Show Review: Golden Dawn Arkestra @ The Paramount Theatre (12.10.22)


Saturday night in Austin welcomed the arrival of Saturnus the Great in collaboration with the reemergence on Earth of the interstellar musical collective, the Golden Dawn Arkestra, into the City of the Violet Crown. Hailing from the planet Cygnus, many light years from our home galaxy, the band fronted by leader Zapot Mgwai (Topaz McGarrigle) and backed by a 14-piece band and dance troupe, delivered a glorious performance that inspired the audience to love and dance freely. Anytime we humans are lucky enough to witness the glory and abundance of the Arkestra in motion it is certain to be a celebration of the human spirit and transportation and transformation through music. Last nights show was truly no exception.

Austin was fortunate enough to welcome the space and time travelers in celebration of the beginning of Saturnalia, an ancient Roman celebration known for its merry-making and masquerade atmosphere. Saturn was a God in Ancient Rome whose reign brought about a Golden Age of abundance, peace, renewal, and liberation. The Cygnusians fresh from a trip across the galaxy in their pyramid-shaped spaceship, the Mandjet79, beckoned the reemergence of the Golden Age by inviting the audience to leave the disgusting era of filth we currently find ourselves. As is typical, the band invited the audience to adorn masks and costumes, which enables a sense of freedom from the shackles of false egos. As expected, the audience was a more than willing participant as elaborate costumes and masked attendees assembled in the lobby for pre-show libations.

As the crowd settled in and the lights dimmed, a screening of the Wings of Ra music video began from the cathartic 2018 LP, Children of the Sun. The credits rolled and a thunderous roar hailed from the rear of the orchestra. The chorus parade appeared with Mgawi at the helm and Rosietoesinhose (Rose Barnett), the bands Earthling translator in support, to lead the band onstage announcing to the crowd, the TIME is NOW!. The 2016 titular track of the LP, Stargazer started the show with its intensified horn groove conducted by King Joffe Joffer on baritone saxophone and Hapi on trombone, each donning elaborate headdresses and masks. The psychedelia was on quickly on full display as the dance company led by the elegant Sekhmet (Rachael Hanlon) and vivacious blonde, Halliey Lauren, emerged fluttering their massive golden Wings of Ra. A pair of 2018s Children of the Sun tracks followed including the title track and pulsating opener The Wolf with its driving guitar on full display from local rock god guitarist, Adam Johnson.

You are wonderful, so wonderful. You are beautiful. Phenomenal! echoed the group in support of the latest LP, the epic and aptly named Gold Album, while a duo of aerial dancers spiraled through the rafters of the stage serving as an emblematic eye of Ra. All is Light and the afrobeat influenced Osaka closed out the first set with a forceful statement of intent for the rest of the night. If that hour-long mind alteration were not enough, the audience would have to collectively catch their breath for the second half of the show yet to come.

Before the latter half of the show began, another screening reopened festivities, this time the latest video Join as One from the Gold Album, which was fittingly filmed within the historic confines of the Paramount Theatre. The legendary stage whom once played host to Houdini and John Phillip Sousa dating back to the 1920s, carries with it a true history of our fair City. St. Celias portrait hangs in the golden trimmed mezzanine alongside three spirits that linger from another dimension; including an elegant woman in a white dress in the mezzanine, an elderly gentleman in the left side opera box who only smokes cigars, and a former projectionist who has graduated from his vice of candy to more illicit substances. Luckily GDA had them all covered this evening, though apparently the Paramount staff was less enthralled with a potential human sacrifice which is also a hallmark of the Saturnalia celebrations. Instead, the sacrifice offered was the music of ourselves which spilled out onto the darkened Congress Avenue into the endless void with immense vibration.

The second set continued in the theme of heightened consciousness with a heavy dose of drip as Mgawi reemerged in a provocatively elegant, white leisure suit and dark sunglasses. The track list that followed continued to spread across the bands discography, with the opening track off the debut Golden Dawn Arkestra EP in 2014, Afropocalpse resuming festivities. The psychedelic anthem welcomed back long-time collaborator Isis of Devices on vibraphone and her soaring Jefferson Airplane era Grace Slick inspired vocals. It was only a matter of time when the typically seated audience of Paramount events could not contain themselves and a raucous dance party emerged in the aisles. The Paramount staff clearly could not quite figure out how to respond to the unyielding rhythms of the audience in disarray. However, it did not take long before they simply gave up and permitted the spirits to be free.

After Mgawi invited us into his Golden Limo, 2019s Darkness Falls on the Edge of Time materialized with the compelling track Allo Allo Boom. While most modern bands struggle to suppress the audiences insistence on mobile devices at concerts, Golden Dawn somehow manages to create such a vivid spectacle that living the moment is the only way of life. If the world was truly ending while we were are talking on the phone, it was not last night. No one wanted to miss a second. The crowd engagement was enthralling as they greedily drank in the beauty of the human race.

The funkiness of Sama Chaka paired with the driving Shabuki brought in the magical eastern influence on the festivities, with Zapot rapturing the audience with an extended tenor sax solo. Longtime fan favorites of Dimensions and Masakayli once again from the debut EP brought the house down and the Paramount would simply never be the same. Absolutely. Epic. Golden Dawn Arkestra in all their glory left no doubt that Saturnus the Great had been welcomed, honored, spun around and slapped across the face with an earthquake of exuberance. Praise Saturnus!

Roll camera for the encore, as the audience would unknowingly become extras in a reprise video shoot for the Join as One music video. Signs emblazed with the lyrical calls to action, Love and joy are the Weapon. Crush the darkness of division. Free your mind. Fight the power. We must all, join as ONE were passed out to the crowd. The audience truly joined as one in one with emphatic response and fortitude. The stunning Nnedi Agbaroji ended the evening with a voracious flow surrounded by the obsequious gaze of the audience and dance troupe at her feet.

In the end, the humanity once again found salvation at the hands of the Cygnusian enclave for one more evening, and we must give our thanks to their generosity. The group quickly ascended onto the roof to board the Mandjet79 in pursuit of their next ritual to spread love, light, and tolerance in hopes that humans can live in unity. They will be busy I am sure. After bearing witness, the delighted and inspired audience departed into the warm night to share the joy with their fellow Austinites. Best of luck to Golden Dawn on their next cosmic exploration and if they come back through town again, this is a must see. Praise RA!

All sketches and photos by Jon Wagner – @jwagnerviz

More pics at the photo site…

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