Tag Archives: Matt Stevens

Esoteric Showcase 2013

Esoteric Showcase 2013

Following on from their very successful showcase event at The Underworld in 2012, Esoteric Recordings put on another event at The Borderline in London, again featuring Sanguine Hum and Tin Spirits, who’d played at that earlier show.

Esoteric Showcase 2013

Opener was Esoteric’s most recent signing, solo looping maestro Matt Stevens. He’s made quite a name for himself supporting the likes of Panic Room and Barclay James Harvest over the last couple of years, as well as playing lead guitar for The Fierce and The Dead. His distinctive instrumental act sets him apart, using a single acoustic guitar and and a set of looping pedals to build a big, layered sound far richer than you’d expect one man to produce on his own. He’s an innovative and talented musician, and a larger-than-life character with a strong stage presence. It will be interesting to see how his career develops now he’s “signed”.

Esoteric Showcase 2013

At last year’s showcase event, Sanguine Hum didn’t really impress. Though by all accounts they were a great band on record, their live act needed a lot more work, though to be fair the running order, which saw their set sandwiched between The Reasoning and Panic Room didn’t do them any favours.

A year and a bit on, and they are much, much improved. No longer like rabbits in the headlights, they’re orders of magnitude better, far more self-confident, far tighter, and playing with a lot more energy. With a set largely drawn from their new album “The Weight of the World”, they showed good use of dynamics and atmospherics, with touches of Porcupine Tree, Pineapple Thief and mid-70s Zappa. The stagecraft and presentation still has room for improvement, but they’ve come a long way in a short space of time.

Esoteric Showcase 2013

Tin Spirits, featuring one-time XTC and current Big Big Train guitarist Dave Gregory are always an entertaining live act, and their set was no exception. Unusually for a prog band they don’t have a keyboard player, relying on the twin lead guitars of Dave Gregory and Daniel Steinhardt for all the atmospherics and textures. Bassist Mark Kilminster makes an engaging frontman, supported on vocal harmones by the rest of the band. They display a love of vintage guitars, with Dave Gregory’s Rickenbacker and Daniel Steinhardt’s Gibson Flying V alongside the more common Les Pauls and Telecasters.

The set drew largely from their début album “Wired to Earth” with a couple of new songs thrown in for good measure, some material with a laid-back jazz-rock mood reminiscent of Steely Dan, other moments recalling early Wishbone Ash, though despite the awesome virtuosity of the musicians they never descended into self-indulgent noodling. Every time I’ve seen this band they throw at least one classic prog cover into the set, this time it was a mesmerising take on King Crimson’s “Red”. They ended with a progged-up version of XTC’s “Towers of London” to end a great evening.

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Matt Stevens signs to Esoteric

Support act Matt Stevens

Guitar looping maestro Matt Stevens has signed a deal With Esoteric Antenna, home of Panic Room and a great many other modern progressive artists.

When Panic Room signed their deal last year I was a little apprehensive, and hoped they knew what they were doing. But it seems to have worked very well for them so far, with the band playing to noticably bigger audiences than a year before. Hopefully the same will happen with Matt Stevens. He’s really quite unique in what he does; using looping technique as a means to an end rather than an end in itself, and making music anchored in solid tunes.

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From the music blogosphere – Sid Smith laments the days when non-mainstream musicians could make music as a full-time career. And Matt Stevens confronts a heckler shouting “It’s going round and round, it’s a fake, I’m not stupid”.

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Also Eden and Sankara, The Globe, Cardiff

It was a last minute decision to go to this gig, at the end of what had been a rather rough week. A strong bill with three acts I was keen to see made it worth travelling to another country involving rail replacement buses and a stay in a cheap B&B. Sometimes it’s gigs like this where I’m reminded of the line in Mötorhead’s “We Are The Road Crew” ‘Another hotel I can’t find‘. But in this case I did manage to find the hotel, but got hopelessly lost in the decidedly non-Euclidian geography between the hotel and the venue. I was in a maze of small twisty streets, all alike. Fortunately I did eventually manage to find The Globe in time for the start.

Opener was the solo acoustic guitar virtuoso Matt Stevens. Matt plays acoustic guitar through a series of looping pedals and effects enabling him to turn a single guitar into a multilayered tapestry of sound. At times he uses his pedal board as an instrument as much as the guitar itself, and at one point was on his knees pressing buttons and making Hawkwind-like electronic effects. For the second half of his set, he was joined by virtuoso bassist and former Panic Room member Alun Vaughan, who played some imaginative bass parts to Matt’s solo compositions and added an interesting extra layer to the music.

I first saw Sankara at the 2012 Cambridge Rock Festival when they were still a four-piece, and the recently-formed band showed a lot of promise. Almost immediately after the release of their début album “Guided by Degrees” they changed personnel, with a new bassist and the addition of a second guitarist.

They now sound like a completely different band. Having two guitars fills out the sound significantly, with Jay and new addition Paul having contrasting and complementary styles. While their music still lies somewhere on the hard rock/AOR spectrum, they’ve now got a bigger, tougher and heavier sound than they had either as a four-piece or on record.

Their lengthy set including the majority of both the album and their earlier EP “Enigma”. Gareth Jones again impressed as a frontman, switching between the front of the stage and the occasional number sung from behind the keys. High spots included a very emotive “Lullaby for a Lost Boy”, which Gareth introduced as inspired by his day job in housing; ‘A song about homelessness’. Sankara have come on a lot in a very short time, and it will be interesting to see where they go from here.

Also Eden are another band in the throes of lineup changes. They’ve got a new bassist since I saw them last, and their current run of gigs marks the farewell appearances of founder member, keyboardist Ian Hodson. And although he’s established himself as the voice of the band over the last couple of years, Rich Harding wasn’t their original singer.

His politically-charged lyrics recall Geoff Mann-era Twelfth night, some of his theatrical vocal delivery reminds me a lot of very early Marillion, and his dedication of “1949″ to everyone who works in the NHS was a nice touch. Musically, despite sometimes lengthy songs and rich arrangements they avoid most of the obvious clichés of 80s neo-prog.

Their set drew heavily from their third album “Think of the Children”. For the older “Skipping Stones” they were joined on stage by their original singer Huw Lloyd Jones. They also played a substantial amount of brand-new material from the forthcoming “[Redacted]“. On first listen the new songs came over strongly, darker and heavier than their older songs, with “Chronologic” a particular standout.

From this performance Also Eden came over as a band who have significantly raised their game, and provided they manage to negotiate the speedbump of finding a replacement keyboard player they look about to move up to the next level. Certainly “[Redacted]” is now one of the most eagerly anticipated albums of the year.

In these cash-strapped times shows like this are exactly the sort of thing more bands ought to be doing, putting together a bill of two or three contrasting but complementary acts that give audiences their money’s worth regardless of who is the nominal headliner. It works for audiences, and I think it works for the bands as well.

All photos by Paul Johnson

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Panic Room, The Peel, 26th Feb 2011

I hadn’t originally intended to write a review of this gig, having already reviewed two earlier gigs on this tour. But in the end the gig was such a blinder I just couldn’t let it go without mentioning it.

Support was Matt Stevens, the “one man wall of sound”. I’ve known him through Twitter (he’s a friend of former Panic Room bassist Alun Vaughan) and seen him before, supporting the John Lees Barclay James Harvest last November. He plays looped guitar, playing acoustic guitar through loops to build up a bigger sound; he’ll typically play a chord progression, loop it, then solo over the top. It’s remarkably effective, and far more interesting as a support than the often mediocre singer-songwriters who are all-too-common as supports for gigs at this sort of level.

Panic Room were good at York, but tonight they were just at another level, and the band simply blew the roof off. Everything I’ve said about their gigs two weeks ago is still true, only more so. Without a strict curfew there was time for a couple of extra songs, so we got to hear the bonkers “I Am A Cat”, and “Go!”, neither of which were in the set for earlier gigs. The two new songs, “Song for Tomorrow” and “Promises” are already starting to lodge themselves in the brain, and the former has all the makings of a Panic Room classic.

Good crowd too; the place was at least three-quarters full, and everyone was really enthusiastic for the music. None of the loud talkers or oblivious drunks who marred the last London gig at the O2 Academy 2. And, as Anne-Marie herself said from the stage, it’s great to be in a proper rock venue, not some place that turns into a nightclub seconds after the band finish.

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