Welsh progressive rock band Magenta have established a strong reputation over past decade, with five studio albums to their name. They don’t play live often, but they’re well worth catching on the rare occasions when they do. The Sunday night show at Bilston Robin 2 was only their fourth full-band appearance of the year, following on from a successful appearance at the Summers End festival back in October.
The Robin 2 in Bilston is one of Britain’s premier classic rock, progressive rock and blues venues outside the capital. Tucked away in the heart of the Black Country they always put a lot of work into promoting their gigs, so even for a Sunday night there was a good-sized crowd.
Support came from former Pallas vocalist Alan Reed, fronting a semi-acoustic four-piece band. They managed to sound very proggy at times for a band without electric guitars, although their bassist doubled up on electric cello on a couple of songs. Their set mixed songs from Alan’s recent EP “Dancing with Ghosts” with a couple of Pallas oldies, and he warned us they might have to eat one of the band if they didn’t sell enough CDs. His spirited and impassioned performance made me wonder quite what Pallas were thinking when they sacked him. Especially when compared with their own somewhat lacklustre set without him at High Voltage in August.
Magenta are now officially a trio, consisting of composer and multi-instrumentalist Rob Reed, vocalist Christina Booth, and lead guitarist Chris Fry. For live work, Rob plays keys, and they’ve borrowed Godsticks’ excellent rhythm section to expand to a five-piece.
They were incredibly tight for a band who perform live so infrequently, such that it was hard to believe they’d played together live so few times this year. This was full-blown symphonic prog, with swirling keyboards, complex multi-part song structures and dense arrangements. But it was also all-out rock at the same time, a huge level of energy and intensity throughout their lengthy set.
The set spanned their entire career, going from the dark and intense 20 minute epic title track of “Metamorphosis” to selections from their more streamlined and accessible new album “Chameleon”, to older material such as the lengthy medley from their first album “Revolutions”. Magenta may be one of those bands who wear their influences on their sleeves, but unlike some lesser bands they put enough ideas of their own to become far more than a derivative pastiche. Occasionally they will throw in a few bars of something recognisable from 70s Yes or Genesis, but all of these are, as the band once stated, quite deliberate.
The diminutive Christina Booth showed just why she frequently wins awards for best female vocalist, singing with a lot of power and precision and making full use of her impressive vocal range. Chris Fry reeled off some amazing solos. At times his sound is reminiscent of Yes’ Steve Howe, but much of the time his sound is all his own; avoiding the sometimes clichéd Steve Hackett-meets-Dave Gilmour of too many neo-prog guitarists. And you’d never know that the rhythm section were just hired hands given the rhythmic complexity of the music.
Despite the infrequency of their live appearances, they’re every bit as great a live band as any of their peers in the female-fronted progressive rock scene. Quite when they’ll hit the road again is anyone’s guess, but on the strength of this show, they’re definitely not a band to miss.