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.
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”.
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.
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.