The Incredible String Band
is the Velvet Underground of psychedelic folk rock (no, it's not really a genre, but humor me). Not many bought the band's albums, but everyone who did would have started a band had they not been high as Andromeda. Three decades later the trip kicks in again for the Earlies, Beachwood Sparks and Devendra Banhart, though for all their shroomadelic experiments these latter day followers never matched the ISB's esoteric, carnivalesque absurdity, not that anyone ever has. Led by two giddy geniuses, Robin Williamson and Mike Heron, the band raised their charivari freak flag against the fatalism of the '60s British folk revival as much as they subverted the hippies they most decidedly were. The Hangman's Beautiful Daughter
, the ISB's mythical mystery tour de force, posed unsolvable riddles, cavorted with witches and married morris dance rhythms with droning ouds, chahanais, gimbris and pan pipes to boot. Heron's "A Very Cellular Song" is the definitive mystical trip: Part Sunday-school round, part microbiological metaphor for the soul, the thirteen-minute suite is as transcendent, indescribable and beautiful as the inner life of a child. The current touring band features only Heron and banjoist Clive Palmer from the early years, but assuming Fairport Convention or Captain Beefheart's Magic Band aren't hitting the road any time soon, this Columbia show is essential for anyone hooked on uncontrollable substances like folk -- or rock, for that matter.