection’s not the best place to start. If you’re a fan, then it’s no doubt a must, for those of us placed somewhere in between it’s an excellent opportunity to hear the group not so much evolve but metamorphosise while appreciating what the individuals involved could achieve with technologically temperamental analogue instruments in a live arena.
Reviewed by Paul H Birch.
CD One: Nottingham – Albert Hall (November 8th 1976)
- Nottingham 1976 Part One
- Nottingham 1976 Part Two
- Nottingham 1976 Part Three
CD Two: Washington Lisner Auditorium (April 4th 1977)
- Cherokee Lane
CD Three: Washington Lisner Auditorium (April 4th 1977)
- Drywater Rush
- Rain in Spain
CD Four: Hamburg Audimax (February 24th 1978)
- Hamburg 1978 – Part One
- Hamburg 1978 – Part Two
CD Five: Newcastle City Hall (October 25th 1981)
- Logos Part 1
- Sobornost (Edinburgh Castle)
- Digital Times Suite
- Bondy Paradise
CD Six: Newcastle City Hall (October 25th 1981)
- Mojave Plan
- Thermal Inversion
- Remote Viewing/Force Majeure/The Price
- Kiew Mission
CD Seven: Frankfurt The Fassbinder Memorial Concert (June 11th 1983).
- The Fassbinder Memorial Concert