Saturday, 31 March 2012

Gazpacho - The Garage, Highbury, London, 28th March 2012

After a leisurely afternoon hunting down CD bargains and our usual pre-gig Chinese meal in Camden, Phil W and I made our way uptown to the venue, located in deepest Highbury, or Land of The Arse as some would have it (sorry, another football reference!).

The Garage is an all standing venue, holding about 700 when full, and I'd hazard a guess that tonight's crowd was somewhere between 350 and 400, so everyone had ample room to nod vigorously and jig from foot to foot, or in the case of the girl next to me, drink a lot and occasionally flail her arms about like a dysfunctional windmill.

At 8pm, Mikael and Thomas enter from stage right as we look, Mikael taking up his position over on the far side of the compact but not restrictive stage and Thomas installing himself behind his keyboards. They gently glide into Monument and are joined by the rest of the band bar Jan-Henrik and we are off into what will be a musical journey of over two hours, collectively celebrating splendid isolation, if such a thing is possible. As Monument ends singer Jan-Henrik enters to rousing cheers and the band launch into the anthemic Hell Freezes Over, here presented as one piece of music, as it was originally recorded.

When not flailing about, the young lady previously mentioned together with her boyfriend turned out to be the token couple who insist on yakking away to each other during the quieter moments and between songs. I've never understood why anyone would want to go to a gig to have a conversation, although if it's...ahem...chemically aided then perhaps incessant natter is inevitable. The fact they were talking in their native Norwegian tongue made it slightly less annoying as you were not privy to the minutae of their inanities. Actually, they weren't that bad, and as the drink took hold, no doubt taking advantage of UK prices for booze I'd guess being considerably less than in Norway, they made less and less noise until by the end their efforts were mostly concentrated on holding each other up and hollering their approval at the end of each song, bless 'em.

Back to the music...the setlist took in songs from a large chunk of the back catalogue, and after the initial selection from the sublime March Of Ghosts album Jan-Henrik told us with a smile and more than once that it was on sale at the merch stall just in case we hadn't already got it, which judging by the kind of audience that goes to these kind of gigs would be somewhat unlikely.

As a late-comer to this splendid band, anything prior to the Missa Atropos album is unknown territory to me, and I can safely say that all the earlier songs are well worth a listen and show the group's stately progress to the vast cinematic vistas of March Of Ghosts. After a selection from Missa Atropos and The Walk Parts I & II, we go back to March Of Ghosts for a trio of songs culminating in what for me is the album highlight, the atramentous mirror that is Black Lily, the kind of song that could only be written in a land that spends a fair proportion of the year in a state of permanent night.

Thomas on his keyboards, the trailing leg of the "R" of Roland painted out to reveal a Poland piano (arf) and Jon-Arne on guitar create the deep soundscapes for Mikael to embellish on violin, mandolin, and occasional second guitar. Holding this down is the rock solid rhythm section of Lars on the drums and Viking warrior Kristian on his mighty bass, a thing that could anchor a deep sea trawler such was its strength.

Rock God!
Indeed, the selection of tracks from the Night album had a distinct Anekdoten feel to them in places, so heavy was the rhythm. Jan-Henrik then teased us with the possible prospect of a reissued version of Night with extra tracks and live renditions. Well, I'll get it if it happens, that's for sure. Jan-Henrik, whose impish sense of humour shone through, completely at odds with the doomy introspective nature of his lyrics, also informed us that this whole tour is being recorded. If they made each show available as a download, I'm sure it would bring in a healthy profit - how about it guys?

The set ends with a triumphant Winter Is Never from Tick Tock but you know there's more to come and the encore serves up Splendid Isolation and, no doubt a surprise for the long time fans, the title track from their first album Bravo, which reveals a far more more rootsy sound that intrigues this newbie no end, Mikael's violin to the fore.

An uplifting and truly wonderful gig, which no doubt will be in my Best Of for 2012 along with March Of Ghosts. Come back soon guys!

"So go on, on your way now, but know you're not alone"

Hell Freezes Over I to IV
The Walk, Parts I & II
Mass for Atropos II
Defense Mechanism
What Did I Do?
Black Lily
Dream of Stone
Chequered Light Buildings
Upside Down
Winter Is Never

Splendid Isolation

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Gazpacho - March Of Ghosts

This is a band I've been aware of for some time yet only got into a year or so ago with the live offering London which I thought would be a good place to start. I was impressed but not overly so, as maybe I didn't "get" Gazpacho properly. Then came this album, which took a while to embed itself in my consciousness but is now one of the most frequently played CDs chez moi.

This album has everything, vast cinematic soundscapes, beautiful subtlety, fantastic atmospheres, intelligent and thought provoking lyrics and a way of drawing in the listener and leaving them with several glorious hooks, both musical and lyrical, playing on repeat in the synapses.

As well as being a prog tour de force this record has a crossover appeal, even to the extent of drawing the hard-to-win approval of my other half, who describes some of the more obtuse stuff I listen to as a "racket", bless her! If any band deserves wider recognition then, on the strength of this truly wonderful piece of music, it has to be Gazpacho. I'd be amazed if this is not in my top three albums of year come December 31st.
I've left this review short'n'sweet as I've already covered it for DPRP. Do yourself a favour and watch the video to Black Lily (the only official promo video the band have done) and listen to the other two...



..if you're still here you should really buy the thing, doncha think?

...the band haven't paid me for this unashamed gushing, honest!

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Tangent - COMM

This sprawling missive can be read as an innocent's introduction to The Tangent as well as a review of COMM from last year. Enjoy!

If the average length of a CD is an hour, and if after allowing for 7 hours' kip per night somehow you were able to spend every waking minute of every day listening to music, you could theoretically cram in over 6000 CDs into a year's listening. Being a tad more reasonable about it, a music obsessive like yours truly probably listens to around four CDs' worth of music a day, and of that at least half is background music, as somewhere in there we have to eat, take the bins out, and even earn a living, so enjoying the delights of A Plague Of Lighthouse Keepers at volume eleven while trying to reconnect a patient's synapses is probably inadvisable. Unfortunately, given the way that modern communication methods have enabled every Johnny come lately wannabe rock star with the ability to churn out an album of more often than not half-cocked and uninspired fare from their bedroom means that inevitably some decent bands are going to fall through the net.

That was a rather long-winded way of saying that I've never really listened to The Tangent, apparently a heinous crime for a Brit prog fan, but as I've come at this reviewing game from the angle of a fan of progressive rather than "prog" music, and there can be a mighty difference between those terms as I'm sure you've heard me blather on about before, I don't feel guilty in the slightest, so there!

However after their high placings in numerous 2011 prog polls I considered it was high time to give The Tangent's latest waxing a spin, showered in accolades as it was. Being the same age as leader Andy Tillison, I can hear that he has brought all the influences our age group are likely to bring to the table, and The Tangent's sound is infused with all kinds of classic prog references, from Camel, Genesis, Yes, Canterbury and all over. That last mentioned Kentish town gives its name to one of my favourite forms of the prog beast and the group's early albums are heavily pointed in that direction, not least the referential first album, with its centrepiece The Canterbury Sequence, which, now I've heard the streaming on the band's website makes me want to go and buy it, it's that good. Also the fact that the likes of David Jackson initially and now Theo Travis make significant contributions to the band's sound is an indication of the quality on display, along with the pleasant surprise that Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold from Swedish retro-proggers The Flower Kings appear too, and lo and behold manage to leave the bombast of their day job band at the door....well, mostly, as I'm not sure about The Winning Game off the second album, which has one of those Roine Stolt solos that could come from virtually any Flower Kings' album ("Heresy!" I hear you say). The Tangent have even tackled a re-imagining of Stravinsky's Rite Of Spring, abandoned for copyright purposes, which is a shame as what I've heard of it sounds edgy and quirky, just how I like it.

With my brief crash-course in The Tangent over, I'm left with the impression of a band that take influence from many styles, some of which I really dig, and others I'm not so sure about from a perspective of personal preference. Onwards and upwards then to COMM, released last year to high acclaim from prog quarters, some of it bordering on gushing praise, which always tends to put me off. Never trust a fanboy (or girl), although I am as guilty as anyone with my fawning over a certain resident of Hertfordshire, UK!

COMM is an album that has far more of a symphonic prog bent than the earlier laid back and in places jazzy sound, not that this is necessarily a bad thing, but in my time of very brief exposure to The Tangent's music I have already experienced a preference for the earlier works. But hey, at least they are not standing still, a high crime in world of prog in my humble opinion, and a crime committed by far too many bands who like to consider themselves of the genre.

First off, the attention grabbing artwork by long time collaborator Ed Unitsky will instantly draw you in, and the front cover (see above) gives big clues as to the theme of the album. I say theme, as there are a couple of songs that sit outside any perceived concept, but the theme based around the history and future of communication technologies and social interaction is present and correct on the rest of the album. This is a subject close to Andy's heart as it seems he was a pioneer in the promotion of music via the internet.

The Tangent are a band who have had more line up changes than Roman Abramovich has had managers (apologies for a comparison lost on those of you not into football, but I'm sure you get the gist), and this time round the band feature Andy on keyboards & vocals, Jonathan Barrett on bass & vocals, Theo Travis on saxes & flute, Nick Rickwood on drums, and last but emphatically not least, new boy Luke Machin on guitars. Apparently they got through four drummers in the two years the album took to make, Nick ending up on the record, although he has since been replaced by a returning Tony Latham

The real find in this line up is 22 year old Luke Machin, a gifted guitar whizz kid, who at a mere thirty years younger than band leader Andy has injected youthful enthusiasm and an all round knowledge of the fretboard by the bucketload. While one can only be impressed at his jaw-dropping and all-encompassing technique, there is a tendency to squalling in his solos which is not really my cup of tea, and there is definitely a triumph of technique over soul in places, something I'm sure will be addressed as he develops his own style and learns the valuable "less is more" lesson. In a few years he'll be up there with the best plank spankers, no question.

For this listener and the rest of the uninitiated it has to be said that Andy's singing is an acquired taste, and as descriptions go "singing" is stretching it a bit, as slightly off-key growling (original meaning, not the metal variety) might be closer to the mark. Being a singer who can't sing never hindered Bob Dylan or Lou Reed, so he's in good company I suppose, but at least the idiosyncrasies of those two were in tune. I find Andy's straining for the note and only occasionally hitting it a bit hard to get used to, and possibly realising his limitations there are passages that are semi-spoken and these work far better than the sung parts.

Looking at the track listing below one is drawn to the two epics bookending the album, and having had to endure some sorry excuses for prog epics recently I am already wary, as some bands use the long track trap to entice the more gullible punter to their over-stretched efforts. No worries here though as both The Wiki Man and Titanic Calls Carpathia have a strong sense of melody and dynamics that more than adequately fills the minutes. The album opener starts off sounding like a forgotten Genesis song, initially dominated as it is by Andy's synth lines in the mould of Tony Banks. The Wiki Man is a detached look at how the internet as well as being a life enhancing communication tool also enables every asshole with a rancorous opinion airtime to express their bile....better be careful whence I tread here...ending with our protagonist declaring "Am I nothing - Am I just lines of data?" "Everyone's a journalist (that's when they're not a star), and those who ain't celebrities like to diss the ones who are" is a line that makes me smile, Andy's certainly got it right there! A nice touch is the piano and synthesiser solo provided by internet competition winner Adam Roussak, a novel idea if ever there was one. Nicely varied in pace and style and well constructed, The Wiki Man goes through all the musical twists and turns needed to keep one's interest over its 20 minutes. Titanic Calls Carpathia gives us a potted history of electronic communications from the ill-fated Titanic's distress call in Morse Code to its sister ship, right up to Apollo 13 and beyond. Musically less varied than The Wiki Man, and straying into anthem territory at times it nonetheless does not outstay its welcome over its 16 minutes.

For me the strongest song here is atypical of the rest of the album. Jonathan's Shoot Them Down was originally written in the eighties against the background of the UK miners' strike and the wanton destruction of Northern communities by Thatcher's uncaring libertarian policies, the anger and emotion of the lyric being no less relevant in today's stringent times, as the line "Shoot them down in the wars of the world" will testify. A song for the 99%, after all "we're all in this together" eh, Dave? This aching lament of a ballad ends on a plaintive and restrained solo from Luke, very nice indeed.

The other song that does not necessarily fit in with the thematics of COMM is The Mind's Eye, a tale of remaining the same young age in your head while bits fall off, hopefully metaphorically speaking of course. As I'm the same age as Andy I know exactly what he means and the frustration those of us of a certain age feel as our bodies slow down is expressed well in the spiky and slightly discordant music of this restless tune. Mention must be made here of Luke's 300 miles an hour "ants in the pants" guitar solo that compliments the mood perfectly.

If you like your trad prog and enjoy hearing its influence in a modern setting then this album will not disappoint, assuming you can handle Andy's vocals. As they say on their website The Tangent are "Alive, Alert, Ambitious & Skint", and buying this album might make the last word of their motto a little less all pervasive for Andy and the lads, whoever they may be at this point in time.

Buy one of various editions here by hitting SHOP.

01 The Wiki Man (20:14)
02 The Mind's Eye (8:14)
03 Shoot Them Down (6:45)
04 Tech Support Guy (5:51)
05 Titanic Calls Carpathia (16:31)

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