Ozric Tentacles | 05.27.09 | S.F.

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By: Eric Podolsky

Ozric Tentacles :: 05.27.09 :: The Independent :: San Francisco, CA

Ozric Tentacles
Ozric Tentacles is an institution. Though you may have never heard of them, the band, in its various incarnations, has been around since the mid ’80s and has released almost 30 consistently excellent albums comprised of proggy instrumental cosmic journeys. For those not already familiar with the strange, otherworldly musical universe that Ozric Tentacles inhabits, hearing them for the first time can be a jarring experience, as their music comes from a place altogether foreign to our Yankee ears. Creeping out of the misty hills of Somerset, England, the sound of the Ozrics (as fans call them) is not blues-based in any form, but is rather a combination of progressive space rock, Middle Eastern trance and dub, all soaked heavily in psychedelica. The band has never really gotten the popularity it deserves in the U.S. due to the fact that it has rarely toured the states over the years. But, the Ozrics have maintained a substantial cult following all over Europe for decades (they routinely play to crowds of 7,000 or more in Italy).

However, this was certainly not the case for the band’s tour opener at The Independent, where there couldn’t have been more than 200 fans (probably less) in attendance to witness a mind-fuck of a show. Experiencing the weird and wild sounds that pored off the stage, I felt like I was in on a well-kept secret. The type of music this band makes cannot be found anywhere else. The songs Ozric Tentacles craft act as windows to other realms, ethereal and evocative soundscapes, which may function as escapes from this world or journeys into the inner mind. The music is blatantly and unabashedly hallucinogenic, swimming in bloops and bleeps of shimmering synths. And above it all shines the masterful fretwork of virtuoso guitarist Ed Wynne, the brain and master craftsman of this wonderful music and a guitar god in his own right. Ed, who has always been the bandleader and main songwriter/engineer, is currently the only remaining original member of the group, which has had a multitude of line-up changes over the past few years. For most of the 2000s, Ozric Tentacles has been solely Ed’s project, though this has hardly affected the quality of the music at all, as the band’s newest album, The Yumyum Tree, can attest.

The current lineup of the Ozrics live band is comprised of Ed Wynne on guitar, synths and pre-programmed tracks, his wife Brandi Wynne switching between bass and synths, his son Cyrus Wynne on keys and synths, and monster drummer Oliver Seagle. At first thought, the idea of a Wynne family band seems more convenient than musically adventurous, but the powerful live show quickly proved that this incarnation of the band delivers. It is true that Ozrics’ live approach has changed dramatically over the years. Speaking with some die-hard fans that saw the band during its heyday in the ’90s (when they were able to pack The Fillmore), some disappointment was apparent at the loss of past band members, most notably “Jumping” John Egan, who fronted the band until 2004 as a shamanic stage presence of sorts, dancing and twirling around on stage and playing an assortment of foreign wind instruments. His presence was surely missed, but to first-timers, the show delivered on its own terms.

The band took the stage looking like a family of shaggy troubadours from another realm. They wasted no time diving right into Ozrics’ deep catalog of prog-fusion compositions, starting the set with “O-I,” a multi-faceted track from the 1989 album Pungent Effulgent. Experiencing Ed Wynne live it is impossible not to conjure up the image of Eddie Van Halen on acid, which his appearance and sound both fit. Right away, Ed’s guitar was right in your face with his trademark reverb-soaked shreddage exploding out of thick, Arabic-tinged, proggy grooves. I’ll admit, even for a somewhat well-versed Ozrics fan like myself, identifying individual songs was very difficult, but this was completely irrelevant, as an Ozrics show plays out as one long journey into the band’s own ethereal universe.

For the majority of the show, the drum and bass drove the songs with thick, strange grooves, often in odd time signatures. Brandi was laying it down thick the whole night, with Oliver beating the shit out of the skins, churning out high-energy breakbeats non-stop. Over all this continually washed bubbly, spiraling synth waves, which set the weird, ambient mood, which permeated everything. Everyone generated these mysterious noises as all band members were constantly fiddling with mysterious knobs. After a barrage of complex, face-melting compositions, including the rocking 1990 classic “Erpland,” Ed strapped on an acoustic and brought it down a bit. The next few songs showcased his fascination with world and Middle Eastern music and his mastery of the harmonic minor scale. This foreign element is a large part of what makes up the Ozrics’ unique sound, and is yet another reason why they have no musical equal.

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After a short set break, the band came back out onstage minus synth player Cyrus. In this “power trio” format, the second set emphasized more songs with pre-programmed beats and synth tracks, which was executed with the drummer playing along to a click track in his headphones. Though there was certainly something spontaneous lost with this presentation, the amazing, incredibly hallucinogenic sound being thrown off the stage proved its worth. In the past 10 years or so, as Ozric’s studio albums have become Ed solo affairs, many of the tracks have included a more synthetic, programmed sound and necessitate pre-programmed bits to present them in the live setting. Once I got over my slight annoyance with this, I let myself surrender to the sweeping scope of the music, and the rest of the night was a blur of freak-out, blissful sound. Ed continued to shred face over waves of weirdness, and I was lost in my own world until they busted out the dirty riff that begins “Coily,” the huge, epic track that first got me into the band 10 years ago. This brought me full circle, reminding me of the first time I heard the song and thought, “What the fuck is this weird, wonderful music?” I was still thinking that same thing at the encore break, as Ed came back onstage and unabashedly announced to the crowd, “We’re going to go on an adventure with hallucinogenic music. So, here we go.” The next 15 minutes were a blur of dancing and trancing in the other realm of Ozrics music, and then it was over and we descended back to earth.

Post show, I had the privilege of some small talk in with Ed and the family, and learned that they have just made the move from England to Colorado. This is huge news, as it means that the States will be seeing much more of Ozric Tentacles than ever before, as they have only toured the U.S. once every few years or so in the past. Despite how unknown the Ozrics are Stateside, they are really the originators of the modern electro-jam band, and it seems silly that they’ve opened for bands like Particle and Lotus when those bands probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for what the Ozrics did 20 years ago. For any fan of Bisco, STS9 and the like, I strongly recommend checking out some Ozrics, as they are capable of blowing minds in ways that many lesser, more popular American bands simply cannot hold a candle to.

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