Steve Roach Live in Tucson February, 9, 10 & 11 Tucson Arizona 2018
Spurred on by the renewed attention his music received in the aftermath of his Grammy nomination for 2017's Spiral Revelation, electronic artist Steve Roach returned to live performances with a vengeance, performing three concerts, held on successive nights, each with a different focus, to three rapt sold-out audiences at Tucson's Galactic Center located close to his desert home. The Center provides an intimate experience and manifests a perfect habitat for Roach's music. The space was festooned with inspiring psychedelic / visionary artwork and looming sculptures, and even had space for sitting. People came in from all over the US, Canada, and Europe. Some in the enthralled audience were in for the "heroic dose" and attended all three nights.
2018 marks the 30th anniversary of the landmark Dreamtime Return (1988), portions of which were performed live during the three-day event.
Unlike some concerts where "classic" albums are performed note-for-note, often to their detriment and the boredom of the audience, in these concerts Roach illuminated the origins of Dreamtime Return with a 2018-perspective Return. Roach brought the pieces forward as a dynamic "present moment" experience, a difficult feat for most artists. In that sense, the experience for concertgoers was similar to hearing Miles Davis play several versions of his jazz classics over a week's gig at a jazz venue. The appreciative listeners were rewarded beyond their expectations.
Roach opened night one with a daring new piece that drew on 20th century harmonies to create a mystical immersive environment. After this dazzling opener set the stage, beautiful quiet drones and harmonic strands morphed into sonic pictures of the desert landscape complete with mysterious noises and birdcalls. An intense rhythmic didge was set into motion and supported one of the more fierce didgeridoo improvisations one could hear. This eventually transformed into an expanded and intense version of "Looking For Safety", a key element of Dreamtime Return. Roach has been performing this piece live for at least four years now as a kind of signature piece, and each performance evolves in a dramatically different fashion from the original or previous live version. The themed atmospherics and massive Australian sized-percussion trance spaces were mixed with altered outback and rainforest birds sources (recorded on his original visits Down Under) to deliver mystery and poignancy to an already intense emotional piece. Roach finished the first night with a loving and nuanced performance of pieces from Spiral Revelation, a recording that has demonstrated the evolution of "Berlin School" electronica.
Night two was completely focused on Dreamtime Return and, like many classic albums, the mere presentation of these pieces call up strong emotions in both listeners and the performer. Linda Kohanov, Roach's wife, introduced the concert and announced that this was the first time most of the the music from Dreamtime Return was to be performed live since the early 90's. This had not been previously mentioned until Linda stated it before the concert. Linda set the tone for what was to follow by speaking of the release's significance in a global perspective and in her life; it was how she met her future husband.
As Steve emerged into his setup of beloved hardware instruments, some of which were used on the original Dreamtime recording, the familiar notes of the first piece "Towards the Dream" drifted out into the Galactic Center through a perfectly balanced sound system that could deliver the full range of these dynamic sounds. One could feel the audience's visceral reaction. Roach signaled that this was not to be a rote performance of the original release by adding new elements to the piece and expanding the length. As the piece built, the artist masterfully revealed that we were hearing the blood ancestor of Spiral Revelation, much to the delight of listeners. By the time Roach began "Magnificent Gallery", the feeling had arisen that something truly special was occurring. By balancing and simultaneously contrasting familiar sonic themes from other highlights in Roach's body of work -- specifically, a theme from another landmark recording, Structures From Silence (1984) was presented as a counter theme to "Magnificent Gallery" -- the artist produced a work that was more than the sum of its parts. Roach received a well-deserved standing ovation after this nearly two-hour performance.
Night three opened with a new and empowered full-length hour-long sequencer-driven piece that left the Berlin School in the rear-view mirror. Roach began with powerful evolving sequenced melodic motives that constantly shifted though different time signatures, building in volume, intensity, and rhythmic-melodic complexity. You could feel the breaking of barriers and boundaries as the piece built to a sizzling, consciousness-expanding conclusion. In bringing night three full circle, he performed altered and evolving versions of pieces from Dreamtime Return and Spiral Revelation. Roach ended the concert with Spiral Revelation's opening track, "We Continue". The message here was clear and yet another standing ovation was delivered.
The years of Roach's dedication to live performances illuminates and amplifies the present moment in a way that a recording can never do. The fusion of the audience and the artist takes the music to an entirely different place not accessed in the safety and solitude of the studio or living room. The sonic power of the live sound system and sounds he creates to be presented and shaped in real time at a resounding volume creates an experience both Roach and the live audience share as one. Meanwhile, we can still have an ongoing experience of all this in the safety of our living room. Word is both Saturday and Sundays concerts were immaculately recorded and will be released in spring 2018 just as they occurred, both double-CD releases! TURN IT UP and sign me up!