Okay, okay, this has been available from VHF for months and months. But it?s a 165-minute 3xCDR monster beautifully packaged in a mini-DVD plastic box, with a series of warm fuzzy blurs of live photographs and liner notes by one Tom Greenwood to top it off. One hell of a way to document, commemorate and celebrate a Neil Campbell-less tour of the east coast of the USA in Autumn 2003, which saw occasional sonic assistance from Mr Greenwood, Mr John Godbert and Mr Matthew Bower along the way.
I am of course assuming you know who the Vibracathedral Orchestra are, which may be reasonable considering how long they?ve been producing their divine free skree hymns, or it may be presumptive considering how quickly each of their records go out of print. Thankfully, this lil? box is still available and pretty damn cheap considering how many hours of listening you?re going to get out of it. If you?re an experienced VCO hack, all you need to know is that this contains some of the best whacked-out monged-up cortex-liberating jams that I?ve heard the Leeds troupe trot out onto recorded format. If you?ve never dipped more than a toe into the murky waters of VCO?s Popol Vuh-on-a-ketamine-and-acid-binge total free improvisatin? ways, let me assure you that this is a very valid place to start: Ranging between set-(and CD-)length recordings and mere nine-minute fragments of six shows, these two and a half hours of dizzylingly heady drones and woven textures of sound knots actually serve as a great summation of their various modes and moods.
The first disc starts with the VCO kicking out some of their trademark effortless-yet-propulsive dense drones that mark the heaviest and darkest moments of these assembled musicians. Probably feeling the physical and mental toll of travelling so far to freak a few lucky attendees, with added jet-lag and lord knows what else, they pump all this and into their music, creating a raging sandstorm of percussion, guitar, keyboard, horns and god knows what else. Unsurprisingly, Mr Bower makes his presence known guesting on this song. The second track is an in-store appearance lasting around half an hour which backs off the ferocity in favour of a cosmic jam guaranteed to addle your ears.
The second disc contains probably my favourite recorded output by the VCO to date, containing three tracks of comparatively mellow and searching improvisation. It starts with an extract of the last date the troops played at Brooklyn?s Free103point9 space ? eighteen all-too-brief minutes of a sparkling climactic show that sees them joined by Bower and Godbert and freaking out of all boundaries, with barely cogent squiggling, searching guitar lines, honking and wailing horns and hefty zonked tones that leave your mouth watering for more. The second track may be the best thing VCO have ever committed to record, and it just happens to be the mellowest thing I?ve heard them do too. Gorgeous synth drones pulsate to the accompaniment of wah-wah guitar, fantastically awed bowing of a violin and all kinds of unidentified textures also thrown into the mix. Like a starship of peace, they life off from planet earth and transport the willing listener to a celestial paradise. Finally, a nine-minute snatch of humming, tremeloed drones from unidentifiable instruments and a lone human voice float free of gravity, once or twice glancing down towards roots of melody that occasionally poke their heads out of the ground far below.
Bower steps up to the plate again for the third disc, which features a solitary hour-long performance from the mid-point of the tour in Philadelphia. Unleashed and uncensored, this final push towards the sun takes in all of VCO?s previous textures, guises and paths towards intransigent bliss. Building up to a groove of shamanic descent overlaid by some of their best yelping guitars and cattle-lowing horns and a hell of a lot of dusty drone, this track is one of the best VCO have committed to tape.
By this point of the review I don?t think I need to tell you that VCO are not only one of the most enduring but also one of the most vital groups of musicians in existence in the world. Their continued presence, prodigious output and ferocious creativity is a status that should serve to reassure everyone about just how inspiring and diverse music can become. Shorn of hard edits and liberated of reasonable constraints, this sprawled collection of just six recordings over three discs finally allows the Vibracathedral Orchestra to unfurl and shine luminescent above the parapets of this musical kingdom. Though this document?s size may be imposing to the casual listener (or anyone without three hours + recovery time spare), anyone prepared to bask in its full length will receive communion and enlightenment from on high.
Steady yourself, hold tight and dive in. The water?s wonderful. 10/10 -- Dave Stockwell (8 August, 2005)