Live Reviews Blog

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

Mostly Autumn return to Crewe

Olivia Sparnenn at The Box in Crewe

Some photos of Mostly Autumn at The Box at Crewe. It’s a long time since Mostly Autumn have played in Crewe. The gigs at the long-closed Limelight Club always had a very special atmosphere, and The Box feels like that venue’s spiritual successor, a proper rock club rather than a nightclub that also hosts live music.

The band were on top form too, with the new album “Dressed in Voices” played in full and coming over powerfully live. The 2014 lineup with Anne-Marie Helder back in the band (for most gigs at least) and Chris Johnson replacing Liam Davison seems to have gelled well, and the band are firing on all cylinders again.

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Morpheus Rising and Fahran at Bilston

Si Wright of Morpeus Rising at Bilston Robin 2 on 13th July 2014Morpheus Rising played a headline gig at Bilston Robin 2, with support from Fahran. Because the gig was more than week ago, I didn’t take proper notes, I’ve reviewed Morpheus Rising many times before and it was a few days after Stabcon, I’m going to write this up as if it was a session of Umläut: The Game of Metal.

Fahran at Bilston Robin 2In Umläut terms, Fahrah’s strongest performance trait was Stagecraft, and their set consisted largely of Face-Melters. They did well enough to win at least one Impression Check, and won themselves some Glory. They’re a very young band, and on the strength of performances like this they’re going places.

Pete Harwood and Damien Sweeting of Morpheus Rising at Bilston

The level of musicianship and especially their strength of songcraft suggest that Morpheus Rising’s best performance trait is Technique, though their Stagecraft and Power were hardly lacking. In the absense of drummer Nigel Durham who’d suffered a shoulder injury, former drummer Paul “Gibbo” Gibbons stood in on drums having hurredly learned the band’s new songs, and the band were still as tight as ever. Despite only two albums I heard the set described as sounding like a greatest hits set, with the bulk of the new album “Eximius Humanus” alongside highlights from the debut. Morpheus Rising too came away from the gig with plenty of Glory.

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Cloud Atlas Album Launch

Cloud Atlas album launch at Tokyos in York

A few photos from Cloud Atlas’ album launch in Tokyo’s in York, moved at short notice from the original scheduled venue, Fibbers.

Cloud Atlas album launch at Tokyos in York

The songs from the album “Beyond the Vale” come over well live, which given the raw, live feel of the album shouldn’t really have been a suprise. Heidi Widdop has a voice that goes from Alison Goldfrapp to Janis Joplin, and lead guitarist Martin Ledger made a strong impression with his melodic and powerfully atmospheric style.

Cloud Atlas album launch at Tokyos in York

Cloud Atlas have quite a few more gigs in the pipeline, including an appearance at the Cambridge Rock Festival at the beginning of August. They are going to be a band to watch.

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Trinity Live

Christina Booth of Magenta at Trinity LiveChristina Booth

Trinity Live was originally intended to have been a triple-headlining tour by The Reasoning, Touchstone and Magenta. But the tour had to be cancelled when Magenta’s vocalist Christina Booth was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

The bands decided to keep one date from the proposed tour, at The Assembly in Leamington Spa, and repurpose it as a charity show in aid of three cancer charities. The Reasoning and Touchstone would still appear, along with Rob Reed of Magenta performing as “Rob Reed and Friends”. The show expanded to a day-long event with a number of prominent additional names from the prog world added to the bill, including the mighty Arena as headliners. Then, only a few days before the show came the announcement that Christina Booth’s cancer treatment was going sufficiently well that she would be well enough to perform a short set, so Rob Reed and Friends became Magenta.
Continue reading

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Haken – The Garage

Haken at The GarageHaken are one of the best of the new generation of younger progressive rock bands producing music with all the scope, ambition and virtuosity that goes with the genre label while sounding little like any band from the 1970s. Their third album “The Mountain” was a major step forward, which moved past the obvious influences (Zappa, Dream Theater) of their earlier records to develop a sound that was their own.

Support came from the four-piece My Soliloquy, with an entertaining set of highly melodic prog-metal. They made a remarkably big sound for four people, especially when they didn’t have a bassist, relying on guitarist Mike Gilpin’s riffing to fill the bottom end of the sound, and frontman Pete Morten made a strong impression both on vocals and on lead guitar. They’re a band to watch out for in the future.

Haken at The GarageThe two eight-string guitars and a six-string bass made it clear Haken were no indie band. But neither are they the sort of technically showy muso band that such things might suggest. Opening with the hymn-like but extremely earwormy “The Path”, on just piano and vocals, they proceeded to play the The Mountain in full. By the time they reached “Cockroach King” with its nod to Gentle Giant they had hit their stride. The complex material came over remarkably well live, with multi-part vocal harmonies with all six band members and the interplay between the two guitars of Richard Henshall and Charles Griffiths.

Despite the obvious virtuosity of the whole band there was relatively little in the way of soloing; the strength of their music is in the composition. The Mountain is an extremely ambitious piece that amounts to far more than the sum of its parts with it’s recurring motifs, huge soaring melodies and masterful use of dynamics. Frontman Ross Jennings has a fairly unique vocal style that has given rise to comparisons to Freddy Mercury with his extensive use of falsetto. The whole thing was an intense performance from the entire band than earned a huge applause when the final notes of the closing number “Somebody” died away.

After that tour-de-force they finished the show with a handful of older songs from “Aquarius” and “Visions”, encoring with the completely bonkers sixteen minute kaleidoscopic epic “Celestial Elixir” making a fitting end to to a fantastic night.

In the past couple of years there has been something of a sea change in the progressive rock world. The scene had been dominated by reverential homages to the 70s pioneers or flashy prog-metallers whose sound is typically dominated by instrumental pyrotechnics. Haken are one of the new breed of bands who are neither of those things. If you still think progressive rock is all about cod-Genesis 70s retreads, you should listen to Haken.

Haken will be returning with an UK tour with Leprous and Maschine in late October and early November.

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Panic Room – Gloucester Guildhall

Panic Room at Gloucester Guildhall, April 2014

Panic Room came to Gloucester Guildhall on the penultimate date of the first leg of their spring tour, following on from the release of the well-received fourth album “Incarnate” and a successful appearance at the HRH Prog festival in Pwllheli back in March. With no support there was a long wait until they rolled the now-familiar intro tape of Luna Rossa’s “Gasp” and the band finally hit the stage an hour and a half after the doors opened.

The setlist was a very interesting mix of old and new. The new album “Incarnate” naturally features heavily, with no fewer than eight of the album’s ten songs in the set. They opened with the atmospheric “Into Temptation” lead into album’s rockiest number “Velocity”, then “Start the Sound” with Adam O’Sullivan’s volume control guitar work and some very imaginative drumming from Gavin Griffiths.

Panic Room at Gloucester Guildhall, April 2014

The middle part of the set the band ran through an eclectic mix of older numbers, with some established favourites alongside a few unexpected choices. The extended “Chameleon” with a jazzy solo from Adam O’Sullivan and a great flute solo from Anne-Marie was a particular highlight. Anne-Marie’s spirited take on “I Am A Cat” demonstrated how obviously she enjoyed singing that one live, and made its inclusion in the set more than welcome.

The closing part of the main set showcased more of the new album, including the soaring ballad “All That We Are”, ending with the massive brooding epic “Dust”. Unlike some acts, Panic Room have never been a band that rely on the same standards tour after tour, and the way they’re willing to mix things up keeps things fresh. The first two (of four!) encores bore this out, with two of the rockier numbers from “Skin” presented in the acoustic arrangements we’d heard at the Incarnate launch party back in February. They followed that with another couple of new numbers, with a very powerful version of Incarnate’s title track closing the evening.

Panic Room at Gloucester Guildhall, April 2014

This was a superb gig. Panic Room are now back up to the level they’d reached before Paul Davies left the band a year ago, and it’s great to see them firing on all cylinders again. It’s taken new guitarist Adam O’Sullivan a few gigs to find his feet, but he now fits the band perfectly; he more than does the older songs justice, and makes his mark on the new material with his more laid-back jazz-inflected style. The new material comes over very well live, if anything more strongly than on record.

The band return in June for the second leg which includes shows in Bath, Reading, Bilston, London and Preston, among others.

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Polar Bear, XOYO London

Polar Bear at XOYOPolar Bear have garnered a lot of critical acclaim over the past decade with their distinctly 21st century take on jazz with considerable crossover appeal. Their appearance at XOYO in north London on April 2nd attracted a big and varied crowd, with older bearded real ale drinkers rubbing shoulders with the younger and more fashionable.

Support act Shiver were an electric power-trio, with an energetic rhythm section and effects-laden guitar. There was even a guitar passage recalling Rush’s “By-Tor and the Snow Dog” at one point. There was a moment where the whole thing sounded like electronic dance music; the drummer playing electronic drums, the bassist using effects that made his playing sound like an electronic rhythms, and the guitar swamped in effects. They are a band wouldn’t have seemed out of place on a more experimental progressive rock bill, but nevertheless made an interesting and entertaining sound.

Polar Bear aren’t quite your traditional jazz combo either. They have a frontline of two tenor saxes, and a rhythm section that includes not just bandleader Sebastian Roachford’s drums and Tom Herbert’s upright double bass, but the fifth member of the band, Leafcutter John, producing beats and effects from a laptop and an array of electronics. Not only that, Tom Herbert played his acoustic bass through the sort of pedal board you normally associate with prog-rock guitarists, and saxophonist Pete Wareham also treated his sound with a battery of electronic effects.

Polar Bear at XOYOThe bulk of the set came from their new album “In Each And Every One”, the opening number with its mournful sax melody set against a synthesiser backwash recalled none other than the opening section of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”. From then on things built in intensity. The blending of electronic beats and live percussion worked remarkably well, and the Latin rhythms late in the set got parts of the audience dancing.

Their kaleidoscopic set shifted through many musical moods. There were moments where the combination of abrasive saxophone and electronic effects recalled early Hawkwind. There were eerie sonic soundscapes with bowed bass through lots of effects producing sounds that resembled whale songs. There were classical sounding melodic sections with intertwining sax lines, where the contrasting styles of Pete Wareham and Mark Lockheart’s tenor saxes complemented one another in the same manner as the twin guitars of a classic rock band. Then there were passages of atonal avant-garde noise with squalling sax and storms of percussion, the whole thing finally ending with howls of feedback from a sax against the monitor.

Polar Bear are billed as a crossover act with rock and electronic dance influences rather than a traditional jazz band, and what the packed XOYO saw was a performance that lived up to that billing. This was jazz, but it was jazz with the raw energy and ferocious intensity of a rock show.

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Riverside – Islington O2 Academy

Riverside at The O2 Academy Islington

Poland’s Riverside came to Islington O2 Academy as part of their brief UK tour. having established a strong reputation in prog-metal circles. Their highly-acclaimed fifth album “Shrine of the New Generation Slaves”, appeared on a great many people’s album-of-the-year lists, making their tour a highly anticipated event.

Fellow Poles Votum began their support set at the ridiculously early time of 6:40pm, a consequence of the venue turning into a nightclub after the gig. Unfortunately this resulted in a sparse crowd at the beginning. The six-piece played a short but very entertaining set of highly melodic prog-metal, complete with a small amount of cookie-monster vocals.

But by the time Riverside came on the O2 Academy was heaving.

Riverside have sometimes been compared to Porcupine Tree, and seeing them on stage the comparisons don’t end with the sound. There’s a lot of Steve Wilson in Mariusz Duda’s appearance and stage manner. And just like Porcupine Tree, their often complex and atmospheric music comes across very powerfully live.

Not that Riverside could be described as any kind of derivative copyists, they’re a band with their own sound, built around spiralling bass riffs and swirling keyboards. Mariusz Duda’s bass came across the main lead instrument with Piotr Grudziński’s guitar in a supporting role providing textures and colour when he’s not soloing. Michał Łapaj’s keyboards were prominent in the mix, with big walls of Hammond with the occasional spectacular moog solo. Some of the heavier moments featuring a lot of Hammond were more that a little reminiscent of Deep Purple in their pomp.

Riverside at The O2 Academy Islington

With the sort of complex bass parts typical in modern prog-metal, it’s rare to see someone combine the roles of bassist and lead vocalist, and it’s even rarer to see someone combine them as well as Mariusz Duda does. His melancholy but melodic vocals have a lot in common with the clean vocals of Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt’s.

The lengthy set drew heavily from their newest and strongest album “Shrine of the New Generation Slaves”, opening with “New Generation Slave” and ending with the epic “Elevator Shrine”. Songs from “Second Life Syndrome” also featured heavily with the title track making a strong final encore. You could tell this was a prog gig by the way an extended bass solo in only the second song earned a round of applause.

With their combination of dense, swirling sound, great musicianship, and very strong songwriting, they’re a band who manage to combine being very prog yet remain powerfully rock’n'roll at the same time. They are indeed an ideal band for the many people still missing Porcupine Tree, but on the basis of performances like this, they’re far, far more than that.

Poland’s best band? Quite possibly.

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HRH Prog 2

Crimson Sky's Jane Setter at HRH ProgJane Setter of Crimson Sky

HRH Prog 2 is a residential rock festival held in this year the former Butlins holiday camp at Hafan-Y-Mor just outside Pwllheli in north Wales, following on from the successful first festival held in Rotherham a year ago.

It’s certainly a long way from anywhere, at the end of miles and miles of single-carriageway roads winding through the Welsh hills, or an equally winding single-track railway line, and it certainly wasn’t the organisers’ fault that part of the train journey was by replacement bus because the tracks had been washed away in a storm. There were complaints from some quarters that it was an inconvenient location. But it was an equal opportunity inconvenience; it takes just as long wherever you’re coming from. Continue reading

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The Morpheus Rising album launch

Morpheus Rising's

Morpheus Rising chose Bilston Robin 2 as the location for the launch of their second album, both as an excellent rock venue with great acoustics, and as a central location that’s accessible for fans across the country. Not only that, the show also marked the live début of Luna Rossa, Anne-Marie Helder and Jon Edwards’ acoustic Panic Room side project.

Luna Rossa at Bilston Robin 2

Luna Rossa played a beautiful set, drawn almost entirely from “Sleeping Pills and Lullabies”. Shorn of the strings and additional instrumentaion of the album, the stripped-down sound of just voice, piano and guitar emphasised the strength of the songs. Jon Edwards’ expressive piano and Anne-Marie’s equally expressive voice make a perfect combination in a live setting, and songs like “Heart On My Sleeve” came over especially well.  The one all-new song was an atmospheric piece featured electric piano and some of Anne-Marie’s flute, and offered an intriguing taster for the next Luna Rossa album. They closed with the multi-layered “Gasp”, the one time they resorted to backing tracks for a song that wouldn’t work without the strings and looped backing vocals.

Morpheus Rising's

Then it was time for the twin guitar classic hard rock of Morpheus Rising. Their shows supporting Panic Room last hear had previewed quite a few of the new songs, one of two of which even became live favourites. But for the launch show the band played the whole album including the two download-only bonus tracks. The whole thing came over very powerfully live, so much so that it’s hard to pick a single highlight, though “Bending Light” with Pete Harwood’s e-bow solo came over especially strongly. With new drummer Nigel Durham they’ve gone up another gear as a live band.

Morpheus Rising's

They had intended to continue with the highlights of their first album, but unfortunately a poorly drummer forced them to curtail their set, making for a slightly confusing ending.  They did come back for one more number, a rousing rendition of “Lords of the North”. But the slightly premature end failed to take the edge off a fantastic night. On paper, the two very different acts sharing a bill ought never to have worked. But the combination of delicate acoustic beauty with full-on rock and roll ended up complimenting each other extremely well, and the whole thing made for a remarkable evening.

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