I consider myself fortunate to have seen Berlin heavy psych purveyors Samsara Blues Experiment live the two times that I have, as both of their full-lengths to date – 2010’s Long Distance Trip (review here) and 2011’s Revelation and Mystery (review here) have shown the band becoming increasingly distinct within the European sphere. The second album in particular demonstrated a maturity in the four-piece’s approach that found them able to blend open jams and straightforward songcraft, tracks like “Hangin’ on the Wire” and “Into the Black” proving memorable as much for their hooks as for the wandering instrumental arrangements and feeling at any moment, the band might fly completely off the rails. Both of those songs, as it happens, find inclusion on the new, limited Rockpalast live recording – released on guitarist/vocalist/sitarist Christian Peters’ own Electric Magic Records – which was caught on tape while filming in October 2012 for the long-running German rock program of the same name. Alongside such jam-heavy pieces as “For the Lost Souls” and “Center of the Sun” from Long Distance Trip, a balance is struck throughout Rockpalast that finds Samsara Blues Experiment able to unite the varying sides of their approach, Peters and fellow guitarist Hans Eiselt, bassist Richard Behrens and drummer Thomas Vedder shifting with suitable ease from one side of the sound to the other without missing a step along the way, holding onto a wandering mentality even as they hit on some of their most structured parts and never quite letting go of the idea of the song as they play naturally off the chemistry they’ve built on stage over the last several years. In that way, Rockpalast captures Samsara Blues Experiment at their best, and though because it’s pulling from both albums and because it totals just under 80 minutes long, it’s probably going to be a richer listening experience for those familiar with the band than the previously uninitiated, it’s never been quite so easy to get lost in Samsara Blues Experiment’s hypnotic exploration as it is on the 17:51 version of “Double Freedom” included here.
That song – the amorphous nature of which is revealed in the fact that it was 13 minutes on their 2009 demo (review here) and 22 on Long Distance Trip – wasn’t included in the original broadcast of the show, but it closes the live set here as the eighth song and precedes and acoustic bonus track, a sitar-laden studio reworking of “Singata Mystic Queen,” which is shorter than the one that opens the set at 5:45, but still no less immersive than Samsara Blues Experiment has ever been, i.e., plenty. Peters’ voice comes very much to the fore on the live recording, and where one might expect that to provide an undue grounding effect on the material, there’s enough echo on him and his position is varied enough around the two guitars, bass and drums, that it’s not a distraction to the overall flow from one song, or indeed one part, into the next. Doubtless Samsara Blues Experiment’s consistent focus on the instrumental aspects of their sound deserves partial credit for that – for those who’ve heard them, they can make a driving verse riff like that of “Singata Mystic Queen” just as memorable as the more potent chorus of a song like “Hangin’ on the Wire,” which follows – but I think it’s also due to the fact that Rockpalast essentially mirrors and melds the flows of Long Distance Trip and Revelation and Mystery in how the set is put together. They open, as noted, with “Singata Mystic Queen,” which also opened the first album, and answer it immediately with “Hangin’ on the Wire,” the second track from the second album. “Army of Ignorance” and “For the Lost Souls,” the second and third cuts from the first album, follow in succession, and “Into the Black” follows them, the third cut from the second album. Already we see that the foursome are progressing down both tracklists of their studio outings, and they continue the pattern with “Center of the Sun” (album one, track four), “Outside Insight Blues” (album two, track five) and “Double Freedom” (album one, track six), closing with their most extensive piece to date before shifting into the acoustic bonus.