[a]Kula Shaker[/a] are a great show band. Perhaps one of the greatest shows on Earth...
It's not an easy day on the trail for Startrooper Crispian Mills. As if he needed any further evidence that the world's gone mad, a style mag has spent the afternoon trying to get him into early-'80s designer threads, when what he wants to wear is the freaked-out astronaut jump suit from the new 'Peasants, Pigs And Astronauts' album sleeve.
The daily dose of my-planet-doesn't-understand-me encounters is further augmented by a late night spent doggedly meeting Belgian record company reps while the rest of the band scatter to hang with wives and go watch some 'real music' in the form of a Cuban brass t'ai chi ensemble. As you do, when you're re-emerging from a year on a houseboat studio on the Thames recording your fully fledged Indiadelic epoch-rock epic and repointing your priorities back towards, like, the music, man.
The beery hole of the Roadhouse on a rainy night is a long way off from destination Nirvana, but there is resilience to the Kula's faith. Last night in Liverpool there was an auspicious sign when local deity and Kali of 'the Close' (Brookside) Jacqui Dixon turned up for the show. Tonight, a mere three years and four months on from their joint emergence with Placebo at Manchester's In The City '95, they set about proving that even with a lo-fi mini PA they can still have the universe nuzzling their loons like a trained peacock.
Kula Shaker have clearly not spent the last year of secluded studio work toning down their trip. They appear at one end of the shoebox wearing shirts loud enough to disembowel a stylist, announce that, "It's so lovely to be back! We're all still here!" and hurl themselves into the whirly organ pop phantasm of 'Sound Of Drums' with unrepentant glee. "Revolution for fun, yeah yeah yeah..." carols Crispian, his eyes mimicking partial eclipses and blond locks flopping like Luke Skywalker on a string.
It's a low ceiling for a band with Icarus-style predilections but even with their fifth member percussion player squeezed at the back, the downsizing doesn't fox them. They do 'Hurry On Sundown' as a fine, floppy-eared lollop. On 'Hey Dude' the awesomely '70s coiffed Jay cranks up the organ to churn levels not heard since The Charlatans missed a soundcheck. The marmalade riffs of 'Grateful When You're Dead' give way to the Himalayan pipes intro to new single 'Mystical Machine Gun', and as Mills commands the faithful to "Watch the skies...", 100 hands raise their beer cans to salute the imminent arrival of benevolent higher life forms which they are by now subconsciously anticipating.
It's revealing to see the Kulas staring into the whites of their audience's pineal glands. The Roadhouse is not full of little girls, but rammed with mostly 20-something lads in Adidas. Critical orthodoxy might struggle to make sense of the bonding between crop-haired geezers and pretty boy starchildren but here it's obvious what the appeal is. Kula Shaker are a great show band. Perhaps one of the greatest shows on Earth.
Jay lunges at his keyboards like Gandalf gone sci-fi (Crispian: "Hello to Jay, who's wearing Rick Wakeman's original wardrobe"), Mills is all spasms and slick timing. On new '60s garage piledriver 'Guitar Man' he folds over his Fender Spock-ocaster wrenching in and out of sync. A double robust 'Tattva' sends him slamming into the drum riser.
It's physical, and then it's fey - they do 'Start All Over' in deeply misty, blown away, love ballad style. And occasionally it's funny, like when Mills introduces a frenzied 'Hush' with a goofy cosmic poem, stops on the brink of the obvious 'far-out' clichi and cracks up laughing. In as much as they're sincere about their veggie'n'Vedic side, they certainly don't push it live, presenting themselves tonight less as 'wizards in a blizzard' and more as storm-riding Zep/Doors pop lizards.
Before the devotional chant-along ending 'Govinda' they float out beyond the astral horizon on the slinky groove of key album track, the rainbow future hymn 'Great Hosannah'/'Last Farewell'. "Will we arise in our time at the dawn of another meaning?" asks Mills, but the hardcore lads are already well transported. The Shaker encore with modedelic garage band road song '303' and lo, as the Earthlings file onto the streets, Manchester appears to be bathed in a golden aura and the Ship Canal is convinced it's the Ganges.
There'll be a run on astronaut suits at the weekend. Kula Shaker are back, messing with the minds of Belgian marketing men and knocking hard on the sky.
To read all our reviews first - days before they appear online - check out NME magazine, on sale every Wednesday