Review by Paul Quinton
This gig was put on by the estimable Classic Rock Society, who have been promoting gigs, mostly in and around Yorkshire, for a while, and although they don’t venture down into the Midlands that often, their promotion of up and coming bands as well as more established names from overseas is always worthy of praise and support. This gig at The Robin was a pretty typically tasty double header, although it was unfortunate that scheduling problems meant the gig had be held on a Monday night and clash with the England game on TV, which probably affected the crowd, but nonetheless, it wasn’t a bad turnout.
DEE EXPUS were billed as support, although I can’t remember very many support bands who were gifted a 65 minute support slot in all the years I’ve been gig-going. This was the first chance I’d had to see them since they supported Marillion at The Civic a couple of years ago, and as they opened with ‘Me and My Downfall’, the lead off track from their most recent album, my first thought was that I certainly didn’t remember them being this heavy previously. The opening two songs, ‘P.T.Tee,’ being the second, were extremely good, particularly the instrumental passage in the set opener. The tempo and impetus dropped slightly for ‘Maybe September’, although, again, the instrumental midsection picked things up, but they didn’t quite reach the heights of the opening salvo in the rest of the set.
They did play a very promising sounding new song, ‘T.M.O.’, written as if through the eyes of a Jack Russell Terrier, that, like its subject matter, absolutely bounded along, and reminded me greatly of Saga, which is no bad thing at all, and finally rounded the set off with older material like ‘7 Nights’ and ‘Red’, which unfortunately sounded quite staid compared to the dynamics of the newer stuff. Nevertheless, a really enjoyable set on the whole, and a band I’ll look forward to seeing again.
It’s quite probable that most fans in the U.K. are only familiar with the Canadian band MYSTERY because of the fact that their former singer, Benoit David, was recruited by Yes to replace Jon Anderson. As a result the casual observer would probably expect them to sound very Yes-like, a Canadian version of Starcastle even, but there’s far more to Mystery than that. At times, like DeeExpus, they strayed into Saga territory and for much of the early part of the set, they would have sounded quite at home at Firefest, certainly compared to previous Firefest bands like Royal Hunt and Shotgun Symphony, although this was also because they were playing shorter songs, saving the epics for later.
Interestingly the band drew the set from their last three albums, meaning that everything played dated from 2007 or later, whereas the band have been recording under the Mystery name since 1996, opening with one of the older tracks in the set, ‘The Third Dream’. Singer Jean Pageau, who only joined the band earlier this year, already seems very at home. His voice isn’t as high as Benoit David’s, a better comparison is Coheed and Cambria’s Claudio Sanchez, but he has a very expressive stage personality which put the songs over really well. Band founder Michel St. Pere plays most of the guitar, occasionally trading solos and playing some neat dual lead with Antoine Michaud, but overall I was most impressed by Benout Dupuis’ keyboards. Like all the best football referees, he did his job quietly and with little fuss from behind his keyboards at the back of the stage, but he painted the background to the band’s sound perfectly, with great washes of sound filling the Robin, and when he took a solo, it was smart, economical and never tried to dominate the overall sound.
If the first part of the set was made up of the shorter, perhaps more commercial songs, the latter part was devoted to two lengthy pieces. ‘Through Different Eyes’ was by far the better of the two, moving through different stages and moods and always maintaining interest, whereas ‘Pride’, from the band’s most recent album, seemed to have less variation as it went on and could probably have been shorter without suffering in any way.
The band’s set was cut short by at least three songs owing to the Robin’s curfew, but they still managed to play a two-song encore of ‘Travel’ and ‘The Sailor and The Mermaid’, bringing to an end a highly entertaining and worthwhile evening. The CRS deserve every credit for putting the show on, with two excellent bands, and both bands and the promoters are welcome back to the West Midlands any time they like.