Review by Paul Quinton, photos by Rich Ward
This was the biggest crowd for a Prog gig I’ve seen at the Robin for quite a while, the car park was full well before the published start time of 7.30, and even during both support acts, there was a steady of stream of people walking into The Robin.
Punctually at 7.30, the first band of tonight’s triple-header, SOUND OF CONTACT, began the entertainment. Knowing they’re normally a 5-piece, it was a little surprising when they played an instrumental to open the set as a foursome, but then singer Simon Collins emerged and the band then proceeded to play an entertaining and interesting set of songs from their album ‘Dimensionaut’. It’s always good when progressive rock bands don’t neglect the element of writing decent songs, rather than just concentrating on complexity and musical dexterity, and this certainly applied to this band. ‘Not Coming Down’ was particularly good, although in comparison ‘Satellite’ wasn’t quite as lively. The set concluded as it started, with an instrumental, only with Simon Collins taking over on drums, unsurprisingly perhaps, emulating his father, Phil. A decent set from a promising band.
Next on the agenda were Sweden’s BEARDFISH, and I think it’s fair to say that they were somewhat less conventional than Sound of Contact. They also concentrated on new material, from their latest album ‘The Void’, and when they played an older song, it was interesting how much more experimental their newer material was. The older song was also the only one that featured keyboards in the whole set, which might also indicate how much heavier their newer material is, with singer/guitarist and keyboard player Rikard Sjoblom even giving us some Akerfeldt-like grunting vocals. This wasn’t conventional prog by any means, as well as the potential to stray into heavier prog-metal territory, there always seemed a possibility of some Zappa-style eccentricity and and eagerness to explore some highly unconventional time signatures. Really entertaining stuff.
SPOCK’S BEARD are touring in support of their new album, ‘Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep’ which has to be one of the most admirably proggy album titles I’ve heard for a while. They’ve undergone some changes over the last couple of years, with singer Nick D’Virgilio departing (to play with the Cirque du Soleil, no less). To replace him the band have recruited Enchant singer Ted Leonard, who also adds some guitar to the overall sound. The band opened in fine style with the epic ‘Something Very Strange’ from the new album, followed by an equally majestic ‘Crack The Big Sky’ and while you couldn’t fault the playing in any way, it seemed really hard to pick out the vocals at times. Ted Leonard has a decent voice, but it was hard to work out whether his voice was lost in the mix or whether it wasn’t strong enough to compete with the band in full voice.
The set gave us plenty from across the band’s catalogue, although they were obviously here to promote the new album. Of the newer tracks, ‘Submerged’ in particular was absolutely sublime, reducing the crowd to an awed hush, I love the staccato keyboard riff of ‘Afterthoughts’ and the band’s 5-part acapella singing to end the song resulted in a huge ovation. And if the music isn’t enough, you can always watch keyboard wizard Ryo Okumoto, who is probably the most visually entertaining ivory tinkler I’ve seen since the halcyon days of Keith Emerson. Prog nostalgia fans would have loved his huge keyboard set-up, even more so when he played two instruments at once and even brought out a ‘keytar’ at one stage. He also managed to turn a potential bad situation into a crowd pleaser when the laptop he was using to control his keyboard settings crashed, and as he tried to reboot it, he was giving vent to some terrific combined English and Japanese oaths (at least I assume they were oaths) to the delight of most of the crowd and the rest of the band.
In fact, like all the best Prog, there is a strong vein of humour in Spock’s Beard, both in their rapport with each other and in their relationship with the crowd. One of the band was unwise enough to mention Japanese karaoke, at which point Ryo performed a magnificently overwrought and histrionic piece of Japanese opera, which cracked up almost everyone in the Robin, and received a huge cheer. The single encore was the anthemic ‘Go The Way You Go’, bringing to an end a great evening’s music, which, if it hadn’t have been for the astounding Riverside show at Leamington Assembly in April, would have been the highlight of the Prog year so far.
See more of Rich’s photos here;