Headspace + Haken, @ The Musician, Leicester – 21 September, 2012

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Review by Paul Quinton

This was probably going to be the only chance to see the band who’ve recorded my favourite album of 2012 so far (Ed: see Paul’s review here), so it was off to Leicester for a tasty little double bill. This was a first visit to the Musician for me, but it’s certainly somewhere I won’t mind going back to. Very nice venue indeed, and if the band are ever a bit tedious, you can always look over the vast range of signed photos and posters that decorate the walls.

This was certainly a night for the serious prog fan, as both bands elected to play an album in full. For Headspace, with only one album released, this wasn’t a surprise, but Haken’s decision to play the whole of their last album, Visions was perhaps a little braver. Although they started punctually at 9, bassist Thomas McClean had arrived barely minutes before, whereas the rest of the band had been setting up for quite a while. Opener ‘Premonition’ is an instrumental and then singer Ross Jennings emerged from the crowd, as conditions on the stage were so cramped there was no way to and from backstage while the band were playing. Haken certainly know their way round a prog metal epic, with plenty of tricky time signatures, some nice choruses and even a taste for the unusual, as when Ross Jennings pulled out a megaphone at one point. And you know you’re in the presence of some serious prog when they introduce the last song at five to ten and it’s still going at quarter past.

There’s a lot to like about Haken, but they do make you wonder where they’re going sometimes. Some of the lengthy instrumental passages grab you, then all too soon the band move on somewhere else and the moment is lost. I’m usually a staunch defender of the principle that a song is as long as it’s meant to be, but all too often Haken’s songs seem to be long for long’s sake, lots of unrelated sections and themes stitched together. They’re a band you have to listen to, but live, especially in the confines of a smallish club, with people moving about and ordering drinks, it’s hard to give them the concentration they deserve, and it doesn’t help that they’re not the most visual of bands, although you have to take in the size of the stage which made it almost impossible for the band to move around. For me, the jury’s still out on Haken, live at least.

Headspace on the other hand, have not only released one of my favourite albums of 2012 so far, but managed to translate all the passion and intensity of the album into their set. Again it was a straight run through of the album, beginning with the lengthy instrumental opening of ‘Stalled Armageddon’, before Damian Wilson bounded out from backstage and began his customary demonstration of how good a frontman he is. Pausing only to sort his mug of tea out, (incidentally, what is it with Prog vocalists and tea? I’m convinced there’s a thesis waiting to written on the influence of tea on Progressive Rock,) he introduced the band into ‘Fall of America’ and it became increasingly obvious that this group of musicians has gelled into a pretty formidable unit. The rhythm section of Rich Brook (formerly of Rick Wakeman’s band) and Lee Pomeroy (It Bites, Steve Hackett and, um, Take That’s touring band) were as tight as the proverbial, while Pete Rinaldi (Hot Leg) peeled off the songs’ enormous riffs with an air of quiet intensity. With Adam Wakeman marooned behind his keyboards and Rinaldi seldom moving from behind his effects board, it was down to Wilson and Pomeroy to provide the visuals, with the singer carrying out his usual forays into the audience and Pomeroy either bouncing up and down in his enthusiasm moving across stage to egg the other musicians on.

Although the highlight of the set, as expected, was the epic ‘Daddy Fucking Loves You’, every song in the set just thrived in the live setting, putting an extra gloss on what is a superb set of songs anyway. There was no encore, no covers or delving into the band members’ pasts, and although I would have liked to have seen this band have a go at Ayreon’sCastle Hall’ – a staple in Wilson’s solo work for quite a while – nonetheless the 80 minutes they were on stage seemed to fly by. With the various band members other commitments – Threshold are already announcing dates for next year and Wilson is committed to the Maiden United project with Ruud Jolie of Within Temptation for the remainder of this year – it’s uncertain how much of a long term or regular project this will be. But the album is so good and this was such a great performance, I hope there’s time for Headspace to continue working together because this is one terrific band.