Holy schnikees. I wasn’t expecting it to be this beautiful. The Yes set has arrived.
This is not a proper gig review.
I’ve not got the time right now to do it justice, and besides, I’m still trying to process what I witnessed last night in Manchester.
So this is just me trying to get a few random thoughts and impressions committed to whatever the wordpress.com equivalent of paper is (data centre hard disk, I guess), before the buzz I’m still feeling subsides and the memory fades.
First things first: Wilson is a showman. Or rather, he’s grown into one. I’ve seen Porcupine Tree three times live and don’t remember him being as confident and self-assured with PT as he now is in front of an audience. He knows he’s produced a superb album (just the latest in a string of superb albums, let’s face it) and he knows he has musicians on stage with him who can deliver every nuance, night after night.
Of course, it’s not just about the music. Sure, he could walk on stage with his band, they could play and we could all go home happy that we’d been at a good gig. But a Steven Wilson show is more than that. It’s an experience, a veritable feast for the senses. The videos and lighting effects complement the music brilliantly. However, you don’t need to take my word for that: just check out Lasse Hoile’s photographs from the Manchester show. I’m getting shivers right now simply looking at them, as the memories come back to flood the synapses.
Attention to detail is the phrase that springs to mind – both in the way a Steven Wilson gig is presented to the audience visually and in the way that it actually sounds. A crap PA or poor venue acoustics can turn brilliant music from the greatest of bands into an evening’s entertainment that is mediocre at best. But that most emphatically is not the case here. I’ve seen him live on each of his solo tours and each time, the sound is up there with the best I’ve ever heard at a gig: not just good, but quadraphonic, to boot!
I won’t say too much about the set here, in case any of you reading this have tickets for upcoming gigs and want to avoid spoilers. However, I don’t think it’s giving too much away to say that he concentrates on the new album. The new material translates effortlessly to the live setting, particular highlights being the thrilling crescendo of Ancestral and the subsequent heart-wrenching rendition of Happy Returns. The emotional punch of the latter brings a lump to the throat, demolishing the common misconception that prog is cold or overly cerebral.
If the opportunity arises to catch this show then grab it with both hands. Seriously. If you have any liking for his music, this is something that you do not want to miss.
You may have heard the news already. . . in fact, I’m guessing almost no one in the prog world has NOT heard the news. . . . but tickets for Big Big Train live, King’s Place, August 14-15, 2015, have gone on sale. To purchase your tickets, go here: http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/big-big-train.
As most of you probably know, progarchy.com started, in very large part, as an unofficial fan site for BBT, so we’re especially proud of the band and their desire to explore their music in a live setting.
[My own desire was for them to come to the U.S., but I’m happy to have them play live anywhere. I worry a bit that I might have played a role in their deciding to play in the U.K. rather than the U.S. Several years ago, I made Greg Spawton promise that if they played live in the U.S., they would do so sporting ZZTop beards as well as offering a performance of a double-length BBT blow out version of 2112. It’s quite possible that my then-forced promises are coming back to haunt me.–ed.]
Seriously, what wonderful news. Passengers (that is, the name of BBT fans on Facebook) have flooded Greg Spawton’s announcement of the sale, which he posted 20 hours ago. Considering that BBT represents the highest and best not only of the prog tradition, but of the rock and bardic traditions, the outpouring of enthusiasm from the prog world is quite understandable.
Pedants and purists will forever grumble about Yes line-ups that feature neither Jon Anderson nor Rick Wakeman, but the fact remains that a performance of The Yes Album, Close To The Edge and Going For The One in their entirety was simply too good an opportunity to miss. After all, how many more chances will any of us get to hear Awaken in all its shiver-inducing, goosebump-raising magnificence? Hence we needed no persuading to make the relatively short train journey south from Leeds to Sheffield for this very special show, the fifth UK date of the band’s extensive three-album tour.
As we took our seats after collecting our VIP passes and goody bags, I couldn’t help thinking that the art deco interior of this Grade II-listed building was a fitting venue for music with such a distinguished pedigree, but there was little time for further rumination as the house lights dimmed and the languid opening notes of the familiar Firebird Suite intro tape sounded out across the Oval Hall. A screen above the drum riser displayed a fast-moving montage of photos, magazine covers, promotional posters and gig tickets from tours past, before the band took to the stage, readied themselves and then launched into Close To The Edge.
You read that right: they began with Close To The Edge – arguably the most intricate and complex piece in the entire set. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the first few minutes weren’t as tight or assured as they could have been. What with this and the disturbance of latecomers wanting us to move so they could find their allotted seats – a literal case of “I get up, I get down” – the start of the show didn’t quite have the impact I was hoping for. But it didn’t take long for that feeling to pass. Soon enough, the band were fully warmed up and, as ‘Total Mass Retain’ segued into Chris & Steve’s “In her white lace…” vocal duet, the music was casting its spell over the audience and the anticipated goosebumps were all present and correct.
And You And I was just as magical and moving as you’d expect, and Siberian Khatru just as powerful, if played a bit more sedately than the band would have countenanced in their younger days. All three pieces from this most definitive of albums earned rapturous applause and standing ovations from the crowd, but it all seemed to have passed too quickly – the hallmark of those classic gigs where you are so captivated that you lose any sense of time.
All too soon, it seemed, Steve Howe was introducing the second album of the evening, Going For The One. This was the undoubted highlight of the show for me, not because it is my favourite Yes album – it isn’t – but because Wonderous Stories was the only track from it that I had previously witnessed in concert. To say I was giddy with anticipation at experiencing the rest of the album performed live is a massive understatement. In fact, this segment of the show put me in such a state of transcendent joy that I’m struggling here to provide any cogent analysis. Had a camera been pointed at me for the next forty glorious minutes it would undoubtedly have captured a facial expression alternating between ‘big dumb grin’ and the quivering lower lip of someone valiantly attempting (but failing) to ‘keep their shit together’.
After the earnestness of CTTE, Going For The One’s title track gave the band their first opportunity to cut loose and really rock out, an opportunity which they seized hungrily. Parallels, too, packed a powerful punch. But it was in recreating the album’s more delicate moments that this segment ascended to even greater heights. Turn Of The Century, undeniably beautiful in its recorded form, was an absolute revelation live, thanks to a peerless vocal performance from Jon Davison. It was the biggest emotional hammer blow of the evening so far, if the lump in my throat and the moistness of my eyes were anything to go by – exceeded only by an utterly mesmerising rendition of epic pagan hymn Awaken that put tears on the cheeks of many of those present (myself included). It was a fitting climax to the first half of the show and gave us the interval to pull ourselves together!
Twenty minutes later, the house lights dimmed a second time for the evening’s final act: The Yes Album. With the intensity of CTTE and GFTO behind them, the band seemed more relaxed, moving effortlessly through the album’s six classic tracks. Yours Is No Disgrace and Starship Trooper were every bit the crowd-pleasers you’d expect them to be, whereas the reception given to the long-unplayed A Venture was more polite than rapturous. Curiously, the stand-out piece for me was Clap, played flawlessly by Howe and earning a huge cheer from the audience. Seriously, I don’t recall a single missed note or buzzing string. The man’s powers seem remarkably undiminished by time, praise be.
That left only the customary encore of Roundabout, as energetic and rousing as ever, bringing most of the audience to their feet and prompting some of those in front of the stage to move around in a manner perilously close to ‘dancing’ – hardly the most natural state for prog fans, it must be said! The band lingered on stage for a while, revelling in the crowd’s lengthy ovation, and then it was time for us all to head home, drained by the experience but with a buzz that would last for days and precious memories that will live considerably longer than that.
I suppose I should finish by considering new vocalist Jon Davison. On this evidence, he is a fine fit for the role. Predecessor Benoit David’s voice is closer in timbre to Jon Anderson’s, but Davison’s has superior purity and power – and he also seems more of a natural showman than Benoit. It will be fascinating to hear how he sounds on forthcoming album Heaven And Earth.
Stabbing a Dead Horse – Slight Return
Trojan Horse, The Fierce and the Dead and Knifeworld
The Barfly, Camden, Sunday 2nd February 2014.
Having been championing the Fierce and the Dead and Matt Stevens solo work for large parts of last year in various articles, the opportunity to see them live was too good to miss.
Not only did I get the Fierce and the Dead, I was also lucky enough to see an encore of last years highly acclaimed Stabbing a Dead Horse tour, where these three highly innovative and original bands toured the country.
The Barfly in Camden is a classic British rock club, about as far as its possible to get from overly managed arena gigs as possible, and the tiny room upstairs was full, not just of the bearded middle aged bloke type fan the prog scene is full of, although there were plenty of those there, but there were plenty of women, and lots of youngsters, I know they were young by the fact that at the bar they were whipping our their passports to prove they were old enough to drink.
The site of these young kids cheered me up no-end, as it proved to me that if the youngsters are appreciating this kind of music, then the future is in safe hands.
First up was Mancunian 4 piece psychedelic noise vendors Trojan Horse, whose brand of rock is spacy, heavy, eclectic and hard to pigeonhole, which I suspect is how they like it. With some fantastic three-part vocals from Nick, Lawrence and Eden, and their tight, sound, backed by Guy Crawford on drums they had the Barfly going from the opening bars of their first song.
With musical dexterity, lyrical creativity and a heavy dose of good honest social observation which, in this day and age needs to be done, they gave their all into an almighty half house set, culminating in a legendary performance of their new, epic single Paper Bells, with some fantastic guitar work, a haunting keyboard riff, and some truly arresting lyrics it encapsulates their sound neatly. This was the first time I’d seen Trojan Horse, but on tonight’s evidence it won’t be the last.
Next up were the instrumental behemoth that is The Fierce and the Dead, Matt Stevens (guitar), Kev Feazey (Bass), Steve Cleaton (guitar) and Stuart Marshall (drums). With their latest album, the rather fantastic Spooky Action getting rave reviews wherever it is heard, there’s no surprise that the set was Spooky Action centric. The band were selling copies on the night, but judging by the crowds’ reaction it looked like most of the audience already had it.
On record the Fierce and the Dead are epic, live they are somewhere else entirely, at several points during the set I had to pause and count them, yup, there’s only 4 of them, but hell, they make one massive sound.
With the intensity of Matt Stevens guitar work on one side of the stage, Steve Cleaton on the other, and Kev and Stuart anchoring their guitar guys, the music takes off. Spooky Action tracks like Lets Start a Cult, I like it, I’m into, and the single Ark, were played to perfection, the guitars singing, the bass and drums echoing off the walls. The Fierce and the Dead live are a mighty proposition, like the Wall of Sound mixed with King Crimson and Zappa, throwing mad riffs and impossible tunes out to an appreciative audience who were absolutely loving it.
As a recording act the Fierce and the Dead are amazing, as a live band they are unstoppable and one of the best I’ve seen for a very long time.
Finally up were Knifeworld, a band I’ve been looking forward to seeing for a long time, unfortunately due to the vagaries of British transport times on a Sunday night I had to leave halfway through their set, a fact which disappoints me very much. To console myself I bought their 2 CD’s on the way out to listen to at home.
Again Knifeworld are a unique musical proposition, with the superb guitar and vocals of Kavus Torabi, the traditional band format (keyboards Emmett Elvin, drums Ben Woolacott, bass Charlie Cawood) is expanded by the sound of Chloe Herington (bassoon, sax, vocals) Josh Perl (sax, guitar, vocals) Nicki Maher (clarinet, sax, backing vocals) and Melanie Woods (percussion, glockenspiel, backing vocals) and this addition of a horn section gives them an edge live.
Opening with the latest single download Don’t Land on Me, which gives you a good introduction to the work of Knifeworld, with its huge sound and great vocals, then a set full of crowd pleasers like The Wretched Fathoms and Torch, Knifeworld are an impressively tight live act. Torabi is a magnetic frontman, a charismatic performer, with superb guitar skills and great vocals, whilst the sound that Herington, Perl and Maher produce in union is fantastic.
I have it on good authority that Knifeworld continued to perform a fantastic set, and it’s a pity I couldn’t see the end of it.
Overall it was a fantastic evening of great music, watching three totally different bands own the stage, and show the most inventive, eclectic and entertaining live line up I have seen together for a long time.
The future of this wonderfully diverse genre we call prog is in safe hands, and I had the pleasure of seeing three of its most interesting bands perform live.
Sad news tonight from organiser Kris Hudson-Lee of the cancellation of the weekend part of Y-Prog here in the UK, intended to be Yorkshire’s first progressive rock festival.
Saturday 15 March was to feature Dec Burke, Also Eden, IOEarth and The Enid; Sunday 16 March had Crimson Sky, Knifeworld, Manning and It Bites on the bill. Thankfully, the Friday night show featuring the mighty Riverside goes ahead.
I have no further information on the reasons for cancellation, but I presume poor ticket sales are at the heart of it. Y-Prog may have been hit by the subsequent announcement of HRH Prog, a bigger festival at a more glamorous venue a few miles away, just three weeks later.
It’s a salutary reminder that, despite prog’s resurgence, the audience remains finite. Too many events in too short a span of time and some are going to struggle.