Review by Paul Quinton
This was a date on the brief tour for Magenta to launch their new album, ‘The 27 Club’ and it drew a very healthy crowd to The Robin, including some from as far away as the USA and Eastern Europe. As on previous tours, the band are operating as a five piece live unit, seconding the rhythm section from fellow Welsh band Godsticks, bassist Dan Nelson and drummer Steve Roberts.
After a lively ‘Glitterball’ to open the show, the first taste of the new album came in the form of ‘The Lizard King.’ The ‘27 Club’ is not so much a concept album, more a song cycle with a common theme running through the album. In this case it’s inspired by some of the several musicians and singers who’ve passed away at the fateful age of 27, and as with a similar previous album by the band, ‘Seven’, referring to the seven deadly sins, as often as not the songs are more inspired by the subject rather trying to be biographical. ‘The Lizard King’, as you might expect, refers to Jim Morrison, but musically definitely bears little relation to the Doors. On the other hand, it’s a cracking song, heavier, perhaps, than usual for Magenta, even nodding in the direction of Dream Theater at times. The clapping parts need a spot of work, though.
As usual with Magenta, all the performances were really top quality. Dan Nelson and Steve Roberts were a solid rhythm section, with the bassist showing off some particularly nice work at the end of the first encore ‘The White Witch’, and when Steve Roberts found he had the stage to himself at the start of the encores, and the rest of the band appeared to be in no hurry to join him, he was only too pleased to respond to the audience’s cries of ‘drum solo!’ with an apparently unrehearsed workout. Chris Fry on guitar and Rob Reed on keyboards did their customarily outstanding job. Some of Fry’s work in particular, such as the glorious guitar solo in ‘Visionary,’ were real highlights of the show, as was the duel between the two at the end of the second encore, ‘Pride’ when they slipped the bounds of the usual arrangements and traded riffs and licks back and forth to bring the show to a tumultuous climax. Vocalist Christina Booth, meanwhile, continues to be one of the most underrated singers and frontwomen on the scene, never missing a note, and her warm and engaging stage presence does a great deal in making a Magenta gig such an enjoyable place to be.
It was perhaps surprising that the band didn’t feature more of the new album, only three songs from a near 2 hour show, with ‘Pearl’, inspired by Janis Joplin, and ‘Stoned’ (Brian Jones) being the only other new songs featured, although it’s good that they feel able to drop the occasional surprise into the set, rather than just do an album play-through. Thus the rest of the show featured material from across the band’s career, going back as far as the debut album, and the band didn’t fight shy of including some of their longer, more complex pieces. The main set ended with the 20-minute plus ‘Metamorphosis’, and if that didn’t sate the crowd’s appetite for prog epics, the first encore was the equally lengthy ‘The White Witch’. On the other hand, it would have been good to hear some of the band’s shorter, perhaps more direct songs, like ‘Speechless’ and the brilliant ‘I’m Alive’ which often show the band at its absolute best. But that’s just a personal view, and by any measure, this was two hours of top quality progressive rock performed by a band at the top of its form and who seem almost incapable of delivering a bad show. I just wish they, and several others like them, could find a way of performing more often and to the much wider audience they deserve. Hopefully, the band’s participation on next year’s ‘Trinity Live’ tour, when they will perform the whole of their ‘Seven’ album, alongside Touchstone and The Reasoning, will go some way to achieving this.