Californian long-haired space rock shamen White Manna are a growing force in psych. Two albums under their belts and an appearance at last years Liverpool Psych Fest, they have a live document from that tour (shows at Stengade and Le Kalif to be precise) to keep the punters happy until their next offering. Available from 29th September on vinyl and download, it is worth your cash?
Admittedly I was a little perturbed at first to discover that while clocking in at a bruising 79 minutes, 3 songs are represented twice as well as ‘E-Shra’ and ‘G-Shra’. Given that the songs came from two different live shows this selection seemed odd. However after having given the live album a couple of spins the result of that duplication merely makes the resulting product harder*, more unflinching, more uncompromising. This is a record to separate the psych heads from the hipsters. There are obvious comparisons with Space Ritual. Brave or foolhardy considering that Hawkind’s finest is the benchmark for space rock? Brave is the answer, happily. With this format in mind lets look at the album by songs, not track listing.
‘E-Shra’ (Stengade) takes over 2 minutes to get going but when it does it bleeds from your speaking with a thoroughbred low-end and torrential guitar. ‘G-Shra’ (Le Kalif) is slower and more deliberate, punching the off-beat through your face. Here the guitar is more background noise to the rhythm section: as a fan of a beefy groove it’s manna from heaven (sorry). The one and only version of the almighty ‘Acid Head’ has a scabrous guitar riff that can make your nose bleed. ‘Evil’ from Le Kalif rocks like a mother fucker (an unsubtle description but an unsubtle song) and features a killer roar-from-the-guts chorus. The Stengade version is choppier and maybe even playful, giving space for some subtler (comparatively speaking) guitar shading. ‘X-Ray’ (Le Kalif) is baked in the desert sun and almost agonisingly slow until the tension is finally released at around the 6 minute mark then it transforms into an adrenaline rush for the finishing line. The Stengade cut is even trippier, with synthy space stylings brought to the party. Imagine the Alien not so much bursting through your chest but digging its way out with a rusty spoon. ‘I’m Coming Home’ (just the one) starts with that drum beat, (if you’re a Mancunian you know it as the ‘I Am The Resurrection’ one) and is slightly more low-key than the other tracks (again, comparatively speaking) with a nervous guitar boogie almost reminding me of Dr Feelgood. Both versions of ‘Sweet Jesus’ will knock the air out of your chest and possibly stamp on your nuts too. The breakdown into dissolution before resolution on the Stengade version is sublime. From Le Kalif the song is faster and careers like a 1950s drag race through Death Valley building to a climax of twisted metal.
The average song length may be around 8 minutes but each song flies by, even when you’re hearing two different version of the same song (call it blasphemous but I’ve playlist-ed this sucker to put the songs together to hear the performances back to back: sue me, it makes the album even better). This ultimately proves that this live album is a celebration of the groove, tune in, tune out, nod your head. An epic, intense ride and one of the best live albums I have heard in a long while. Yes, yes it is worth your cash.
Here’s the studio version of ‘Acid Head’ for a taster…
* As a review “special feature”, try thinking of things this album is harder than. For instance, this album is harder than Lee Marvin gargling napalm from a cement mixer.