Paul Carrack, Carré, Amsterdam, 14 October – Satisfying our ears

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There is really little to be found for the true prog enthusiast at a concert by Paul Carrack, but because my better half likes his music very much, I hopped along.

Haven’t said that a concert in the Royal Carré is not to be scorned at all, what an atmosphere, what a history. Posters on the wall Josephine Baker and Les Frères Jacques to name but a few who performed there in the last century.  Other than that: it's just a very chic venue.

There was a support act by singer / songwriter Tessa Belinfante only behind a keyboard, and although she has a pretty nice voice (think of Sinead O'Connor) I could not bear it anymore after 2 songs.

Then the main act: Paul Carrack with a 6 piece band including 2 drummers. 1 drum kit apparently is no longer sufficient nowadays. Well the band: sax & keys: Steve Beighton, bass: Jeremy Meek, keyboads: Paul Copley  drummers:  Steve Gadd and Jack Carrack (Paul’s son), guitar: Robbie McIntosh

Paul delivered his 17th album last month titled "These Days", of which he would perform four songs this evening.

However, he kicks off with Too Good To Be True from his 2016 album "Soul Shadow" immediately followed by the favourite of the public "Satisfy My Soul" from the album of the same name from 2000. The hall is in any case won with this performance. Again a song from "Satisfy My Soul" follows "Late at Night".

Then a short word by the man himself saying that he enjoys playing in the Carré in Amsterdam, after which he performs the first of the quartet new songs. "Amazing", a catchy but in my eyes not so special song and "Life in a bubble", and that really reminded me of an Eric Clapton song with whom he did some stuff in the past too.

Then another cracker "Eyes of Blue" from his "I Know That Name" album. An oldie from his 1989 album "Groove Approved" entitled "Dedicated" made the Carré swing wonderfully.

"These Days" from his new album of the same name has traces of the Traveling Wilbury's, then we go again to his most successful album "Satisfy My Soul" and "Better Than Nothing".

The next set is an acoustic one, the band disappears with only Paul, Jack and Jeremy remaining. When you walk in the room", from 2006, "That's All That Matters To Me" (Rain or Shine), "Dig Deep" from his new album and "Life's Too Short" ( Rain or Shine) were played and what fine sound an acoustic bass has.

Then we make a trip back in time when he was in the band Squeeze with "Tempted" to the delight of the audience and not least my partner who is a nasty Squeeze fan.  Then the album "Soul Shadows" comes next with "Bet Your Life".

What follows is an Eagles cover "Love will keep us alive" (of Hell Freezes Over) or, not really naturaly because Paul wrote this song for the Eagles (together with Jim Capaldi and Peter Vale).

The first tones of "The Living Years" follows, and the Carré explodes. This hit by Mike and the Mechanics, of which Paul was part of, still brings back memories to the audience, that is clear. It also immediately marks the end of the concert.

After an overwhelming applause and yelling , the band came back to perform Paul's first hit with the group Ace "How Long", and as a real closing song again a Mike and Mechanics song "Over My Shoulder".

The public is more than satisfied when the lighting of the Carré eventually is turned on slowely.

A successful evening? Yes, although not everything was my cup of tea, but admirably that this singer, who did not really had a solo hit in the Netherlands, can bind so many audiences. And, well .... What a voice! And what a professional band for that matter.

Incidentally, I recognized the voice of presenter Twan Huys (RTL Late Night) at the beginning of the gig asking the public not to take photos, film or make sound recordings in Dutch and English and to switch off their mobile devices. Where we sat, we had a pretty good overview of the public, and this call was unfortunately to deaf man’s ears.

Review: Frans Verweij © 2018

King Crimson July 14, 2018 Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Let's Have A Party!

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Finally it was “that” time, we are going to see KC "live" again. For me it is (only) the 3rd time that I will watch them live. Previously I have seen them in the Adrian Belew line up in both The Hague and Utrecht, where the majority of the songs came from their 3 consecutive albums with Belew (Discipline, Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair). After listening to the live CD “Live in Vienna” on which they actually perform a kind of best of from their back catalogue, I could not really ignore to see these Prog Overlords at work. The band still consists of four veterans, namely founder and driving force Robert Fripp, saxes and flute Mel Collins, bass and (Chapman) stick Tony Levin and drummer Pat Mastelotto. All this with two additional drummers, Gavin Harrison and Jeremy Stacey(with bowler hat, and also played piano on some songs), Bill Rieflin keys and Jakko Jakszyk vocals and guitar. We chose for the Saturday (July 14) given that the venue for the 13th was nearly sold out and we could not really choose a nice spot. The 14th we could pick a spot nicely set in the middle so you could oversee the band completely. Also this show was sold out, I just happened to check the website of organisers Mojo that morning. Once nested in the beautiful concert hall in Amsterdam (an experience in itself, really), two chairs away from us came to sit an older man, alone, but with piercing, and when we started talking (it was still early, most of the spectators still had to come in), he said he really bought the last ticket, apparently there was one left when he made the choice to go "anyway", row 11, seat 30, aisle.

King Crimson chose this venue for the fact that their 1973 album "Starless and Bible Black", then still with John Wetton , was recorded live here, and remixed at the studio. That was 45 years ago.


Well the concert:

As the headline of this article indicates, those were exactly the pre-recorded words of Robert Fripp prior to the concert. He also reported that an interval of 20 minutes had been planned. Those 20 minutes would start at the end of the first part of the concert and will end at the beginning of the second part. He also indicated  emphatically that it is not allowed to capture photos or film on camera or other (mobile) devices. And there he has a point because it is so annoying when you go to a concert and people in front of you with cell phones block your view of the stage with them things. 

 

There is a prominent role for the drum section, which is odd given the knowledge that Fripp is a guitarist. The drums are prominently placed at the front of the stage, behind them  the rest of the band. At the beginning of the show, after a very dramatic appearance of the band members from their quarters (they walked down a stairway, behind the stage, Fripp at the end, visible to everyone in the audience and under a big applause by the crowd), we are confronted with a lot of drum noise. A deafening version of Hell Hounds of Krim, I think to get us aquainted with the volume the band is going to play, another song where you have trouble not to move your legs to the rhythm "Neurotica" follows. Then ... a moment of rest for your ears with the excellent Peace: An End, beautifully sung by Jakko Jackszyk, from the album "In the Wake of Poseidon" from 1969 (!). After that "Pictures of a City" again from "The Wake" this is King Crimson at its best.

Then again drums at full blast and all kinds of instruments and you wonder where all that noise is coming from, it’s "Radical Action I, III , Meltdown, II and Level 5 ". A quiet interval follows with the song "Cadance and Cascade" again from "The Wake", originally sung by Gordon "Harry's Bar" Haskell. Then we make a jump to the Crimson as a trio with Bill Bruford and John Wetton. From the album "Red" from 1974 we hear "Fallen Angel" and the aforementioned "Red". This King Crimson is solid as a rock, and the songs are performed with perfection. Then another step back to "Islands" the album where Boz Burrell (Bad Company) provided the bass and vocals. We are treated to the title song and rarely have I seen such a beautiful duet live between clarinet (Collins) and guitar (Fripp). The audience saw and heard it with great admiration. It took a while before they applauded at the end of the song as if the audience was in a kind of trance.

What followed was the promissed (?) break. Everyone wriggled out to have a drink in the bar or just outside to light up a cigarette or cigar. Strikingly little room to manoeuver, I have to say, in this beautiful concert hall, there are 4 or 5 exits, but all come down in one hallway that leads to the bar and the exit. So you're in a traffic jam anyway, so a snack becomes an utopia, since you’re not the only one wanting it. We just went  outside and be amongst the smokers. I have to say a lot of them, with KC fans the anti-smoking campaign has campaigned in vain.

Back to the second part of the show.

We start again with percussion by the three refined drummers with "Devil Dogs of Tessellation Row" followed by heavy guitar of Fripp in "Discipline" and the "Indiscipline" on the LP, played by Adrian Belew. Jakko Jacszyk or Fripp, I leave that in the middle, however, have chosen to sing the "spoken" words of Belew on the original. Although well done it didn’t do the original song justice and that was a pity.

The album “Lizard” then came in the spotlight (KC was a very productive band at the end of the sixties beginning seventies. On the song “Cirkus” Mel Collins has a prominent role with his wind instruments arsenal, such as saxophone, clarinet and flute. Throughout the show he performed in a shielded plastic glass space, aside from the rest of the band. Most certainly had to do with the acoustics but it was a weird sight. After that the epic Lizard, where Jon Anderson sings on the original, now only the "Bolero" with a leading role for Tony Levin, who took his bass to add a piece of the Fifth of Beethoven, with a bow playing his which was impressive. Lark's Tongues in Aspic follows, nice and instrumental and against any known notes, this is Crimson full-length. "Moonchild" from the album "The Court" is then staged with Jakko in the lead, and how about the harbinger that follows which is the most epic song ever written and performed. Yes, and originally conceived in 1967, influenced by an album by a band which I can’t remember at the moment but the album had the spice Pepper in it’s name. It is of course “In the Court of the Crimson King”, never witnessed it being played so perfectly as this evening.

We continue again with the Wetton / Bruford period, much to the delight of the audience present, young and old were actually mixed up. I estimate between 17 years of age and 70 years and I don’t think I would be far wrong Which is nice to see, it means not only you admire your heroes at your age but also the youngster can appreciate it. Another nice sight was the amount of women attending. This was certainly not a “grumpy old men’ venue.

 "Easy Money" follows and with this song the actually party comes to live that Fripp talked about in the beginning. What a response from the audience, knowing that this number is now 44 years old. What follows is another piece of "Larks" and then the closing "Starless", a song written by John Wetton and well sung and played by Jakko.

The Crimsons then left the stage, but the crowd called out for more and when the band came back “21st Century Schizoid Man” was performed, complete with distorted microphone voice.

And that was it. An overwhelming applause follows, and then the moment was there Tony Levin took his phone and made pictures of the audience. I think everybody did the same. That moment was for us our cue to make it to the exit, to be ahead of the congestion in the corridors.

A very successful concert, this could just be their last, I’ve heard walking to Qpark from fellow concert goers, who knows. I'm glad we have experienced a fantastic concert. Fripp is a perfectionist, nothing is left to chance. He is called dictatorial, but in whatever line-up it remains a well-oiled machine. Discipline is a key word in the Crimson ranks. There is no pin between them. There is sufficient room for Improvisation but it is is disciplined improvisation, it must all "fit". Each number has a head and a tail, and ends just as abruptly as it begins. That is the control over 7 musicians. Although, occasionally, the audience is misled when they secretly play a part when the applause has already started. 

Point of criticism then anyway: the PA was certainly not properly set-up in the first part. We could hardly hear the musical antics of the band behind the drummers and I felt that Levin's bass was being too prominent in some places and it was loud, very loud. Maybe much too loud for this theatre. Fortunately, both in the first part as the second part, there were enough “easy listening” (?) songs to give this performance a top rating.

And then to conclude a nice anecdote that I picked up:

Fripp has to go on tour again, says wife Toyah Wilcox in 2013, because you will become an annoying old man. And the wife’s always right, so thank you Toyah !
 

Review: Frans Verweij © 2018

Thanks to Alex Driessen for giving me a helping hand.

 

Big Big Train The Anvil, Bastingstoke England, Tuesday 11 July 2018: Through to the Finals

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After the somewhat disappointing performance of Big Big Train (BBT) on the first night of their triptych at Cadogan Hall in London in September 2017, partly due to serious problems with the sound, I was somewhat reserved with regards to visiting another show. Nevertheless, I was grateful for the invitation of a good friend in England to attend the performance at The Anvil in Basingstoke. Everyone is entitled to a second chance, isn’t it. So on to the provincial town in Hampshire where the show would take place. The gig was dedicated to the extremely honourable invitation to appear as main act on the first night of the renowned Night of the Prog festival at the Loreley in Germany. The performance would serve as a dress rehearsal/warm-up gig for the aforementioned festival. That the show would coincide with the semi-finals of the English national football team during the FIFA World Championships in Russia was not yet known at the time of organizing. A devilish dilemma for the many fans of both prog and football; a performance of your favourite band or the game of the century for the young sympathetic home team. Nevertheless, there are no empty seats in the completely sold out civic theatre with its good acoustics in Basingstoke. A large part of the approx. 1,400 visitors had arrived early in the afternoon in order not to miss the show and hopefully catch a glimpse of the national team.

The support act this evening would be provided by Beatrix Players, a mostly acoustic all-women but for one quintet with double bass, cello, violin and piano around a talented singer, Amy Birks. Her voice, in combination with the piano, was very similar to that of Tori Amos and Kate Bush, definitely a talent to keep an eye on. After a set of about half an hour it was time for the main act at around half past eight. Under loud applause from the enthusiastic audience, the eight members of BBT slowly come on stage, the last being singer David Longdon. The band starts almost immediately with an overwhelming version of The First Rebreather, I skip a heartbeat as the sound at the start is moderate to poor, but the crew knows to minimize the damage this time, the sound is truly excellent. My place in fifth row just in front of the stage allows me to see the faces of the band members from close range, despite the obvious concentration there is also a lot of fun to observe, the mutual enjoyment is fine. Longdon is in his element, he talks a lot and is busy refining his performance for the weekend, that much is clear. For Folklore, the brass section is invited to the stage, five strong they make the prog/folk song an absolute hit. The copper players are still around to contribute to A Mead Hall in Winter, the already rich sound palette of the band is further enhanced by the horn section. Most songs are accompanied on the screen above the stage with an appropriate video that further strengthens the contents of the songs. Kingmaker is the next track on the setlist, followed by the relatively unknown Summer's Lease, so far only played live in a semi-acoustic version, and especially Brave Captain performed with passion. The selected material goes down very well with the super enthusiastic fans, many of whom have come a long way to support their favourite band and send them off to the potential climax in their careers. Especially Brave Captain, the epic story about the aviator and WWI hero, is well received, the movie was already known but the intro of Longdon, 'proud to be playing this in Germany' makes the choice for this song extra spicy.

As said, much revolves around the upcoming performance in Germany a few days later. Longdon practices his introductions and jokes and is visibly at ease. His mimicry and stage act remain a bit stiff, but it is undoubtedly his own authentic style and fits surprisingly well with the content-based music of the octet. Besides Longdon, D'Virgilio and Sjöblom steal the show. The first with his powerful hits and relaxed attitude behind the transparent drums (‘he was going commando but we stopped him in time’) the second with passionate organ and guitar playing (‘he has lovely hair’). Both gentlemen take care of most background vocals. Rachel Hall is also regularly in the spotlight with violin and voice. The other three mostly take care of their parts in relative silence, the best example being bassist Greg Spawton, at the back of the big stage, surrounded by an impressive selection of (bass) pedals, which he frequently uses. The keyboards of Danny Manners are solid and inventive, the same can be said of guitarist Dave Gregory, alternating between his vintage Gibsons, a Les Paul, SG Special and Firebird III. The only one wo looks a bit out of place is Cosmograf keyboardist Robin Armstrong, replacing co-founder Andy Poole who recently left the band. His contributions on keys and acoustic guitar are hardly noticeable and you subconsciously ask yourself why use a second (sometimes even third, with Sjöblom) keyboard player. Without break the band continues with excellent versions of successively Judas Unrepentant, with beautiful keys intro by Manners, The Transit or Venus Across The Sun, with great vocal performance by Longdon and Permanent Way. The latter song almost seamlessly runs into the final track of the official set, East Coast Racer, a personal favourite. It’s hard to keep your eyes off the accompanying video about the famous record-breaking steam train. Of course it does not end here, Nick D'Virgilio enters the stage for a drum solo and introduction of the brass section, after which the entire band enters the stage for a steaming version of Wassail, the pretty folky closing track this evening. The audience has reached boiling point despite, or perhaps thanks to, the high temperatures on this warm summer evening. There is loud singing and clapping by the frenzied crowd, encouraged by frontman Longdon, complete with mask.

After more than two hours a truly brilliant performance by the British has come to an end, last year’s mistake is completely forgiven as far as I am concerned. A small downer for the audience was the realization afterwards (and for some during the performance) that their favourite team did not make it to the finals. That certainly does not apply to the protagonists this particular evening, they are definitely through to the finals. The audience at the South German town is in for a real treat. The announcement that there will also be a (small) tour in the United Kingdom is received with loud cheers. We will have to wait for a tour of Europe, hopefully also our country will be visited. For now we have to do with a new live CD, "Merchants of Light", a nice prelude to more, a breakthrough to a wider audience would be a well-deserved reward.

Review & photo’s: Alex Driessen © 2018

Arena De Boerderij Zoetermeer, Saturday May 12, 2018: The Visitor revisited

Three years after the last visit of British neo-prog band Arena, these guys once again visit our country. At the time it was the release of "The Unquiet Sky" and the celebration of the band’s twentieth anniversary. This time the performance at the Boerderij in Zoetermeer is largely dominated by two items: the 1998 iconic album "The Visitor" and the just released newcomer "Double Vision". However, the focus lies with the first, we were promised an integral version of the band’s original concept album. And a promise is a promise. Accompanied by more than 700 other prog fans I went to the Zoetermeer pop temple to see them perform live once again. An almost sold out venue, not bad if you consider that their latest studio album, the previously mentioned "The Unquiet Sky", dates back to 2015. Quite crowded actually, an atmosphere of anticipation is noticeable among the largely male audience.

 

At the agreed starting time no band on stage but only corpulent founder/bandleader Clive Nolan with a large sheet of paper. He has a number of announcements to make including a couple of scoops: this evening a live DVD will be recorded for posterity and the band will make its appearance later this summer at the prestigious Loreley festival in Germany. Good news for the numerous hard-core fans of the band.

 

After about fifteen minutes of waiting, the performance finally can begin. Under thunderous applause the band kicks off with A Crack in the Ice, always a great opener. Not surprisingly, of course, because this is the first track of the previously mentioned "The Visitor" album. Pins and Needles seamlessly transitions into Double Vision, it is clear: the band is definitely on a roll this evening, this is certainly true for singer Paul Manzi in this particular song, John Mitchell takes on the harmony vocals. The latter has a leading role on the instrumental Elea with his lyrical guitar play. Especially active in the high regions, you often wonder if the neck of his red/yellow Cort is long enough. The Hanging Tree is probably the most well-known song on the album, a melodic ballad, here in excellent rendition, the ultimate prog song. For the occasion, Manzi is wearing a cape with a hood, he will change his stage gear a few times this evening and provide himself with some attributes. A State of Grace is provided with religious images on the screens behind the stage. John Mitchell carefully pronounces the spoken lyrics during Blood Red Room. 

An eye-catching and ear-splitting keyboard solo by pater familias Nolan during In the Blink of an Eye. Nolan also sings the harmony vocal on (Do not Forget to) Breathe, sung brilliantly by Manzi, dressed in a long black coat, wearing top hat and sunglasses. The black and white images of old silent movies enhance the suspense level of the song. Another instrumental, the Camel-like Serenity with superb guitar solo by Mitchell, this time played on a white Cort. Tears in the Rain is the story about the clowns, further enhanced by Manzi with white collar and gloves. Excellent vocals and ditto piano play. The 'don’t let the child die here' line from Enemy Without is sung along by almost the entire audience, clearly a favourite. The real highlight is in my opinion the unison duet between Nolan and buddy Mitchell. Running from Damascus is followed by title track The Visitor which closes the complete and integral version of the album. Three white spotlights and the clean guitar sound of Mitchell, especially his solo at the end, are the prelude to several minutes of applause from the frenzied crowd. Light and sound are once again of unique high quality we have become accustomed to at the Boerderij.

Poisoned is one of only two new songs from the just released new album "Double Vision", which is lyrically about personal loss. A ballad with acoustic guitars, only three musicians on stage, no bass/drums, strong solos from Mitchell and perfect harmony vocals, hats off. Frontman Clive Nolan takes the opportunity to, rightly so, make an anti-upload request to the available CD owners in the audience. Jericho is the other end of the musical spectrum, a Marillion-like song with a high dose of audience participation.

The second track of the new album is entitled The Mirror Lies. It starts with a bass intro by Kylan Amos in the vein of Pete Trewavas from Marillion and develops into a melodic (prog) rock song. The Tinder Box is introduced by Nolan with a story ('faster') which is longer than the number itself.

The epic Solomon from debut CD "Songs from the Lion's Cage" from 1995 is a great ending. With approx. 15 minutes the longest track of the set and the last of the regular playlist. Once again a leading role for John Mitchell with a flawless guitar solo for which he seems to hold the patent, but the excellent vocals of entertainer Paul Manzi should not be left unmentioned. The latter made a strong impression anyway, he has clearly gained stage presence and charisma in recent years and his vocal performance  is downright impressive. 

After a short break, the band returns for an encore. For Ascension, Mitchell dresses himself in the colours and shape of the British Union Jack, according to Nolan, a tribute to the Spice Girls. The mother-in-law joke (Manzi will soon marry) is lost on us. The rotatable toolkit of Nolan, with his inseparable set of Korg Kronos keyboards, is played by Mitchell for this occasion while his buddy uses his guitar. Crying for Help VII is the very last song of the performance. The 'help me, help me' lyrics are sung along loudly by the enthusiastic crowd. The nothing if not loyal fans reward the Brits with a minute-long ovation, greedily inhaled by the five grateful musicians on stage. 

Not only the professionalism of these musicians was striking, but also their focus: this performance just had to be a success and that was exactly what it was. The relationship between Nolan and Mitchell was characteristic in that respect. The musical friends, Mitchell has been with the band for twenty years, regularly exchanged glances with each other without saying a word. That does not mean that there was no joy on stage, on the contrary, but the goal was to record a tight and professional show on the digital machine. Whether the latter has succeeded remains to be seen, it is not all in their hands, but the performance itself surely cannot be blamed. At least the fans have something to look forward to. 

With this concert, clocking at just over two hours, the band has once again planted their flag in an excellent way. The current tour, with more than twenty gigs, started in England at the end of April and takes the band through-out most of Europe to end in Canada at the end of May. After which the already announced show at Night of the Prog will be the icing on the cake.

Review: Alex Driessen © 2018

Photos: Ard van den Heuvel © 2018

Roel van Velzen & Leo Blokhuis: 'Queen - A Night At The Theater', Oude Luxor Theater, Rotterdam, Saturday 7 April 2018: Rocking rebels in Rotterdam

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Question: What do Leo Blokhuis, music professor, 57 years of age, and Roel van Velzen, all-round musician, 40 years old, have in common: the love for the music of Queen. That is the basis and the all-embracing theme of the theatre production that these guys, accompanied by the VanVelzenband, tried to bring across to the Rotterdam audience on Saturday, April 7 this year. And not only to them: under the name 'Queen - A Night At The Theatre', these guys have organized a tour that will take them to a large number of theatres throughout the country in between February and May. Witnessed by the super enthusiastic reaction of the crowd in the largest port of Europe, a real winner. A large part of the shows is already sold out and new data are already being added.

I did not really know what to make of it, a theatre show of both guys with Queen's music as common denominator. The initial reactions had been diverse, especially those who expected a concert were somewhat disappointed. I decided to let it all wash over me and I must honestly admit, I really enjoyed myself.

It starts somewhat uncomfortably with the little big man and his older counterpart on the stage who, in turn, explain the origin of their love for the legendary British band. However, slowly but surely, everyone gets into the flow, the audience plays a significant role in this, the people from Rotterdam do not hold back at all and sing, stamp, clap and whistle along with all the hits that pass by. And there are lots and lots. So many in fact, that a ‘real’ judge (with red boots) is wheeled in to pass judgement on the choice between Radio GaGa and Tie Your Mother Down, won by the latter, tribute to the rocking rebels from Rotterdam! Anyway, you probably already understood, a hefty dose of theatre interspersed with the greatest hits of one of the biggest and most influential bands in the world.

The common thread, the classic Bohemian Rhapsody, runs through the entire performance, and is 'dissected' by the band, as a result of which the genius composition is explained. Leo and Roel move criss-cross through the Queen-story, looking for the ultimate meaning of this legendary band for both pop music in general and for themselves in particular. This is done in a funny and inventive way, especially the way in which the various layers of the music are recorded 'live' and played back is rather clever. The large 'RECORD' and 'PLAY' buttons above the stage also appeal to the period in which we, as an audience, found ourselves by the side of our radio, ready with our cassette recorders, not only to record the music of that time but to inhale it, literally . A feast of recognition, in a humorous setting. There is discussion and listening, unexpected facts come up and the VanVelzenband soars like never before. Killer Queen, Somebody To Love, Love Of My Life, We Are The Champions, We Will Rock You and many other hits are loudly sung along to. But also the lesser-known work is covered, such as the Vaudeville-like song Good Company, complete with washboard, ukulele and big drum.

The band is truly in excellent shape, through small interviews in between songs, the members indicate how the music of Queen influenced them. For example, drummer Roger Taylor is actually left out to dry by his replacement Jimmy van den Nieuwenhuizen and bassist/singer Ralf Pouw shows how smart and melodic the bass lines of John Deacon are in reality. Guitarist Xander Hubrecht, dressed in high hat and bright red boots, shines his light on the enormous versatility and perfectionism of Brian May and his iconic self-built Red Special guitar. Which, according to him, proves to be the real reason for the absence of synthesizers on the first five legendary Queen albums. And Freddie, ah Freddie, we will probably never stop talking about him. Of course Roel van Velzen's voice does not come close to Mercury's vocals, but, much to his credit, he did not even try to, so no forced attempt, thank God. When you think of Leo Blokhuis it’s not a musician that comes to mind, but his contribution on acoustic guitar, vocals, big drum, and, surprisingly, on electric guitar during the final part of Bohemian Rhapsody, wasn’t without merit. OK, the abundance of, often familiar and certainly known, facts and the course 'pop music for beginners' sounded a bit corny at times but then you have to take into account the fact that not everyone has such an in-depth knowledge of the subject.

But the music is great, the band plays the well-known tracks very accurately and professionally, the atmosphere is great and I have rarely seen a theatre audience as enthusiastic as on this Saturday night in Rotterdam, it was truly contagious. Especially the encore, the a capella sung Love Of My Life, by the side of the piano, was quite impressive. All in all a very satisfying evening at a fully sold out Luxor. The audience could slowly wind down in the foyer or during the walk back to tram, metro or private transport into the warm night, the first of the new year. Sheer coincidence?

Review: Alex Driessen ©2018

 

            

Steven Wilson, Ancienne Belgique, Brussels, Friday 9 March 2018

Have you ever been to a concert that started at 7:40 PM? In spite of a ticket that clearly indicates 8 pm as starting time. To cut a long story short: thanks to the decision to have a bite in the close vicinity of the theatre, we discovered that the start of Steven Wilson's performance in Ancienne Belgique (AB) in the heart of Brussels started twenty minutes earlier than previously announced. The queue was more than fifty yards long and bended just around the corner, dinner would have to be postponed until after the show.

A trip to the extremely atmospheric Brussels is always worthwhile. Several times before I have made the choice to drive about 180 kilometres from my hometown and I have never been disappointed. Earlier performances by Steve Hackett and Steven Wilson in 2015 led me to believe that the trip is well worth the effort. There is something about this old building in the centre of Brussels, in 1906 the venue already offered a stage for orchestras and variety- and revue artists, it is difficult to put into words. There is always an atmosphere of high anticipation but it goes beyond that, it is simply electrifying. And it transcends to the performing artists.

In his introduction prior to the first set, Wilson could not fail to tell that the atmosphere in Essen, Germany, resembled that of a cemetery. This will undoubtedly result in a dose of hate-mail from Germans on social media, but that did not seem to bother him at all. He felt quite comfortable here in Brussels surrounded by people who not only appreciated his music but fully understood it as well, he could not imagine a better place to be. Let’s hope the same story is not told in every theatre during his European tour.

Sincere is a key word to describe the white, middle-aged man (50) from England. His own words, the latter, mind you. It starts with the video at the beginning, which immediately makes you think. Then one of the better concerts of the man, who always performs barefoot, unrolls.

The show starts sharply at seven forty, as previously mentioned with a short film entitled "Truth". Under a stormy applause from the Belgian audience, the band enters the stage and a visibly relaxed Wilson allows us a glimpse into the kitchen of the traveling circus called Steven Wilson and Friends. The joke about the stoic Germans goes down really well. Wilson prepares us for a show in two parts with a break of about twenty minutes in the middle. He quickly kicks off with Nowhere Now followed by Pariah, both songs from his latest studio album "To The Bone". No Ninet Tayeb this time, her vocals can be heard but she is only virtually present in the form of a video projected on the large screen in front of the band. Home Invasion and Regret # 9 are from "Hand.Cannot.Erase" from 2015, the latter is accompanied by an excellent video, Wilson seems to have patented. The sound is perfect, even quadrophonic, tribute to the AB team.

He had already announced it, there would be material seldom played live and with The Creator Has a Mastertape, a track from his extensive Porcupine Tree oeuvre, he fulfils his promise. After this huge wall of noise, Refuge is a wonderful haven in the set, sitting on a stool Wilson performs this song in an impressive way. People Who Eat Darkness is announced with a long story about the importance of his 1963 Fender Telecaster on which this song, and many others from the new album, are written. Another intriguing, and at the same time brilliant video, dark and brooding. The tone is set, Wilson continues with the threatening Ancestral with a leading role for the excellent guitarist Alex Hutchings and Wilson himself, who spends some time lying flat on his back on stage. End of set 1 after approximately one hour of playing time.

Set 2 starts with another, rarely played, song from the Porcupine Tree past, Arriving Somewhere but Not Here. This long, heavy and somewhat psychedelic song from "Deadwing" from 2005 reaped a huge applause from the noisy and extremely enthusiastic audience.

Next is Wilson's long story about pop music in general and his heroes ABBA in particular. The moment for him to play his favourite song of his latest album (yes, he actually said it) Permanating live. The most controversial track of his recent CD is certainly not his best but it is performed in an infectious manner, complete with disco light show. The audience reacts politely but not nearly as enthusiastically as to Song of I, with a dancer on the screen, not to mention Lazarus. This masterful Porcupine Tree song is a melodic oasis and much more pure pop than Permanating. Both Detonation and personal favourite The Same Asylum as Before are from the new album. Wilson praises his idol Prince, the falsetto vocals in Asylum are presented as a tribute to the great little man from Minneapolis. Amazing video as well. The rather unknown and fragile Heartattack in a Layby from the Porcupine Tree album "In Absentia" from 2002 is sung three-part, the harmonies sound really beautiful. A sharp contrast with Vermillioncore, an instrumental song from the mini-album "4,5" with excellent drums from animal Blundell, the enthusiastic crowd literally goes crazy. The well-known Sleep Together is the last song of the regular set.

Wilson returns on his own to accompany himself on his old battered Fender. With a small 30 watt amp as only means of amplification, he single-handedly plays the relatively unknown Even Less from 1999. Then it is time for the band to join their master for the very last song of the show, The Raven That Refused to Sing. As Wilson pointed out earlier, if you do not like gloomy music, you should not go to his concerts. Despite the depressive story and the melancholic notes a brilliant end to a performance that lasted about 2.5 hours. The frenzied audience rewards the band with several minutes of applause which seems to last forever.

With eight songs from his most recent studio album "To The Bone", six songs from the Porcupine Tree era and another three from the highly acclaimed "Hand.Cannot.Erase" we could see/hear a nice cross-section of the work of this prog giant with our own eyes and ears.

The band was largely equal to the performances at the time of "Hand.Cannot.Erase" with one exception: the completely unknown British guitarist Alex Hutchings can add his name to illustrious predecessors Guthrie Govan and Dave Kilminster (on tour with Roger Waters). An excellent guitarist who played his parts flawlessly and with apparent ease, he also has a good singing voice. Drummer Craig Blundell is a masterful drummer on his extensive Paiste drum kit (25-piece), Adam Holzman is, as always, remarkably unobtrusive while bassist and Chapman Stick player Nick Beggs played very focussed and took care of background vocals.

A completely sold out performance with an unique mixed audience of about 2,000 visitors, young and old, men and women, French and Dutch speaking. An incredibly enthusiastic crowd too, for the umpteenth time. I very much like visiting the oldest and most famous pop venue in Belgium, just across the border. It feels like a sort of homecoming, the entrance price is also lower, and on top of that one of prog’s modern heroes performing live, what more do you want ?!

Review and photo’s: Alex Driessen © 2018

 

The Watch plays Genesis , de Boerderij Zoetermeer Friday 16 February 2018: Guaranteed eternal sanctuary

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During report of the gig in March last year at the Boerderij in Zoetermeer I already announced the release of new studio album "Seven”. I mentioned that maybe it was time for a concert with purely original music. Unfortunately, that’s not what’s happening this time. Once again, the subtitle of the show by the quintet from Milan reads 'The Watch plays Genesis'. Which attracts audiences, probably in greater numbers than the band would draw with their own, highly authentic material. Subconsciously you wonder what it is like playing someone else's material night after night while you have just released an excellent new album. On the one hand a pity, on the other hand a great gift because there are few bands that interpret the work of the legendary English band as well as these five men from Italy. Especially the Peter Gabriel period from about 1971 to 1975 holds their attention and preference.

The performance starts dramatically, an empty stage with purple lights and a sound collage of Dancing With The Moonlit Knight, after which the band makes its appearance on stage and opening track Damage Mode screams from the PA. The song is from the third album of The Watch, "Vacuum", from 2004. Watcher of the Skies is the first in a series of Genesis covers, the show is not called 'The Watch plays Genesis' for nothing. Stagnation gets a fragile version with flute, 12-string guitar, organ and Taurus pedals. The Knife on the other hand is very heavy in character, a nice contrast. Fountain of Salmacis is really brilliantly performed by the five musicians on stage, the outrageous applause is entirely justified. Can-Utility and the Coastliners is somewhat lesser known, but that certainly does not apply to the iconic Firth of Fifth in which keyboardist De Vittorio and guitarist Gabriel excel. The latter alternately plays his acoustic 12 string and vintage Gibson Les Paul. His great technique is clearly visible from close by, whether it concerns 'fingertapping', nails or pick. After about an hour it is time for a break, the band retreats into the wings for about twenty minutes.

Great, the mimicry from singer/frontman Simone Rossetti. His face regularly in a grimace to produce the right tone. And to entertain the audience, naturally. The band often chooses in favour of three-part vocals, keyboardist De Vittorio and bassist Rossetti junior acquit themselves perfectly. The heavy Moog Taurus bass pedals, played by junior, thundering through the hall, seemingly wanting to torpedo the stomach. For both bass player and guitarist, the occasional quick change of instrument is necessary, from bass to double-neck guitar and from electric to acoustic. It is interesting to watch, the seasoned musicians don’t seem to have any problem with it.

Dancing With The Moonlit Knight is the first song after the intermezzo. 'Can you tell me where my country lies?' is sung along loudly by the approximately 300 man/woman in the audience. At the start of In The Cage a small technical problem arises, an annoying humming tone disturbs the intro, the band has to restart. Carpet Crawlers can count on huge approval from the fans. Horizons is the solo spot of super guitarist Giorgio Gabriel, played on a 12-string guitar, much to the admiration of a certain Mr. Steve Hackett. The latter also plays on The Hermit on the last album of the Italians. Magnum opus Supper's Ready starts with three acoustic guitars and is an absolute brilliant vocal achievement by singer Rossetti. The extremely enthusiastic crowd shouts, whistles and clap their hands with sheer adoration.

A performance by The Watch always has something solemn about it, perhaps it is due to the attitude of the band members: very serious, extremely concentrated and almost motionless. However, this doesn’t keep the people from singing along loudly and dancing, which is certainly not restricted to the ladies only. The sound in the venue is excellent, the same goes for the lighting, powerful beams of coloured rays illuminate the stage and give it exactly the right atmosphere.

The band briefly leaves the stage to return to play It's Only a Dream, a song from their latest studio album "Seven", the response of the audience is somewhat moderate. This changes quickly when the first tones of the next and last song swell: The Musical Box is an absolute crowd favourite. In addition to a super performance, we also get to see a unique thing: an upright playing Giorgio Gabriel, never seen before.

A standing ovation, lasting for several minutes, by satisfied fans is the well-deserved reward for the sympathetic quintet from Milan. A striking and diverse company gratefully and humbly accepts the applause: the big bare-chested drummer with inseparable Scottish kilt, the guitarist dressed in pink shirt and red pants, the skinny singer, his inconspicuous son and the always happy keyboard player. There is still time for the inevitable ‘selfie’ of band and audience. After two hours and fifteen minutes the show is over, the band will appear at the merchandise desk for photos, signatures and a chat while the overwhelming majority of the audience is getting ready to face the cold February night. In the knowledge they attended a great gig.

Review: Alex Driessen ©2018

Photos: Richard Winkel ©2018

Tiger Moth Tales/Red Bazar, De Boerderij Zoetermeer, Friday 26 January 2018: Winter tales & the future of progrock

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For me personally Tiger Moth Tales (TMT), the progressive rock project of the extremely talented blind multi-instrumentalist Peter Jones, was the biggest hit at the Progdreams VI Festival in 2017. Especially his duet with Barock Project foreman Luca Zabbini was an absolute highlight. So I was eagerly awaiting the solo concert by Jones et al. At the same time I am also looking forward to the Italians,  also reporting at the end of March for a performance. Both concerts take place at thé prog temple in the Netherlands, De Boerderij in Zoetermeer. With the new Tiger Moth Tales album Jones has also produced one of the best prog albums of last year, the unsurpassed "The Depths of Winter", is an absolute must within the genre. Moreover, this is a double headliner for the band around Jones who also participates in Red Bazar, which was founded in 2008. With his regular companions Paul Comery on drums, bassist Mick Wilson and guitarist Andy Wilson, he makes a small tour, hopefully reaching a large audience at the Night of the Prog in June. Richly deserved with his contributions up to this moment in this popular type of music. Unfortunately, very few spectators this evening, a select group of true connoisseurs is present, indeed.

Before the break, Red Bazar material will be played, the first track is the instrumental In The Beginning, after which the band immediately launches into Queen Of The Night Part 1, pretty heavy stuff. City And The Stars was also on TMT's set list last year, melodic with great drumming from Paul Comery. Lights Of Home is the story about the HMS Ulysees and its brave captain Vallery, with bassist Mick Wilson and his vocoder on harmony vocals. The Meet is an instrumental with guitars by Andy Wilson, a pre-Pete Jones song with jazzy piano and Camel references. Sunset For A New World gets a nice subdued performance with acoustic guitar, upright bass and harmony vocals plus a raging synth solo by the master himself. Welcome To My Temple is a new song on the topic of religious cults, a biting song covered in smoke. Calling Her On is the last song of the Red Bazar set, the first song the guys ever composed together.

All songs are from the latest CD "Tales from the Bookcase" from 2016, new material is now being written, the song Welcome To My Temple is a nice preview.

Although, as said, the number of spectators is disappointingly low, those who are present are extremely satisfied, they respond enthusiastically, sometimes even more encouraged by the protagonist of the evening. The stage presentation of Jones is peppered with humour, his many, many jokes with that typical English humour, fired at staccato pace, are largely lost to the public. After a relatively long break of about 45 minutes the band re-enters the stage for the second set, this time disguised as Tiger Moth Tales, the private prog vehicle of multi-instrumentalist Peter Jones.

Overture is an instrumental track from "Cocoon" from 2014, after which unfortunately some technical problems surface. After a bit of messing around with cables and connections, the problem is solved. Do not Let Go/Feels Alright has a wonderful Genesis feeling about it, with beautiful melody and again those excellent drums from Paul Comery. Then follows a section with songs from the new album "The Depths of Winter". It starts with Tears of Frygga, one of the best new songs. 'May your tears never fall'. Would we be interested in a short piece from Hygge, is Jones’ question, of course we are. The fantastic voice of the foreman comes even more into its own. Migration is beautiful and understated, Jones on lead vocals and keys and an excellent contribution on clarinet by bassist Mick Wilson. The Ballad of Longshanks John is the last song of the new CD, in the live version much less folky and therefore somewhat heavier, great drums once again.

The Merry Vicar from “Cocoon” is a strange, typically English song. Jones' attempt to get the audience to participate by singing 'three cheers for the merry vicar' sadly fails, the reaction of those present is somewhat poor. In Tigers In the Butter Jones exchanges excellent solo guitar work with flashy keyboards, what a talent. This Camel-like, slightly Indian song gets a solid rendition with melodic bass lines and a beautiful guitar solo at the end from Andy Wilson. The band briefly leaves the stage but needs little encouragement from the audience to return, just as Jones had predicted. Encore A Visit to Chigwick has a beautiful acoustic intro and influences from BBT, Camel and Genesis. This song from “Cocoon” is like a small musical painting and an absolute highlight in TMT's oeuvre.

The difference between the songs before and after the break is striking. Due respect for the songs of Red Bazar, in most cases co-written by Jones, but except for the odd number they simply cannot stand the comparison with Jones’ solo songs. It does not seem to bother the enthusiastic audience. Only 150 men/women have undertaken the trip to Zoetermeer this evening. In fact, it is a disgrace, so few spectators for a super talent like Jones. I keep saying: tribute bands nowadays play to sold out venues but original, authentic progrock from bands that have to ensure the future of the genre have to do with limited audiences, too sad for words. Tribute to De Boerderij who keep on programming this kind of talent. Come on fellow prog fans, come out of your cocoon/comfort zone and open up to relatively new bands of the calibre of Tiger Moth Tales and Barock Project, you will not be disappointed. The true fans were there, fortunately. Light and sound were perfect, the standard at De Boerderij. The performance lasts a total of just over two hours and a quarter, and it is not until midnight when the spectators can return safely to their homes. Once again, those who stayed at home were proven wrong.

Review: Alex Driessen ©2018

Photos: Ron Kraaijkamp ©2018