Gong have played scattered shows since most of the classic line-up re-united in 2006, but they have stpped up activity this year with a new album, 2032, the first to bring together Daevid Allen and Steve Hillage since 1974's You, and then a supporting tour.
I saw the band last year at the South Bank Centre and tonight's show was much the same. Everyone impressed me: the rhythm section of Mike Howlett on bass and Chris Taylor on drums was powerful and drove the music on. Allen was the same as ever, and in good voice. Gilli Smyth has slowed down a fair amount, as she glid across the stage, but her vocals are undiminished. Miquette Giraudy was clearly having lots of fun, dancing around, air-guitaring behind Hillage. They were having fun, and we were having fun in the audience. And I've not mentioned Theo Travis yet: another strong performance, covering Didier Malherbe's parts well as needed, more than capable of being the lead instrumentalist in places.
The big difference on last year was the inclusion of new material in the set. I quite like 2032 as a CD, and I thought the 2032 material worked very well in context. It was a thoughtfully constructed set, with plenty of classics later in the set, and a nice wind-down encore.
The Steve Hillage Band, i.e. 4/7s of Gong, opened with some classic Hillage solo tunes. I first saw Hillage and Giraudy live as System 7 at Glastonbury Festival, some time in the 1990s. To be honest, I preferred that set to this one. It was certainly well played tonight (and Howlett/Taylor impressed again) but I'm just not as much of a fan of early solo Hillage.
The main downside of the evening was the Kentish Town Forum. It's architecture and lack of seating downstairs tends to produce a very crowded area in front of the stage, and a terrible view further back. Maybe I wouldn't have minded that 10 years ago, but I'm getting old. I wanted a nice relaxing seat!
Age affects bands as well as audiences, and Gong make for an interesting comparison with Yes here. Yes fans regularly lament their band's age, with Howe, Squire and White all in their early 60s, yet Gong are performing with Smyth age 76 and Allen, 71. OK, the other band members are all under 60 (Hillage and Howlett are late 50s), but Gong show that prog rockers can perform into their eighth decade. Meanwhile, while some of the band members are older than Yes, many of the audience members are much younger than for Yes. While the Gong crowd had their share of middle-aged, there were youngsters too, far more than I saw at the recent Yes show. There's something about the Gong cult appeal that seems to keep bringing a steady trickle of new fans.