Live Reviews Blog

Concert reviews, with a very strong emphasis on the UK progressive rock scene.

Rainbow – Genting Arena

The announcement that Ritchie Blackmore was to perform a handful of shows with a new incarnation of Rainbow came as a complete surprise. With the exception of power-metal stalwart Jens Johansson on keys, the band was made up of relative unknowns, including Ronnie Romero on vocals. In recent year Blackmore has devoted his creative energies to the medieval folk-pop of Blackmore’s Night, and it’s been many, many years since he last played a hard rock gig on a major stage. So there was much anticipation and speculation as to what to expect. Would the shows be a triumph, or turn out to be a complete car crash? Enough people were willing to take a risk that the sixteen-thousand capacity Genting Arena in Birmingham sold out within 24 hours of going on general sale.

Opening the show, for one of the biggest gigs of their career, was Mostly Autumn. To be strictly accurate is was four-sevenths of Mostly Autumn; the restricted space available on the stage meant there was only room for a cut-down foursome comprising Bryan Josh, Olivia Sparnenn, Alex Cromarty and Iain Jennings, covering the bass on keys. Bryan told us how he’s been a fan of Blackmore since he was 10, and never expected to be the opening act for Rainbow in an arena.

A fusillade of drums and Bryan’s Blackmore-like spiralling guitar figure of “In for the bite” opened their six-song set, which included the standards “Evergreen” and “Heroes Never Die”, more recent hard rockers “Drops of the Sun” and “Deep in Borrowdale”, and a spine-tingling “Silhouettes of Stolen Ghosts”. Even though the arrangements lost the layers of the full band, the songs chosen still worked remarkably well in cut-down format, and there was plenty of Bryan Josh’s soaring lead guitar. Aside from an unfortunate pause when a string came loose mid-song, it came over well and the band deserve to have won over new fans with that one.

Rainbow began with that familiar opening from the classic 1977 live album; the intro tape of Judy Garland from the Wizard of Oz and Blackmore playing the main theme from “Over the Rainbow”. Then he launched into the intro of “Highway Star” with Ronnie Romero repeating the opening line over the intro before Blackmore hit the opening riff and launched into the song proper.

Over the next two hours it was greatest hits from across the Rainbow and Deep Purple songbook. “Spotlight Kid” and “Mistreated” early in the set didn’t quite catch fire, but from then on things got steadily better as the show went on and Blackmore loosened up. At 71 years of age he doesn’t have the speed of decades past, for example “Catch the Rainbow” had a slower more melodic solo rather than the blur of notes of his 1970s performances. But that distinctive classical phrasing is still there.

Ronnie Romero proved to have a fine voice, and came over best on Ronnie Dio and David Coverdale songs, though his dark take of “Perfect Strangers” impressed a lot, and he succeeded in projecting himself to the crowd as a frontman. Two backing singers including Blackmore’s other half Candace Night filled out the sound.

Once or twice things faltered; in particular the somewhat butchered version of “Since You’ve Been Gone” didn’t quite come off. In contrast, the acoustic version of “Soldier of Fortune” was a delight. The rocked-out version of Beethoven’s ninth, “Difficult to Cure” became a vehicle for solos, first a drum solo that was short enough not to outstay its welcome, then, horror of horrors, a bass solo, and finally an interminable keyboard solo. It actually started out well with jazz flavoured Hammond, but lost its way with an overlong classical style piano section and blasts of every differed keyboard effect from 70s parps to pipe organ. It’s Blackmore the audience paid to see, and this sort of thing should have been left in the 70s where it belonged.

The best came towards the end. After an impressive “Child in Time” with the two backing singers adding another dimension came a truly monstrous take on what has to be the definitive Rainbow song, “Stargazer”. Romero nailed the vocal and Blackmore himself was on fire for the solo. They finished the main set with the early Purple hit “Black Night” tailing off with the audience singing the riff over and over as the band left the stage.

Any worries that Blackmore would throw one his legendary strops and refuse to do an encore proved groundless; they were back with a rendition of “Burn” as monstrous as Stargazer before it. But still they weren’t quite done. Romero led the audience through an a capella first verse of “Smoke on the Water” before Blackmore came in for That Riff after the first chorus.

Despite a slightly shaky start this ended as a triumphal gig; the power and intensity of the last few songs in particular sent the audience away feeling they’d had their money’s worth. Here were songs few thought they’d ever hear played live by anything other than tribute bands a year ago, and for some, Stargazer alone was worth the price of the ticket. These shows were initially going to be one-offs, but Blackmore has since hinted that they may be further shows next year.

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Mostly Autumn, Bilston Robin 2

Angela Gordon

Compared with the extensive touring of past years, Mostly Autumn have scheduled relatively few live appearances for the spring, summer and autumn of 2016, with a greater emphasis on showcase gigs and festivals. They came to the rock Mecca of The Robin 2 in Bilston a week after a high profile show in London, and like at that gig they drew the sort of appreciably sized crowd we’ve come to expect at this venue.

The last couple of years the band have been playing the album “Dressed in Voices” in it’s entirety as one half of the show, and over the course of three successive tours the other half went from an abbreviated greatest hits set, a collection of lesser played rarities, and finally the revival of their “Mostly Floyd” set. With “Dressed in Voices” now laid to rest for the time being at least, what they would play was a mystery for those who had carefully avoided spoilers, though we were told to expect one or two surprises.

They kicked off with the instrumental “Out of the Inn”, which starts off as a flute-driven Celtic-folk jig, led by Angela Gordon and Chris Johnson, with the rest of the band coming to stage one by one as the number builds into a barnstorming hard rocker. An unusual choice as an opener, but like “Distant Train” a couple of years ago, it worked well. After that came a fusillade of drums and Bryan Josh’s Blackmore-like spiralling guitar figure of “In For The Bite” from this year’s entertainingly bonkers Josh & Co album, which saw Olivia Sparnenn make her characteristic dramatic entrance. The huge smile on Bryan Josh’s face set the mood for the next two hours.

Bryan Josh

From then on it was songs from right across their career, played right through rather than taking a mid-set interval. There were standards from the early albums, such as “Answer the Question”, “Spirit of Autumn Past” and “Nowhere to Hide”. There were highlights from their more recent work’ a hard-rocking “Deep in Borrowdale”, “Drops of the Sun”, Olivia’s dramatic Nightwish-like “Wild Eyed Skies”, the drum showcase “Skin on Skin”, and the beautiful balled “Silhouette of Stolen Ghosts” from the bonus disk of “Dressed in Voices”. Chris Johnson sang lead on “Silver Glass”, one of his contributions to the band’s songbook from 2006′s “Heart Full of Sky”. But the highlight has to have been the epic “Mother Nature”, a song not played live for many years. They finished the main set with a powerful rendition of what has long been Olivia’s signature song, “Questioning Eyes”.

With the band still “in the zone” they took advantage of the lack of a strict curfew by throwing in an additional encore, a superb “The Last Climb” with its extended flute solo, before the obligatory “Heroes Never Die”. But even then they weren’t done. Bryan dismissed the closing recorded music and led the band into two more songs, both of them from last year’s Pink Floyd covers set, a monstrously rocking “Run Like Hell” and the guitar wig-out of “Comfortably Numb” with Olivia and Chris Johnson joining forces as the creepy doctor. You were left with the feeling they’d have been happy to play all night.

Olivia Sparnenn

On the evidence of this gig, they’re on top live form this year, playing a good mix of old and new taking in material from across eight of their ten albums. In recent years they’ve been at their best on stage whenever they’ve managed to keep a consistent lineup together for more than a few months. The current incarnation with Angela Gordon and Chris Johnson returned to the fold has been together more than a year now, and it shows. Their next live appearance is the big one, opening for Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow in front of sixteen thousand people at the sold-out Genting Arena, before gigs in Tavistock, Poole and Cardiff in July.

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Panic Room Weekend, Day Two

Anne-Marie Helder

After the excitement of the first day of the Panic Room convention, everybody was back for more at the next day. with perhaps a few more people who had one-day tickets for the Sunday to swell the crowd. There seemed significantly more people that there had been the day before.

Sunday began, as had Saturday, with an acoustic solo performance, this time from harper and folk singer Sarah Dean. She played a beautiful set combining original numbers and traditional standards, interspersed with some entertaining song introductions.

Luna Rossa were eagerly awaited. They’re Panic Room’s acoustic alter-ego, the core songwriting duo of Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards with a different supporting cast. The music clearly comes from the same place, but the stripped-down intimacy of the presentation is quite different from Panic Room’s widescreen rock, and showcases Anne-Marie’s remarkable vocals all the more. On their brief tour in December they were accompanied by Sarah Dean on harp and Andy Coughlan on bass, but for this gig Yatim Halimi stood in on bass, and Dave Foster also joined them for a few numbers on guitar. Even though it was four-fifths Panic Room in terms of personnel, the vibe was totally different, with songs drawn from the two Luna Rossa albums plus an emotive cover of Abba’s “Winner Takes All”. Dave Foster added some tasteful blues guitar to enhance songs like “Dark Room”. It was stunningly beautiful set.

That performance would have been hard for anyone else to follow, so it was probably a good thing that there followed an extended break in the music. What we did have was a Q and A session with the band, hosted by compère Dave Ormston. Questions included things like “If you had to throw away all albums bar one, which one would you keep”. Jon’s answer to that one was “Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert”.

Dave Foster on twin-neck guitar. There's Prog

Then it was back to the music. The Dave Foster band was another to feature more than half of Panic Room on the stage, with Yatim again on bass and Jon on keys, though with Ninet Poortman on vocals and Leon Parr on drums they had a quite different sound. Sharing the groove-orientated rhythm section with The Steve Rothery Band gave them a similar feel to that band, and Ninet Poortman impressed as a singer, Most of the set came from Dave Foster’s excellent album “Dreamless”, with “Paradox” from Dave’s earlier album “Gravity”. Anne-Marie joined them on “Brahma”, one of the high spots of the set, before Ninet returned to finish with a powerful “Black Sunrise”.

The supergroup Kiama are an interesting band. There’s a lot of talent and a lot of good musical ideas, but on record they didn’t quite manage to transcend the sum of the parts. Expanded to a six-piece with Magenta’s Dan Nelson on bass and a female backing singer they were a lot more impressive live. They went from Zeppelinesque hard rock to atmospheric balladry recalling latter-day Marillion. Dylan Thompson more than proved he’s got what it takes to front a band, including Rock God looks and some very heart-on-sleeve lyrics. Luke Machin is a phenomenal guitarist reeling off some jaw-dropping solos. They’re not quite the hard rock band they initially promoted themselves as, though the best moments were still the points where they did rock out, like opener “Cold Black Heard”. This may be another band from whom the best is yet to come.

Dylan Thompson fronting Kiama

And finally came Panic Room. The first night had felt like a greatest hits show, but a second set with just as many great songs showed just how strong a songbook Panic Room have built up after just four albums. Kicking off with the electric version of “Song for Tomorrow”, the set included a superb taken on “Picking up Knives” with some splendid electric piano, “Tightrope Walker”, the always bonkers “I am a Cat”, “Promises”, the spine-tingling set closer “Dust” and an anthemic “Satellite” as an encore. The band were absolutely on fire from beginning to end, and the atmosphere electric. It wasn’t the tightest Panic Room set of all time, but there was an exuberance about the whole thing that was amazing to be part of. This is what live music is all about.

The whole weekend was a wonderful experience, and there is already talk of a repeat event next year. It showcased a host of bands and side-projects that deserve wider exposure, topped with two spectacular sets from the band themselves. It was also a great gathering of the band’s most dedicated fans from around the country, with plenty of times between bands to catch up with old friends. It was also good to see Marillion’s Steve Rothery in the audience too. Panic Room as a support for next year’s Marillion convention, Rothers? You know you want to!

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The Panic Room Weekend – Day One

Panic Room Weekend

In addition to their regular gigs of 2016, Panic Room decided to do something rather different and far more ambitious at Bilston’s Robin 2. Taking a similar format to the successful and now legendary Marillion weekends, they booked the venue for two full days. They would play a headline set each night, with an array of support acts all of whom had some connection to the band. With an afternoon start and five sets each day, it amounted to a Panic Room-curated mini-festival.

Things kicked off with a solo set from Alex Cromarty, best known as a drummer in more bands you can count, but here performing as a singer-songwriter. He began with a great cover of Thin Lizzy’s “Dancing in the Moonlight” leading into as set of largely original songs from his forthcoming solo album.

Morpheus Rising have supported Panic Room many times, and were originally planning to play a full electric set. But unfortunately their drummer exploded in a freak gardening accident, or something like that. So Simon Wright and Pete Harwood instead played as a stripped down acoustic duo. It says a lot about the quality of their songwriting that material written for twin guitar metal works in this format, even though Simon’s vocals sometimes came over a little fragile. But the highlights were a couple of completely new songs, both of which came over extremely well. The band have both an acoustic and a new electric album in the pipeline, and at least one of those new songs is to appear on both.

Panic Room Weekend

Shadow of the Sun were a very late addition to the bill. They’ve been away a long time and been through a few changes, with the departure of their original bassist, frontman Matthew Powell now doubling up on bass. and a new second guitarist Matt O’Connell bringing them back to a quartet. Unfortunately Matt couldn’t make the gig for urgent family reasons, so hats off to stand-in Lewis Spencer who came in at very short notice and played what must have been largely improvised lead guitar parts without any rehearsal. Playing a mixture of songs from their four-year old début “Monument” and brand-new material, their blend of metal and alternative rock is still something of a work in progress, though Matthew Powell is considerably less awkward on stage now he has a bass to play. Dylan Thompson is starting to look like a younger Mikhael Åkerfeldt, and the couple of times he launched into solos he sounded a little like Åkerfeldt too. It will be interesting to see how this band develop, and how they sound with their proper guitarist.

Halo Blind are part of the Panic Room family, since both Anne-Marie Helder and Gavin Griffiths were members of the first incarnation of the band, though they’re now one of the many bands with Alex Cromarty behind the drums. They impressed a lot supporting The Heather Findlay band back in April. Tonight saw them lift things to another level in intensity. Again the bulk of the set came from their most recent album “Occupying Forces”, and it was a thing of mesmerising atmospheric beauty, with fragile vocal melodies and swirling effects-laden psychedelic guitar. Anne-Marie guested on “The Dogs” from the first album, which proved one just highlight of many. This had to be one of the best sets they’ve played to date.

Panic Room Weekend

Then it was time for Panic Room themselves for the first of their two headline sets of the weekend. They proceeded to pull out all the stops with a spectacular set including material from across all four albums. There were many of the usual favourites; “Apocalypstick”, “5th Amendment”, the jazzy “Chameleon” with Anne-Marie’s flute solo, and the hard rocking “Hiding the World” An acoustic interlude included the arrangements of “Song for Tomorrow” and “Screens” from the unplugged album “Essence”. They finished the main set with an epic “Nocturnal” before encoring with “Sandstorms” and covers of All About Eve’s “Road to your Soul” and Led Zep’s “Kashmir”. This was a roof-lifting performance even by Panic Room’s standards, and with so many of the regular standards in the set it left you wondering what they were saving for the second night.

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Karnataka – Bilston Robin 2

A few photos of Karnataka’s recent gig at Bilston Robin 2. The band were on superb live form despite slightly poor sound early on, combining hard rock bombast with evocative symphonic celtic-progressive epics. Hayley Griffiths’ dynamic stage presence leaves the impression that they really ought to be playing far bigger stages.

The current incarnation of the band have fully gelled now, with the most recent recruit, drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi the final piece in the jigsaw. He does give the impression that Animal from The Muppets is his role model.

The setlist naturally drew heavily from the newest album “Secrets of Angels”, with a mesmerising rendition of the lengthy title track one of the highlights. They’ve given the rest of the set a big shakeup, with three songs from “The Gathering Light” incuding the Enrico Pinna guitar showcase “Forsaken” and an excellent “Moment in Time”. They finished with their barnstorming cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”.

They’re a very different band nowadays that Karnatakas past.  And with just a couple of songs remaining from the earliest incarnation of the band, maybe someone else should start a tribute act?

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Fish, Islington Assembly

To mark last year’s thirtieth anniversary of Marillion’s “Misplaced Childhood”, Fish played an extensive sold-out tour across Europe billed as “Farewell to Childhood”, playing the iconic 1985 album in its entirety. But handful of shows in France and Germany towards the end had to be postponed when Fish suffered a throat infection, and to turn those rescheduled gigs into a proper tour he booked a handful of additional dates including some further British ones, one of which was at the rather grand Assembly Hall in Islington. Like the British leg of the original tour, it was sold out weeks in advance.

The show kicked off with an impressive “Pipeline”, a number from the 1994 album “Suits” that hasn’t featured in live sets for a long time. The next few songs went from the title track of his most recent album “Feast of Consequences” to “Family Business” from his solo début. The hard hitting “Perception of Johnny Punter” came over a little thin with just one guitar, even with Tony Turrell playing the solo on keys while Robin Boult ground out the Zeppelinesque riff.

We had the usual monologues interspersing the songs, including one about his adventures earlier on the tour in The Netherlands that almost ended with the headline “Fish drowns in canal”. But for a large part of the crowd these opening numbers were just a warm up for the main event, and sadly some idiots insisted on interrupting his lengthy and heartfelt dedication for “Misplaced”. Why do they do it?

Fish’s solo career has taken him away from the neo-prog sounds of his days in Marillion. The approach has been looser, rawer and altogether more rock’n'roll. While he’s always thrown a few Marillion oldies into his live sets, his live bands have tended to reinterpret them in their own style rather than try for note-perfect reproductions of the originals. That approach has served him well, especially when it’s a handful of well-chosen songs. But when it comes to a dense, complex concept album like “Misplaced Childhood” it’s a different matter.

It’s not as though it didn’t have its moments, especially the anthemic “Lavender” and “Heart of Lothian”, the whole thing didn’t quite catch fire with the sort of intensity we saw on, for example, the High Wood suite on the Feast of Consequences tour. Even with the material played in a lower key but there were still one or two moments where Fish struggled vocally. And while the band aren’t attempting to be a note-perfect Marillion tribute act, there were times when you missed having Steve Rothery on guitar.

They ended with rousing encores of “Market Square Heroes” and “The Company” which finished things on a high note, but the gig as a whole seemed a curiously flat experience. The muddy sound early on didn’t help, though it sounded better from the balcony.

Fish has played some memorable gigs in recent years with sets focussing on newer material. This might just have been an off-night, and maybe the hecklers put the band off their stride and made it harder to get into “the zone”, but this was a long way from being the best Fish gig of recent years.

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The Heather Findlay Band – Bilston Robin 2

Heather Findlay at Bilston Robin 2

Although she’s played the odd acoustic gig and made guest appearances with other artists, Heather Findlay’s short run of gigs promoting the excellent album “The Illusion’s Reckoning” is her first tour fronting a full band for three and a half years. So naturally there was a fair bit of excited anticipation, and the Sunday night show at Bilston Robin 2 at the mid-point of the tour drew a sizeable and appreciative crowd.

The evening began with a short but sweet solo set from harpist and singer Sarah Dean, including her spaghetti western interpretation of Dylan’s “Man in a Long Black Coat”, and ending with the stunning a capella “The Traveller’s Prayer”.

The special guests were Halo Blind, led by Chris Johnson. They’re a band with feet in both the progressive and indie-rock camps; the shimmering soundscapes, fragile melodies and spiralling psychedelic guitars having echoes of Radiohead and Anathema. The entire set came from their excellent second album “Occupying Forces”, a record Chris Johnson describe as being about being pissed off but trying to do something about it. The whole set was impressive, with the evocative “Downpour” a particular highlight.

Heather Findlay’s previous solo tours featured a slimmed-down all-guitar band, but “The Illusion’s Reckoning” needed an expanded band to do its layers and harmonies justice. So the core of rhythm section of Alex Cromarty and Stuart Fletcher and multi-instrumentalist Chris Johnson, all of whom were doing double duty with Halo Blind, were joined by Mostly Autumn’s Angela Gordon on keys, flute and backing vocals. Sarah Dean on vocals, harp and recorder, and progressive rock legend John Mitchell on lead guitar.

The set began with “The Illusion’s Reckoning” played in its entirety, and the new songs came over very powerfully live. “Veil of Ghosts” and “Mountain Spring” built from gentle beginnings into big walls of sound, “In a Dream” and “I’ve Seen Your Star” were dreamy and atmospheric, the Fleetwood Mac-like “Learning to be Light” featured some excellent lead playing from Chris Johnson, and the title track made an epic conclusion to the first half of the show.

It all had a very different feel to previous incarnations of The Heather Findlay band; with the keys and woodwinds there was something of the spirit of Mostly Autumn past about it, although the vibe was quite different from the current incarnation of that band. John Mitchell proved himself the ideal choice as lead guitarist from the way he nailed the solo in the opening number “Island” which Dave Kilminster had played on the record. And Alex Cromarty proved himself a man of many talents by taking the lead vocals on a couple of duets, and even playing harmonium at the front of the stage on “I’ve Seen Your Star”.

John Mitchell

The closing part of the set comprised a selection of well-chosen older songs, beginning with a superb “Carpe Diem” with Angela Gordon playing the intro on flute and that spectacular climax with Heather’s wordless vocal intertwining with John Michell’s guitar line. There was a splendidly rocked-up version of Odin Dragonfly’s “Magpie”, and a stunning “Why Do We Stay”, a duet taken from John Mitchell’s Lonely Robot. Perhaps the only moment that didn’t quite work was a rather flat version of “Mona Lisa” which didn’t take off and soar in the way the newer songs in the first half had done. The night ended with a spellbinding “Shrinking Violet”, with a musical box playing “Swan Lake” at the close. No encore, because anything following that would have been an anticlimax.

Heather Findlay has been away for a long time, but this tour represents a triumphant return. The bulk of the set was new material, with just a handful of standards from her days in Mostly Autumn. For those oldies this band kept far closer to the originals rather than the radical reworkings on earlier tours, but they were really a victory lap on a tour that looked forward rather than back.

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Panic Room – Start the Sound

Panic Room hit The Flowerpot in Derby and Sound Control in Manchester for the third and fourth dates of their 2016 “Start the Sound” tour. Last year they supported themselves by starting the show with a semi-acoustic set promoting their mostly unplugged album “Essence”, but this time it’s all-electric, with two lengthy sets and a brief interval. Even with no support band there was more than two hours of music, and at Derby especially they pulled a sizeable and appreciative crowd.

For this run of gigs it was close to a greatest hits set, drawing heavily from their strongest album, “Skin” as well as obvious highlights from their other albums, with a focus on the harder-rocking side of the band’s music. “Song for Tomorrow” got the full electric treatment and made a dramatic opener, and the jazz-tinged “Chameleon” with the flute solo was an early highlight. The blues number “Denial” from “Essence” made an appearance, and there was also a welcome return for their imaginative reworking of ELP’s “Bitches Crystal”. The highlight of the set on both nights was the absolutely stunning “Nocturnal”, a song not performed live for several years.

Dave Foster

With Dave Foster now well-enough established in the band it’s almost time to stop thinking of him as the new guitarist; much of his playing was spectacular. He’s starting to put his own stamp on the older songs, and it’s an amazing sight watching his hands fly up and down the fretboard during the solos, especially his shredding on songs like “Apocalypstick”.

After the two-day convention at The Robin 2 in Bilston in May, the band return for six more dates in June including a high-profile showcase gig at Islington Assembly in London. Then they’ll be heading into the studio to work on a new album for the rest of the year. They will be rehearsing a lot more material for the convention, so it’s entirely possible the June setlist will be different, but whatever they play, they’re on such great form at the moment that those gigs are not to be missed.

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Dave Kerzner & District 97 at The Borderline

District 97

The Borderline in London saw the first night of the short co-headline European tour giving audiences a rare chance to see two US artists who have been making waves of late, Dave Kerzner and District 97. There was a definite buzz about this gig; the venue was pretty much packed, with a long snaking queue outside the venue long before the doors opened in the pouring bank holiday weekend rain.

Opening the bill was Oktopus, who despite the name are actually a power trio, playing intricate prog-metal with some noticeably Zappa-like soloing. They had something of the feel of a jazz act about them, with instrumental prowess ahead of their songcraft. While they sounded as though they would benefit from a proper lead singer, which they did have at one earlier point in their career, they still played an entertaining set and did their job warming up the crowd.

The Dave Kerzner Band at

Dave Kerzner is one of those musicians who seems too prolific to confine themselves to a single project at a time. As well as playing keys for Sound of Contact and co-writing much of the music for Mantra Vega with Heather Findlay, he also made the 2014 solo album “New World”, an ambitious work with a huge array of guest musicians including Steve Hackett and the late Keith Emerson. He has put together an Anglo-American five-piece band for this tour, featuring Fernando Perdomo on guitar, Pink Floyd collaborator Durga McBroom on backing vocals and The Heather Findlay Band’s rhythm section of Stu Fletcher and Alex Cromarty.

Naturally most of the set came from “New World”, and the songs come over powerfully live, with Durga McBroom added depth to Kerzner’s own lead vocals. The material echoes classic Pink Floyd and Genesis with a balance between songcraft and atmospherics with the occasional flourish of keyboard pyrotechnics. They threw in a couple of covers, ELP’s “Lucky Man”, though without any daggers in the Nord Electro, and a spectacular “The Great Gig in the Sky”, naturally a showcase for Durga McBroom, plus a medley of Sound of Contact material for good measure.

District 97

Aside from a low-key warm up gig the night before this gig in a pub in Cheltenham, District 97′s only live appearances in the UK was their one-off appearance at the Celebr8.2 festival in 2014, so this was the first night of their first British headline tour. They represent the opposing pole of progressive rock compared to the previous band. Their music is an intense and swirling high-energy tapestry of notes, angular metallic riffs and complex rhythms. It combines the ambition of King Crimson with the off-the-wall nature of Frank Zappa with perhaps a little of the bombast of ELP.

There cannot be many progressive rock bands whose singer first came to prominence in “American Idol”; their complex music is a far cry from the commercial pop of reality TV talent shows, although there’s no denying Leslie Hunt’s remarkable voice and strong stage presence. All of them, including new bassist Tim Seisser playing only his third gig with the band are virtuoso musicians, but they channel that virtuosity into dizzyingly complex arrangements rather than self-indulgent showboating. It was all jaw-dropping stuff, throwing in a superb cover of King Crimson’s “One More Red Nightmare” amidst material from their three albums.

The pros and cons of co-headline tours is one of those things that provokes endless debate, and there have been occasions in the past where for whatever reason such gigs just haven’t worked. But when it does work, with two very different but complementary bands with an overlapping audience, it can make for a very successful show, drawing a bigger crowd than either might have pulled on their own, who then proceed to get their money’s worth. This was one of those nights.

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Purson – The 100 Club, London

Purson are not the only band that have a charismatic fromtwoman with a strong visual image. But unlike many of their peers where the male musicians all look like they’ve wandered in from the street, whole band has an equally strong look. And they have a sound that matches their look. Purson do the late sixties vibe so well both visually and sonically it’s as if they’d just stepped out of the time machine from 1969.

They came to London’s legendary 100 Club on the tour to promote their new album “Desire’s Magic”, though the album itself isn’t out for another month. Not only was the venue close to a sell-out, but they attracted a wide range of ages; there were people there old enough to have remembered late 60s psychedelia the first time around, as well as younger metal fans whose parents might not have been born back then.

Opening with a song from the new record featuring, of all things, some kazoo, they proceeded to rock the house with an electrifying set. They drew heavily from the forthcoming album interspersed with highlights from their previous releases. Of the familiar numbers “Rocking Horse” and “Spiderweb Farm” from their début were early highlights. One standout from the new songs came close to the end, “Sky Parade”, a melodic and atmospheric epic with Rosalie on 12-string guitar. The encore of “Wanted Man” from the EP “In The Meantime” rocked out with a combination of wah-wah and e-bow, and a spectacular vocals-as-a-lead instrument.

Playing much of the lead guitar as well as fronting the band, Rosalie Cunningham is the obvious focus of the band, playing mean and dirty blues riffs, swirling psychedelic atmospherics, and reeling off solos with heavy use of that wah-wah pedal. Bassist Justin Smith was tremendously impressive with sort of riffs and lead runs you don’t normally expect from the bassist in a twin guitar band. Likewise drummer Raphael Mura treated his kit as a lead instrument, gurning like a guitarist and frequently channelling Animal from The Muppets. One unexpected moment was an impromptu world’s quietest drum solo while Rosalie dealt with an out-of-tune 12-string. Perhaps the only minus point was that the keys were too low in the mix; from the front they were sometimes barely audible over the sound and fury of the rhythm section.

But aside from that, Purson were firing on all cylinders tonight, the enthusiasm of the packed crowd adding to the intensity of the gig. The new material came over powerfully live, whetting the appetite for the new album when it’s released in April.

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