I came fairly late to The Heads party. When I arrived I thought that all I was left with was to hoover up a few half empty cans and the dog-ends of some well-smoked spliffs. As I was getting more and more into the ‘psych’ scene The Heads were a band that I heard talked about in hushed tones, their mythic status making them seem almost unreal. To a novice looking for new music amidst what was becoming a increasingly rich seam of bands and labels, The Heads were something that I put on the back burner. Yet when I finally got round to hearing their stuff I realised what a fool I’d been.
I still remember to this day putting on the band’s 2000 album ‘Everyone Knows We Got Nowhere’ for the first time and from the very first chords of ‘Legavaan Satellite’ I knew! I knew that this was a very special band, one of those who you can’t quite explain…they just had the sort of sonic medicine that I needed, and I wanted more…and more.
A few acquisitions down the line and I began to realise that The Heads back catalogue wasn’t perhaps the easiest to get hold of. Like all the best drugs you had to know where to look for them, and when you did the street value was often prohibitive to all but the most dedicated addicts. And as for seeing the band live, well just forget it! It seemed unlikely that the band would ever play together again.
Then, seemingly out of the blue, came the announcement that The Heads would be playing at the Roadburn Festival in 2015, with a warm up gig in London beforehand. Sensing that this may be my only chance to see the band I grabbed a ticket (and ended up organising a family holiday around the London gig) and saw for myself what all the fuss was about. I hardly remember that gig, so blown away was I with the band that the whole evening just passed with a blur of excitement. But at least I had seen them.
Has the story ended there I would have been happy, but then came the announcement that The Heads would play the Cardinal Fuzz stage of the Liverpool PsychFest (from which the photos in this piece are taken). Seeing the band again helped me to really appreciate what a special live proposition they are as they delivered what for me was THE performance of the festival; a set that had me lost in the music like very few I had ever witnessed. The sheer power and relentlessness of this band was on full display that night and I went away feeling sonically pummelled and absolutely ecstatic.
Which kind of brings me up to date, and an amazing third gig just a year after seeing the first. The Heads were back again with two gigs around the ATP festival, and with a release of a live double album from the band’s set at Roadburn in 2015. Seeing The Heads yet again, this time really close up, helped me understand that this really is a foursome who are far more than the sum of their parts. When they get together some sort of sonic alchemy ensues, a total force of nature which just pins you up against an imaginary wall and rips your face off.
I feel very lucky to have seen this band so many times recently, but having done that I also feel that their recorded legacy doesn’t quite capture what a special band this is. On one hand I get that they are all about fuzz, and the lo-fi nature of many of the recordings do somehow add to the band’s reputation amongst those of us who appreciate such things.
Nevertheless I also feel that the band could benefit from a definitive recording, something that could show the world that amidst all the fuzz, noise and confusion lies a really good band. For me ‘Burning Up With…’ is such an album. It is an album which really catches the power of the band, and it for me one of the most outstanding live albums that I have ever heard. It shows a band that is utterly together, feeding off each other and coming out with music that is almost beyond description. It is definitive for me because as well as transferring the energy of the live performance it also lets you hear the mechanics too. You get to hear each instrument more clearly than with any other live Heads recording that I have heard, and so you get to understand the chemistry more and see what each member of the band brings to it. There are no passengers here, and no prisoners taken.
I now understand why The Heads are so revered, and why people travel much further to see them than the would do other bands. I have no idea whether I have seen The Heads at their best over the last year. What I do know is that I have seen one of the best bands this I have ever witnessed in over 35 years of gigging, and that the Roadburn crew have perfectly captured what I have been fortunate enough to witness for myself. So if you’re wondering what all the fuss is about, or your a far more seasoned fan of the band than I will ever be…this could well be the recording to get. It’s brutal and it’s brilliant: get it and you with get them!
‘Burning up with…’ is a joint Rooster/ Roadburn release, limited to 500 double albums (250 green/ 250 pink).
You can find my other writing for Backseat Mafia here.