Review by Paul Quinton
Although it might have been suspected that the Marillion Weekender at Wolverhampton Civic would have lured most of the Black Country Progerati on this Sunday evening, several souls had been drawn to the Robin by this promising looking double bill. Having missed Curved Air at HRH Prog the previous weekend, thanks to one of those irritating schedule clashes, a chance to see them in more intimate surroundings coupled with the opportunity to renew acquaintance with the rather excellent Solstice, was not something to be sniffed at.
SOLSTICE always seem to be a bit of a throwback band, with the Indian cotton, and long dresses of the women members, but in a lot of ways they’re a lot more adventurous and individual than many similar bands. As well as Andy Glass’ fine guitar work, the violin of Jenny Newman and the two female voices give them their individuality, and while there are any number of bands that would play just 5 songs in a 45-minute set, not many would include 3 brand new, as yet unrecorded songs in their set. After the breezy opener New Life, the first of the newies was Keeper, which had some fine soloing over some enjoyably staccato riffs. ‘West Wind’ was so new, singer Emma Brown was using a lyric sheet as the song built into a bit of an epic, while ‘Black Water’ had a lengthy instrumental intro built around Pete Helmsley’s drums, a song that went through a number of moods as it went on. Solstice are a band that have their own sound, yet still seem to be moving forward, and are always entertaining live. They have their own headlining show at The Robin on July 14th, well worth checking out.
The hall filled up considerably ready for the headliners, and spot on 9.15, after a lengthy droning intro tape, CURVED AIR minus Sonja Kristina began the show with the instrumental Armin, before violinist Paul Sax introduced the singer and the whole band went into her traditional opener, ‘It Happened Today’. First impressions were that they seemed more of a band than when I’ve seen them in the past, not just Sonja and some backing musicians. ‘Melinda, May I’ in particular showed how tight a unit they can be, and as for Sonja herself, it seems her voice has grown fuller over the years. It may be time, or even the solid gigging the band has done recently, but there’s more depth in her singing than I can remember. She did struggle to make herself heard at times, when the band were at full power behind her, but she still has all her range, as she showed on songs like ‘Metamorphosis’ and ‘Proposition’.
While there’s no doubt that she’s the focal point of the band, although the rest of the musicians are obviously a pretty tight unit, with the exception of Paul Sax, there’s often not a lot going on stage apart from Sonja. While Sax is clearly well into what he’s doing, the others seem more detached, just playing the songs rather than performing them. Similarly, it’s really only Sonja who engages with the crowd, there’s very little interaction or acknowledgement of the audience from the rest of the band, apart from the waves and bows at the end, of course, which made it harder to create any kind of atmosphere. The band weren’t helped by the sound, which was turned up in the traditional manner of headliners, but in such a way as to lose a lot of clarity, and even solos were sometimes drowned out when the band were in full flow.
In the same way, while normally I’m all in favour when bands do something different, and try not to do the same old when they play, but Curved Air’s willingness to mess with their older material sometimes fell quite flat, and didn’t help the performance at all. ‘Back Street Luv’, for example their biggest UK hit, was funked up in the style of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’, with added power chords from guitarist Kit Walkden, and played half as fast again as the original, the overall effect of which was to completely change the tension and melancholy atmosphere of the song, taking away much of what made it so memorable in the first place. A brave experiment that didn’t work this time.
Because of the sound issues this really wasn’t as good a gig as it might have been. It’s always a pleasure to hear Ms. Kristina sing, but the whole thing needed a bit more engagement with the crowd, and a lighter touch at the sound desk. If it hadn’t been for the excellence of Solstice, overall this might have been something of a disappointment.