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Page Two: Return of the Prankster God

A few years ago, when the Devendras roamed the earth like ancient unwashed faerie children, the somehow unexpected revival of psychedelic folk music among Arthur magazine–devouring hipsters came as a surprise. Sure, there had always been a minority of advocates of the Incredible String Band and the smattering of (mostly) U.K. bands who had bypassed the urban psychedelia of the Beatles' "It's All Too Much" ("Show me that I'm everywhere/and get me home for tea," implored George Harrison, most likely to LSD). But even as glam, prog and metal had quickly left these gentle musicians with a smattering of gigs in the early 1970s, before punk and post-punk drove them even deeper underground, some of the few records from the pastoral psychedelic scene lingered on.

Chief among these was First Utterance, by a very skilful, though loving ramshackle gang of original freak folkers who called themselves Comus after the puckish Roman god of mirth and celebration (and after a very weird masque about him, written by John Milton). First Utterance was a time capsule from late 1970, a time when Comus shared stages with a pre-glam, long-tressed androgyne named David Bowie. It was music both ethereal and slightly mad, like an incredibly strange Incredible String Band, or a much wilder soundtrack to The Wicker Man (the real one, not the recent travesty where Nicolas Cage beats up women), or that glorious early Bowie record where he sings "Memory of a Free Festival."

As we said, Comus faded before punk and the record went underground for many years. And then — the prankster god works in mysterious ways — help came, from the darker side: Opeth, Sweden's biggest progressive metal band, wouldn't shut up about First Utterance, and Current 93 and Psychic TV's brilliant cultural provocateur David Tibet added Comus to a personal pantheon that included Aleister Crowley and William Burroughs. The original members were tracked down and Comus rose again in Sweden in 2008 for an astonishing live show that is now being released as East of Sweden: Live at the Melloboat Festival, 2008 by Tibet's label Gnostic Dirt. Several of the key First Utterance songs, including "Song to Comus" and "Diana," are re-created onstage by older, wiser former hippies who have now seen enough to impress the material with even more strangeness and charm. The biggest surprise: They hijack "Venus in Furs" (like their mate Bowie, Comus were early Velvet evangelists in the U.K.) and make it into a medieval S&M romp fit for a Morris dance.

Needless to say: Get it.


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