This album maintains the grand tradition of great live Hawkwind recordings, including possibly the best recorded versions of Magnu, Levitation and Born To Go.
It’s interesting to see how different bands approach live albums. There are groups that avoid them altogether – most famously, Led Zeppelin, and there are plenty who feel obliged to do one and produce an uninspiring run-through of their studio material. Then there are those who demonstrate their on-stage chops and surpass their studio material by far – Made In Japan and Kiss Alive spring to mind as two obvious examples. And finally, there are those bands that seem to be better suited to the live environment than cooped up in a studio and they can churn out live albums endlessly without them losing any appeal. I’d put groups like the Grateful Dead and The Allman Brothers in this latter category, alongside the band in question here, British space rock stalwarts Hawkwind. The Hawkwind live catalogue is lengthy enough for sure but the fascination with their live material remains, and barely two years on from the last live album – the landmark anniversary tour release (Hawkwind 50 Live), here they are again with We Are Looking In On You.
On that anniversary tour, Hawkwind had something of an obligation to present a broad range of material from across their whole career. In this set, in addition to some brand-new songs which I’ll come to shortly, we get material from last year’s Somnia studio release, but then going backwards in time there’s a huge gap to Right To Decide (from 1992’s Electric Teepee) before a further leap back to Levitation from 1980. And the rest of the material is all the legendary ‘70s material. That should get long-standing fans drooling at the mouth, and rightly so! And they will probably continue drooling during the opening track, a blistering ten-minute version of Magnu. It’s relentless in its forward motion and is much more guitar-based than the synth-heavy studio version on Warrior On The Edge Of Time. They manage to create a wall of sound which you might wonder about since the band is now just a trio. Well, not surprisingly, they brought in additional musicians for the tour in the shape of Doug McKinon on bass, and Tim Lewis on Theremin and SynthAxe. This frees up Magnus Martin and Brock to choose between guitars and keyboards, meaning that they can have two guitars and one set of keys, or one guitar and two keys playing at any one time. That depth of sound really pays off.
Magnu is followed by two of the three tracks from Somnia, the short spoken Cave Of Phantom Dreams which provides a typical poetic interlude between the main pieces, and then Unsomnia which is good but can’t quite reproduce the hypnotic suffocating feeling of the studio version. Nevertheless, the vocals are a lot clearer live and the insistent repetition of ‘there’s a tap on my shoulder, I’ve been waiting for this for years’ is definitely a little unnerving. The third of the Somnia pieces, It’s Only A Dream, is the more interesting. A rather anonymous and short studio track is here transformed into a much more weighty piece that is three times longer and certainly takes on a new lease of life (despite the rather incongruous honky-tonk piano parts; surely that must surely be a first for the band!).
Following a fine version of Uncle Sam’s On Mars we get something called USB1. A new song, I hear you cry! Well, no, not quite because it’s really just an instrumental section that then returns to a reprise of Uncle Sam’s On Mars. That trick gets repeated on Brainstorm / Neurons and also on Born To Go / Star Explorer. Now, there’s nothing wrong with the creative splitting of songs in this way but it may give a mis-leading impression to fans that the album is awash with new material. There are in fact just two brand new pieces and both fall into the short and pleasant keyboard interlude category: the piano-based Peace and the synths of In The Beginning.
Like the first CD, the second opens brilliantly with an outstanding version of a Hawkwind classic. This time it is Levitation, shorn of the pop or punkish overtones that sometimes mar it. Brainstorm is also impressive even if the way Brock cheerfully sings ‘good-bye everybody’ undermines the traditional seriousness of the song! In my view, the highlight of the whole set is Born To Go and its partner Star Explorer which extends the song to a whopping 17 minutes. Just like Magnu, it’s relentless in its forward motion and those 17 minutes seem to pass by in the blink of an eye. Better than the one on Space Ritual? Very possibly. All you want after that is a great encore or two but here the choice is a little underwhelming. There are slightly flat acoustic versions of Space Is Deep and The Watcher, and between those two we get something of a comedy act with drummer Richard Chadwick being challenged to sing and blessing us with It’s Not Unusual (yes, the song Tom Jones made famous!). It’s great that the lads can relax and have some fun on stage, I guess, but surely this could have been better placed mid-concert, allowing them to end on say Silver Machine or Master Of The Universe.
This album maintains the grand tradition of great live Hawkwind recordings, including possibly the best recorded versions of Magnu, Levitation and Born To Go. There are a few ups and downs over the two hours, but interest never wanes. A must for Hawkwind fans and for those who love the space rock genre.