Outside St. Louis’s Ambassador Theater, throngs of teenagers approach the ticket window where, one by one, they are waved away.
The concert is completely sold out. Ditto for the late show, and two others scheduled for the following evening.
Inside the theater, band manager Ron Powell is stoking the enthusiasm of an already red-hot crowd. “These are the happiest days I’ve ever spent in rock ‘n’ roll,” he tells them. “And it’s great that, 5,000 miles from their home, the group can find an audience like you . . . right here in St. Louis, Missouri.”
The fans are going crazy, but Ron is taking his time. “I ask only that you believe what your ears are about to hear and your eyes are about to see. Ladies and gentlemen, the fastest-growing band in the land . . .” The audience makes a deafening noise as Ron screams, “NEKTAR!”
If you’re not acquainted with the group or their music, it may be because they have never toured the States before. In addition, their recently released first American LP, Remember the Future, is not yet receiving much airplay.
Yet, somehow, 5,000 St. Louis residents are on hand at the Ambassador when the group’s stay there begins; and another 15,000 will have seen them at the theater before the weekend is over. And it’s not just St. Louis, either. The phenomenon is being repeated in every city on the group’s tour.
Members of Nektar cite the availability of import albums and word-of-mouth advertising as reasons for the excitement over their debut gigs in the country. The group’s record company, meanwhile, talks about “Nektar fever.” Whatever the explanation, there is no mystery surrounding the intensity of audience reaction once the band’s show gets underway.
It is tremendous. Pulsating with a seemingly spontaneous energy, Nektar’s tightly knit performances need no grandstand jams or Moog synthesizers to sustain them. Though most of the numbers are quite long, almost constant variations in melody and meter save the proceedings from any possibility of bogging down. Many of the lyrics border on the pretentious (e.g. “Remember the Future” concerns a sort of Jonathan Livingston Bluebird), but the band’s enthusiasm and sincere delivery make them work.
And the songs are only one facet of the show. In the audience stands “light musician” Mike Brockett with eight slide projectors a 16mm movie projector and other paraphernalia. The melting colors and liquidy images that he flashes onto giant screens located behind the rest of the band brilliantly complement their orgasmic music.
The concert’s total effect is just that: total. Nektar’s instrumental and vocal excellence, along with Brockett’s triple-screen spectacular, produce one of the most dramatic theatrical presentations of 70s rock.
While Ron Powell’s claim that Nektar rates as “the greatest group in the world” seems a bit exaggerated, they are damn good. And “Nektar fever” is no joke; judging by audience reaction to them in St. Louis, they will soon be big indeed.
Of course, though the manifestations of success may be arriving suddenly, the musical proficiency that fuels “Nektar fever” was not achieved overnight. In fact, the band is well into their sixth year of nearly constant work.
After migrating to Germany in the mid-60s (as members of various now-defunct British bands), four of the present Nektarites first jammed together at Hamburg’s Star Club in 1968. Pleased by the sounds resulting from the combination, they formed the group, which became a quintet when lighting man Brockett joined up later in the year.
As time went on, Nektar’s music strengthened, but their financial picture did not. Gigs brought only $60 to $100 each and two albums (on Frankfurt, Germany’s Bacillus label) also failed to put much food on the table.
Hard times, however, did not break up the band. And last year the tide began to turn. Nektar received an invitation to tour France, Switzerland, and Germany with Frank Zappa. Then, as the band’s reputation began to spread on the continent, Passport Records signed them and released Remember the Future worldwide. This led to the current U.S. tour.
“The reaction here has been fantastic,” says bassist Derek “Mo” Moore, who used to double as the group’s manager before there was room in the budget for Powell. “The audiences have been freaking us out completely.”
“America is like a dream for me,” puts in drummer Ron Howden. “For a musician, it’s incredible. See, it’s different in Germany; the German people are more reserved. First, you have to make good music, and then maybe you get a response. But here, there is a very good atmposphere even before the concert starts. And then, when we play . . . well, so far, we haven’t done a night with less than two encores.”
“This tour is giving us so much energy,” states Mo. “Like we were really getting down right before we came over to the States, because there were so many hassles involved in getting ready. But now we feel just great. And we know the next tour is going to be even better. We’re watching the audiences, finding out what songs and parts of songs they like best. And we’re coming back for a longer tour in the spring. By that time, we’ll really have it down.”
“Then maybe we can get out of debt!” comments guitarist Roy Albrighton with a smile.
“We owe $100,000 for equipment,” Mo explains. “We’ve got 197 crates of sound equipment. Plus four lighting and control towers, 64 sections of scaffolding, and all the other stuff for the light show. All that took care of our advance from Passport.
“And we’re definitely going to lose money on this tour. There’s no doubt about it. We’re not gonna be here long enough to get back what it’s costing us to travel with a crew of 18 and to move six tons of equipment from place to place.
“But we decided a long time ago that we were going to put on our show in our own way and the hell with the money, or we weren’t going to play at all. If we keep getting this kind of response, then it’s all worth it. It’s worth anything to us.”
“At the same time,” admits lighting man Mike Brockett, “we’ve got a lot of ideas that we’d like to try out, but we don’t have the money for them yet.”
For instance? “Well,” says Mike, “if we give you examples, then somebody else is gonna jump on them. Because it’s happened so many times when we’ve talked about what we’ve got planned. Somebody who’s already got the money has gone out and done it.”
“But generally,” explains keyboard player Allan “Taff” Freeman, “what we want to do is take the audience away completely. Surround them with sounds, visuals, a total theatrical environment. When they leave the concert, we want them to have had an experience they’ll never forget. We want to have reached them in as many ways as possible.”
Mo grins. “You know, maybe someday Ron will introduce us with, ‘I ask you only to believe what your ears hear, your eyes see, your nose smells, your mouth tastes, and your skin feels.”